The shooting in Newtown affected me deeply, as it did many people. I think most of us are desensitized to the news by now, but we don’t have a frame of reference for the mass murder of children in our country, and it hit us all in a spot in our hearts for which we haven’t built up any armor. Regarding most parts of this situation, I don’t have anything to say that hasn’t already been said articulately by other people. But as more and more details come out about the shooter, Adam Lanza, I do have something to say about his inevitable portrayal in the media as a “weird kid” who was “quiet, shy….socially awkward.” The New York Times even irresponsibly repeated his classmates’ speculation that he had Autism or another developmental disorder.
When something tragic happens, it is natural to search for reasons or answers. But it’s so, so dangerous for the media to start correlating “weirdness” or social awkwardness with a crime of this magnitude. Among the weird kids, and among humanity in general, this guy is an outlier. I know reporters are trying to do their jobs, but there are more responsible ways to discuss mental health issues than to imply that every quiet, awkward, or different person we come across might be capable of something like this. People listen to media reports and simplify. That’s why stereotypes are so easy to create, and why racist or discriminatory backlash occurs whenever a minority group is in the news for hurting other people.
So, just so we’re clear, there is nothing wrong with being a weird kid. If the shooter was in fact Autistic, it says nothing about Autism in general. The only group of people he represents is the one that has easier access to guns than they do to community support.
And for the record, every single weird kid I’ve ever known has grown up to do amazing things and change the world in profoundly positive ways. I’m so proud of them, and join them – and everybody else – in grieving this loss.