First off let me say, this is not about what happened to me in a parking lot the day after the tragic school shooting in Florida on Valentines Day. This is about the ignorance of most Americans when it comes to those with autism or other disabilities that aren’t visible to the naked eye. What this woman said to me in the grocery store parking lot was reprehensible, disgusting and ignorant, Yes, it did hurt, but I felt bad for her and her ignorance more than I felt bad about what she said to me.
It was late afternoon on February 15 and I was walking to the grocery store with my autism service dog, Tye. He had a service vest on and was walking right next to me when I was approached by a woman.
“Excuse me,” the woman said. “What kind of service dog is your dog?”
“He’s an autism service dog,” I replied as if it was really any of her business.
“Oh,” she stated very matter of factly. “So you’re mentally ill.”
“I’m high functioning autistic,” I said in a polite tone, which was not the tone I wanted to use.
“Same thing,” she stated. “So what is it about you people and guns?”
I took a deep breath to calm myself down and to keep myself from verbally ripping her a new one and said, “Uh…do you mean white people?”
“No,” she answered in a surprised tone. “Mentally ill people.”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “We don’t talk about guns much at our mental illness club meetings.”
The woman looked surprised and asked, “You have meetings?”
At that point, I turned around without saying a word and without going into the grocery store, put Tye in the car and went home, wondering what would make someone say something like that to a total stranger. I was beyond offended and saddened that in 2018 people will react to Aspergers/high functioning autism as they would someone with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or Munchausen’s syndrome.
The person who first brought up the fact that school shooter Nikolas Cruz suffered from mental illness was his public defender. What a shock. Of course, the media ran with that just as they do most anything that involves mental illness. I find it disgusting that people who know nothing about Cruz’s past or his mental health were all too happy to jump on the crazy train.
I have no problem saying this because for the past twenty years I’ve been a member of the media, writing for more than thirty different magazines, a dozen newspapers and scores of websites. Unlike the “big guys” in media, I don’t start saying things about a person’s mental or physical state until proof has been offered to support it one way or another.
I’m not going to politicize this and get into the whole NRA thing, but I will say that seven months ago I moved from Southern California to the Ozarks and there are a lot more hunters out here and legal guns are a lot more prevalent than in Southern California. Does that mean that it’s more likely that someone in this area will shoot up a school or a business? No. If someone is determined to do something like that, they’ll find a way to do it.
What needs to happen is education.
Society as a whole needs to be educated about Aspergers/autism and those that have it. We’re not criminals. We’re not freaks. We’re people who are wired a little different and who have special needs when it comes to dealing with others in society. My goal with this website and with my life is to advocate for my community and to educate others, especially people such as law enforcement and educators who deal with us on a regular basis.
So what do you think? I want to hear your two cents. Please comment and please share this with others. Spreading the word is the only way things will ever get better,