With the anniversary of the Columbine massacre comes renewed media interest in psychopathic killers on the rampage. Okay sure, some killers are psychopaths. But psychopaths are not the only sometime-violent members of the empathy-challenged club. Ann Bauer recounts her struggles with a particularly violent autistic son who had to be institutionalized. Under the sub-headline "For years I thought of his autism as beautiful and mysterious. But when he turned unspeakably violent, I had to question everything I knew."
His destruction was utterly senseless yet brilliantly thorough: He submerged his computer, stereo and iPod in water; threw puzzle pieces and Styrofoam cups into the toilet and flushed them, plugging the pipes literally dozens of times a week; and urinated on every square inch of his room: bed, walls, floor, closet, everything but the ceiling and that only because he had not (yet, I suspect) figured out how.I don't believe auties and aspie's are bad any more than I believe sociopaths are bad. I'm just saying that we have a lot more in common than anybody would like to admit, a fact that may be surprising given the choir-boy image auties and aspie's have in society compared to the soulless demon image that sociopaths have. If the neurodiversity movement embraces sometime-violent auties and aspies, it should include sociopaths as well.
When I asked him why he did these things he would say, eyes narrow like a night creature, "I don't like being caged."
. . .
[W]hen I showed up at the group home that morning, he was drinking coffee and pacing and still not dressed. I went into his room, took some clothes from the closet, handed them to him. And hinting at what he was about to do only with a small sigh, as if to say, "I've had enough," my son picked me up and threw me across the room.
. . .
Secretly, as if committing a sacrilege, I searched online using keywords such as "autism" and "violence" and "murder." What I found was confusing. There were roughly a dozen recent articles about heinous acts committed by people with autism and Asperger's syndrome, but each was followed by editorials and letters written by autism advocates vigorously denying a link. There were a few studies from the '80s and '90s, but the results -- when they showed a higher rate of violent crime among people with autism -- appeared to have been quieted or dismissed.
On the other hand there were, literally, thousands of heartwarming stories about autism. A couple of the most widely read were written by me. For years I had been telling my son's story, insisting that autism is beautiful, mysterious, perhaps even evolutionarily necessary. Denying that it can also be a wild, ravaging madness, a disease of the mind and soul. It was my trademark as an essayist, but also my profound belief.
. . .
Back when Andrew was in junior high school, my mother had a friend whose adult son had only recently been diagnosed with autism. He'd been dysfunctional since childhood, failing at school, unable to make a friend or keep a decent job. At 35 he was still living at home, collecting carts at the local grocery store, and taking anticonvulsants (Tegretol was the unofficial treatment of that era for outbursts) to control the violent urges he'd been having for 15 years.
"You think he's better now," my mother's friend once said as we watched a young, laughing Andrew out the window, playing tag with his brother and sister in my parents' backyard. "But wait 'til he's older. Then you'll understand. "
I hated her and was furious that she wished for our downfall -- also that her dumb, psychopathic son had been given the same label as my beloved child. Autism had become oddly fashionable; my mother's friend was wealthy. Clearly she'd gone "diagnosis shopping." My son, I vowed, would be nothing like hers.
. . .
The chairman of Trudy Steuernagel's department rose at her memorial service to proclaim, "Autism doesn't equal violence." And this probably is mathematically correct: Autism does not always equal violence. But I do believe there may be a tragic, blameless relationship. Neither Sky nor Andrew means to be murderous -- of this I am sure -- but their circumstances, neurology, size and age combine to create the perfect storm.
. . .
Mine, I decide, must be in part to break the silence about autism's darker side. We cannot solve this problem by hiding it, the way handicapped children themselves used to be tucked away in cellars. In order to help the young men who endure this rage, someone has to be willing to tell the truth.