Saturday, January 5, 2013

Sandy Hook: A Loss of Innocence

I haven't posted anything since the Sandy Hook Elementary mass shooting happened on December 14, 2012.  This tragedy affected me deeply and personally, and I have done a lot of soul-searching in recent weeks because of it.  I have three children, two in junior high and one still in elementary school, and I initially worried about sending them to school.  I held them, told them I loved them, and watched them sleep for at least a week afterward.  I thought of the twenty families who could not watch their children open their presents on Christmas morning.  Most recently, I thought of those families entering a new year without their precious children and how empty and hopeless they must feel.  My heart truly breaks for them.

Along with my grief and sadness, however, I have grown defensive and angry.  As the country has searched for answers to why this massacre happened, the media has started a witch hunt.  First, it was disclosed that the murderer had a mental disability.  Then, we found out he had Asperger's Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Later we heard that he played video games and kept to himself.  The media also reported that his mother had several registered guns, and liked to go to the shooting range on occasion. America now remembers the Sandy Hook shooter as a mentally-disabled, autistic, video-gamer, whose gun-crazed mother locked away from society!  

Here's the thing...  This kid could easily be my kid!  One of my sons has Asperger's Syndrome, and I have pulled him out of school because he wasn't learning anything in a regular academic setting.  He has very few friends, although he is really social.  He also has an anxiety disorder, which makes it hard for him to deal with many everyday situations.  My youngest son has been into video games since before he could talk, even though we didn't even get a game system until he was five!  He loves first person shooter games, and although he is only nine, I let him play them with supervision.  My thought process has been that it is better for him to play these games at home, then to go to a friend's house and play games that are even worse (and trust me, there are always worse games)!   He is on electronics (computer, playstation, Wii, iPhone) the majority of his free time, even though I try and encourage him to do anything else.  He is very social at school, and gets good grades, but struggles with self-esteem at times and definitely has a temper. 

If you put both of my son's together, they might be similar to the Sandy Hook murderer in many ways.  Needless to say, this made me sit up and take notice.  Am I raising children to be killers?  What is it that caused this man to snap, and how can I make sure it doesn't happen to my boys?  Am I harming my children by allowing them to play violent video games?  Does having autism or Asperger's mean my child could be evil? 

As a mom, I will defend my children always.  I know they are good kids.  They never have been in trouble at school, never get in fights with their peers, and generally do what they are asked at home.  As a mom of a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, I am doubly protective.  My son is the sweetest, gentlest soul you will ever meet.  However, you might just miss it because he is shy, will only talk about certain things, and doesn't show much emotion on his face.  He doesn't understand sarcasm and rarely gets humor, unless it is bathroom humor.  But he does feel, and he does love, and he does care.  I suspect he is like most people with Asperger's Syndrome.

My youngest son has been a computer whiz since before he could talk.  He was acting out the Spiderman movies since he was a toddler, and pretending to play video games three years before we ever had a game station.  It is like he was born to be an electronic's genius.  He knows more about computers and video games than I can imagine.  His mind seems to function best in this virtual world, even when he isn't playing a game.  I suspect he has a career in computer engineering or programming in his future, although he says he wants to be a doctor in the military. 

As a country, we want to find a reason why 20 children and six adults are dead.  As a country, we want something to point to in order to find a quick solution to the mass shooting problem.  The government is focusing on gun control.  The medical community is focusing on autism and mental illness.  The media is focusing on violent video games.  I put the blame on society's willingness to blame everything and everyone else but the person responsible - the killer! 

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