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Caution urged when discussing autism and shooting

4:47 PM, Dec 16, 2012   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- As accounts of the Sandy Hook shooter come to light from family and acquaintances, common descriptions start running together. The 20-year-old is called "odd," and said to be anti-social. Then the Associated Press reported an anonymous official said the shooter had Asperger's, a mild form of autism characterized by social awkwardness.

That prompted the Autism Research Institute to release a statement chastising those who would draw parallels between autism and extremely violent behavior like a mass shooting.

"The eyes of the world are on this wrenching tragedy," the statement read. "With 1 in 88 now diagnosed, misinformation could easily trigger increased prejudice and misunderstanding. Let us all come together and mourn for the families and exercise the utmost care in discussions of how and why it occurred."

Jennifer Cross, the parent of a 9th grader with autism, is already fighting the stigma online, where she says it's spreading like wildfire. She says many are discussing mental health and autism in the same breath.

"I've heard those interchanged a lot, they'll mention mental illness and then go into autism it is not a mental illness, it's a neurological development disorder."

Cross says her daughter has trouble fitting in at school, and any further stigmatization could make it worse for her. Especially since some know autistic kids can have fits of frustration.

"She has tantrums," Cross said, "But she is not a violent person, I don't want her going to school and have people assume she's going to have some type of violent outburst or something."

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