A Letter from Brad Gerstman, prominent Government Relations attorney and autism advocate.
New York, NY-December 18, 2012- As the tragic loss of twenty six innocent children and teachers continues to resonate throughout the nation, media outlets are attempting to piece together the intentions of their assassin. With stories surrounding the killer’s “odd” behavior and opinions surfacing in regard to his mental health, recent reports have opened the door for discussions involving potential mental disabilities and illnesses. However, a clear distinction between these two dissimilar conditions is yet to be made, and thus I feel it is essential that special needs advocates like myself, fight to defend what is an already vulnerable community.
I cannot express enough how terribly sorry I feel for the families of those who were lost in this tragedy. The bereavement of a child is a weight that no parent should be forced to bear. However, as an advocate of the special needs community, I am deeply saddened by the irresponsible reporting which has transpired as a result of the heartbreak in Newtown. The insinuation that the killer, who may have suffered from Aspergers syndrome, was lead to such an unthinkable act because of a developmental disability is truly shameful. A distinction between mental illness and developmental disabilities does exist, and the media has an innate responsibility to properly report on these differences.
Executives from prominent organizations including Autism Speaks have initiated conversations to combat the media driven perception that autism spectrum disorders correlate with planned acts of violence. However, the ill informed commentary of journalists and reporters will likely require further contest as investigations into this tragedy continue to unfold.
The special needs community is one constantly struggling to protect those who are naturally unable to protect themselves. With that said, the ignorant grouping of mental illness with developmental disabilities on the part of journalists who are unqualified to discuss these conditions has only further ostracized innocent individuals. It is my hope that as we move forward members of the media will educate themselves enough to distinguish between mental conditions.