Wednesday, 19 December 2012

A Note on Sandy Hook and Autism

Autism has been in the news recently following the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School with early reports in all the major news outlets stating that the perpetrator of the massacre had a diagnosis of the condition. With very little other details of the perpetrator's background, the danger in this reporting is that autism (ASD / Asperger's Syndrome) becomes mistakenly viewed as the primary cause.

Bonnie Rochman, writing for Time Magazine, has written a well thought out commentary - "Guilt by Association: Troubling Legacy of Sandy Hook May Be Backlash Against Children with Autism" - which draws attention to the upsurge in anxiety amongst young people with autism and their parents following the event. There is also a short video here discounting any link between premeditated violence and Autism which is worth passing on:

On a similar note, the University of Manchester today published a press release on research by Dr Judith Hebron highlighting some of the common experiences of students with Autism within the school setting. A statistic highlighted was 59.1% of students with autism demonstrate clinical levels of anxiety - sometimes because they are the victims of bullying, including physical violence, by peers hostile to their difference. The key quote for me came at the end, which has been borne out by some of the constructive work we've undertaken recently in school around this particular issue;

"This is a difficult problem to address as it is often hidden... But as children experiencing chronic stress and anxiety are more likely to suffer from mental health problems in the future, it’s vitally important we are aware of these issues and intervene early in order to minimise the risk.

...Many mainstream schools are doing excellent work in supporting and including young people on the autistic spectrum: there are ways to moderate their anxiety... It is also possible teach tolerance of difference to other children, but we hope this study will offer support for existing strategies and provide exploratory ideas for new ones.”

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