Debunking the violence myth (again!)

As I’m sure many of you will have seen on the news, particularly those of you who live in the United States, there has been a recent horrific drive by shooting rampage in Isla Vista, California which took place on Friday. The perpetrator of this awful crime was Elliot Rodger, a 22 year old student at the University of California Santa Barbara Campus. Elliot killed himself after being apprehended by the police. There are several news articles I have read on the case and I have linked to a few of these below.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-27562917

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/25/elliot-rodger-suspect-california-mass-murder-shooting-stabbing

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/california-driveby-shootings-seven-dead-after-gunman-goes-on-rampage-in-santa-barbara-9430598.html

http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isla-vista-rampage/california-shooting-suspect-elliot-rodgers-life-rage-resentment-n113996

Elliot Rodger had Aspergers Syndrome. This fact has been paraded around the Internet in every news article relating to the case. To me, the fact he had Aspergers is not at all relevant to the fact that he killed six people and injured a further seven in a calculated and premeditated murder spree. Elliot clearly had severe mental health problems but even these, I don’t feel, adequately explain why he committed such an awful crime. From the articles that I have read on this case, it is clear that Elliot lived in a world of self pity and was furious that he had not been successful with dating girls. He considered being a virgin at 22 to be something so shameful that he felt inspired to take revenge on all the popular people on his campus who he felt had conspired to keep him this way. His rants show him to be utterly self obsessed and delusional. He likens himself to a God like figure who is superior to all other human beings and feels justified in killing them. Such delusions have NOTHING to do with Aspergers Syndrome-they are the result of a psychologically unstable individual who was consumed with self pity and appeared to devote his life to complaining about how lonely he was and hating others who were more socially successful than him.

The media are always on the lookout for the slightest thing that they feel can explain such murderous rampages. Society in general is obsessed with trying to rationalise irrational actions and I don’t always think that this is necessarily the right idea for reasons I will come on to later. Often, they focus on suspects deprived upbringings or any abuse or bullying that occurred in their lives. Elliot was from a wealthy, high class family-his father was involved in directing the Hunger Games film and was well respected in Hollywood from what I’ve read. He was highly academic and apparently was top of his class in elementary school. Therefore, journalists have seized on the fact that he had Aspergers and made the damaging assumption that his difficulties with social interaction were the main reason behind the shootings. This is despite the fact that there are thousands of people with Aspergers in the world who struggle just as much, if not more so, with social interaction than Elliot Rodger did who would never dream of taking another human being’s life or even hurting them. I am not trying to say that we are all saints who live our lives perfectly-nobody I have met in my life so far, AS or not, live perfect lives. However, what I will say is that a lot of people with Aspergers have a strong and keen sense of justice and know that targeting people is wrong and does nothing to address the areas of our lives in which we see ourselves as inadequate. We know how it feels to be bullied and hurt and would not wish to inflict such actions on another human being. I think it is important to point out here that people with Aspergers are at a lot higher risk of being bullied or of being victims of violent crime than of being the perpetrators. There is nothing criminal about being solitary or struggling with social interaction and people need to stop associating Aspergers with violent crime-you cannot criminalise a whole section of society for having a certain diagnosis. Unfortunately, only one article I read, the one published on the NBC website, bothers to explain that there is no link between his Aspergers and his crime spree.

I am, in no way, defending Elliot Rodger or his actions-I am defending myself and the other people with Aspergers who are living peaceful lives, having figured out the best way we know how, how to live in a world that is not Aspergers friendly. Elliot Rodger did not commit mass murder because he had Aspergers. He committed mass murder because, by his own admission, he was twisted. I don’t think that such actions can ever be rationalised or explained using logic because they are completely irrational and illogical. No stable, sane person would be driven to commit such crimes. It is important to remind everyone here that this was not a crime of passion or the result of a momentary lack of control-this was planned and premeditated. Indeed, he even wrote a 141 page document on what he planned to do. This was a calculated crime that he had thought out. He was seeing therapists and it is clear that he had some sort of personality disorder but, overall, it cannot be denied that his crime was evil-so evil that it defies logic.

I would just like to reassure everybody reading this (although I know most of you will already know!) that Aspergers is nothing to be scared of. We are just like you-it’s just our strengths and weaknesses meet a certain diagnostic criteria. We are no more likely, indeed probably statistically less likely, than people who aren’t on the spectrum to be violent or criminal. What happened in Isla Vista a couple of days ago was horrendous and my thoughts are with the families of the victims and the ones who were injured and now have to live with the flashbacks of what happened. What we should really be asking is how someone who was clearly severely psychologically unstable and was described by his relatives as “very disturbed” was allowed to buy his own handguns and ammunition. Rest in peace Katie Cooper, Veronika Weiss, Christopher Martinez, Weihan Wang, Cheng Yuan Hong and George Chen. Such an awful, heinous crime!

 

 

 

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And You Say I Lack Empathy! (A Note To Society In General).

As mentioned in the title, this blog post is not aimed at anyone in particular-it’s just an expression of my bewilderment and confusion with the way the world works. 

Being friends with someone and then turning against them when they have done nothing to warrant it without ever giving them a reason why. 

Deliberately finding someone’s flaws and weaknesses in order to make fun of them and cause them to feel bad about themselves. 

Judging people by such arbitrary standards as the clothes they wear, the body shape they are or how highly or lowly they score in a test that really, in the long term, has no meaning. 

Continually causing conflict and drama for the sheer sake of it. 

Never giving someone a chance to be your friend because they’re not like the people you usually hang out with. 

Treating an attention to detail and a thirst for knowledge as something to be mocked. 

Picking on the most defenceless and vulnerable people in society who need the most care but end up being targeted by bullies. 

Using someone’s issues to exploit them or as a source of entertainment. 

Trolling memorial pages on the Internet to disrespect a dead person’s memory. 

Making someone feel so bad about themselves that they take their own life. 

And yet you have the audacity to tell me that I lack empathy. 

 

We’re not all of genius level intelligence

The idea for this post came to me yesterday from a brief article posted on a Facebook group I belong to about a fifteen year old boy who is diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome and is an astrophysicist who is taking his Masters Degree at Waterloo’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada. In the discussion that followed, several members of the group pointed out that they felt inferior compared to this young man as their intelligence was not of such a high level. This then led to an interesting discussion about the way that the average person who does not have a personal connection to the autism spectrum tends to view it.

From my personal experience, the stereotype that people have of conditions on the autistic spectrum is that, on one side of the spectrum, you have people who are non verbal, whose autism causes serious challenges in daily life and who often have severe learning disabilities alongside their autism and, on the other side, there are people diagnosed with Aspergers who have extremely high IQs and excel academically, impressing people at every turn. Whilst these two categories of people do definitely exist, what a lot of people forget is that there are other areas of the spectrum where people fall too, hence why it’s a spectrum. There are a lot of people out there with Aspergers, including myself, who are of average intelligence and whose IQ scores are all over the place because of the biases of IQ testing. I have only once achieved the highest academic grade possible-that was in an exam I took at university focusing on youth offending. I achieved a First in that particular exam with a grade of 76%. All of my other grades have been average or slightly above average and I have had to work extremely hard to get those grades. Contrary to what people might believe, Aspergers doesn’t bless everyone with so called “savant” abilities. I believe the media is primarily to blame for what I call the autism dichotomy. As one woman wrote on the discussion thread yesterday, “I find people either expect me to not be able to speak or expect me to be a genius and when it’s apparent neither are true, they think I don’t have autism”. A lot of people with Aspergers have fragile self esteem and are perfectionists and, while we are pleased for those people with Aspergers out there who excel academically and have made successful lives out of doing such and would never dream of putting them down, these stories often also make a lot of us feel like we should be doing better even when this is illogical-after all, not every person without Aspergers will end up being a genius so why do we, as a community, put so much pressure on ourselves?

As I have mentioned before on this blog, Mathematics and I do not get on. When I was younger, I used to think that I couldn’t really have Aspergers because I struggled so much with Maths in school. A lot of the literature focusing on Aspergers back then continually mentioned high ability in Maths and Science as one of the key features of the condition. In the past few years, the literature has taken into account that the condition manifests itself in many different ways and no longer focuses as much on these abilities but, still, the first question I am asked by a lot of people when they discover I have Aspergers is, “Are you really good at Maths then?” to which I often feel like screaming, “No! There is more to Aspergers than being a Maths genius, you know!” In fact, people who like to push those of us on the spectrum into (metaphorical) boxes often struggle with me because the areas in which I have strengths are those which stereotypically people with Aspergers are meant to struggle with. My favourite subject at school was always English and I used to love creative writing-I even had a poem of mine which I wrote at school entered into a competition when I was nine years old. This really baffles people who believe that every person on the spectrum has no imagination and doesn’t see the point of creative writing. As I have mentioned numerous times on this blog, autism and Aspergers is different in every individual-some people do struggle with language and have more of an affinity with numbers but others, like me, cannot wait until Maths as a curriculum subject is done with. It took me 3 attempts to pass my Maths GCSE at the grade I needed to gain entrance to university and I was so happy when I saw that I had finally achieved it!

My ideal scenario would be for people who are not on the autistic spectrum to realise that, in between classic autism and genius level Aspergers, there are lots of us who are just average people who happen to be living with these conditions. While it is comforting to know that Aspergers is no barrier to success, it is also worth remembering that a lot of us have strengths which may not be recognised or appreciated by the outside world but are, nonetheless, important and unique to us. Special interests are a case in point-a lot of people with autism and Aspergers have special interests which are of huge importance to them but are dismissed by wider society as they don’t fit the “Rainman” image of autism. I can recognise pretty much any medical condition I have ever read about based on the symptoms but nobody is really interested in that bar members of the medical professions. I know people with autism who are obsessed with water and can stare at running water for hours at a time-society deems this to be a waste of time but, for them, it’s fascinating and beautiful. I guess what I am trying to say is that we are all special in our own way and all have our own strengths-just because society doesn’t always accept them as such, it doesn’t mean we need to look down on ourselves or on other people.

 

The Comfort of Familiar People

Like a fair number of people with Aspergers, I don’t particularly enjoy meeting new people. I do it out of necessity as the way the world works means that you have to meet new people now and again in order to progress in life but it’s not an experience I find pleasant. This is not because I am in any way “cliquey” or stand offish but because the fact that I don’t know what their personality is like or how they will behave terrifies me. 

I take a great deal of comfort from knowing how the familiar people in my life behave. Obviously I am aware that this is likely to differ on occasions due to emotional states but, generally, I know their personality and their boundaries. I have learned from the previous times I have interacted with them how they interact with people and I find this security comforting. I feel safer with these people. Meeting somebody for the first time takes me out of this comfort zone in a huge way. I know that lots of people out there, with and without Aspergers, get shy around people they don’t know but this process is a little more than that. When I meet someone new, my mind is firing dozens of questions that whirl around my head but are not spoken. “What is their personality like?”, “What will they think of me?”, “Will they think I’m rude?”, “Will they think I’m weird?”, “What should I talk to them about?” and even more questions similar to this. Even in the supermarket, I always try to use the self service machines unless I absolutely have to be served on one of the manned tills. Communicating with professionals is easier than communicating with random people because I have an idea of how the conversation will go. I know what I need to ask them and I have some idea of how they are going to respond but it is still very nerve wracking. Making small talk is what I dread most though. I can do it but I don’t like to. I prefer deep topics of conversation and fail to understand why talking to 15 or 20 different people for a couple of minutes each is seen as being more worthwhile than speaking to one person for an hour. 

I hope I am not giving the impression that I don’t see the point of widening my friendship circle. I envy people who can make new friends with ease and can chat to people who they’ve just met completely naturally. However, I know that that’s not the way my mind works. I rely on knowing how the familiar people in my life interact-it keeps my anxiety levels down. Once I get to know people, I socialise with them in a manner that is comfortable for me but it is the initial “getting to know someone” process that I find so nerve wracking. Please, if you know someone with Aspergers, don’t just assume that they are anti social and don’t like company-there are people with Aspergers who are happy being on their own but there are lots of us who do like company but need safe, familiar company free from confrontation and drama. It may take longer than usual to get someone with Aspergers to trust you but persevere and you will see that a lot of us do make good friends in the end.