Friday, April 20, 2007

autism, empathy, and ...Virginia Tech

As people described the killer Cho Seung-hui, his neighbors and family that say he never talked to any of them, nor ever made eye contact, it struck me that traits of autism/Asperger's were being described. Then his suitemates at University said he rarely made eye contact, and never communicated much, just stayed silent, it seemed more a possibility.

When the experts said mass killers like this are loners, and have developed an intense anger against society, but have no real sense of the hurt that others feel, and can explode at some moment, I thought about Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber.

Then, yesterday, they interviewed his grandmother, who told in Korean that he was always different, not like other children, very cold, and that they had been told when he was a boy that he had autism, it started to make more sense.

So, I just saw an interview with David Kaczynski, the Unabomber's brother by Martin Bashir, on Nightline...who said he was struck from the beginning all the parallels with his brother when he heard the word "manifesto", it all started to come together.

One of the pervasive aspects of autism/asperger's, is the lack of empathy, the mindblindness, the inability to understand how other people hurt. That, and the lack of eye contact, are some of the first clues to diagnosis. Later, there are other things, like obsessive irrational hatreds.

Now don't think for a moment that I'm excusing anything.
And I'm not trying to demonize individuals with autism or Asperger's.

I am the mother of a child with a serious disability, so I understand the pain that any diagnosis can cause. But I also know that you can't fix what you don't acknowledge.

And there is a lot of data that say empathy, the emotion most affected in autism, can be taught. With an early diagnosis, we mothers (since it is we who score higher on the empathy scale) can learn how to teach our children how it is to understand.

This is where our energies after this tragedy should go -- to helping individuals who are not aware to become more aware. We treat autism & Asperger's as if they were academic learning disorders. In fact, the most dangerous aspect IS learning -- but not of academics, but of social awareness. How to read the social cues, the most important one being the ability to see that you hurt someone.

If Choi went through life, "not feeling", and ended it all with a huge outburst...what if he had been properly taught to understand, to feel, to read social cues, instead of living his life in a shell and exploding at the end?

To just say he was crazy means that all the others, who desparately need help, and don't even know it, will not get the help that they need. And they need that help early on, to go down a different path to a bit of understanding, empathy, and to be able to enrich their lives.

As David Kaczynski said -- just demonizing Cho, like demonizing Ted, will stand in the way of the mental health treatment they need. And I say...the path starts young. Get all these children, our epidemic of autism, the help they need to learn how to manage their feelings and recognize the feelings of others.

Another massacre could be prevented, and the horrible loss of beautiful lives that we saw a few days ago should never happen again.


Ouissi Gresty said...

Amen runz ;)

Ouissi x

msbelle said...

How very interesting. I found you through the tagging game and I think you probably have a quite valid point. I've been around just very few autistic kids at a playground once where I'm from. There, they have a bariatric chamber in which they do some kind of treatment/therapy. Kevin, my son, encountered another autistic child and was pinched, making him cry. The other child did not have a clue as to the pain he inflicted and it was really hard for me to describe to Kevin what was different about the other boy. I never even put this together about the shooter. It's quite possibly true that he was never diagnosed. I hope you don't mind if I link to you on my blog. I think it will be fascinating to read yours.

Cozy said...

A fascinating way to look at a tragic end to many lives. Compassion can heal faster than anger.

Sandra Eileen - Artisan Jewelry For Your Good Life said...


from Blacksburg. said...

it makes me so sad to think how many thousands of parents are too afraid to seek help or admit to themselves that their child may be autistic.

thanks for this article runz, it's the perfect reminder of how important it is that we *all* can learn, and should practice, empathy and keep it in our hearts.