Last week in Jacksonville, Florida, not far from where I live, a man lured an 8-year-old girl into the bathroom of a Best Buy and then assaulted her. Customers alerted a store employee about weird noises coming from the bathroom; when the employee investigated, he found the man holding the girl’s head in the toilet.
That’s fucked up, right? This poor child. She accompanies her mother to go shopping for, I don’t know, a new camera, in the middle of the afternoon, and in the time it would take to watch the Miley Cyrus twerking video, some sick bastard attacks her in a bathroom and changes her life forever. Because that kind of thing stays with you.
Yesterday, our local newspaper, the Florida Times-Union, ran a story to help everyone understand what had happened. The headline: “Accused Best Buy attacker diagnosed with autism.”
And of course, I was all, OOOOOOHHHHH! HE HAD AUTISM! NO WONDER HE HELD A GIRL’S HEAD IN THE TOILET!
In case you are unsure of how autism is defined, the reporter carefully researched it and offers the following explanation: “Asperger syndrome is characterized by difficulties in social interaction, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s website, but was removed in May as a diagnosis in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” Instead, it was folded into a broader definition that is autism disorder.”
Oh, for the love of Courtney Love, who by the way has autism. You know who else has difficulty in social interaction? Um, like, half the population. It’s so strange that more children haven’t been hospitalized for toilet-related injuries to their skulls.
Autism now affects an estimated one out of every 88 children, and the spectrum of its effects is enormous, ranging from slight impairment to chronic disability. Scores of successful athletes, musicians, scholars, artists and average every day people live with autism. My 8-year-old son is on the autism spectrum. Last night he did his math homework, then created a mobile using sticks and ribbon. My nephew has autism; he can draw a map, to scale, of the United States, including every state capital.
Autism is a medical condition. Like diabetes. The newspaper headline could have read, “Accused Best Buy attacker diagnosed with diabetes,” and given the same amount of insight into the attack. Which is to say, none.
Later on in the story, the reporter refers to the suspect’s history of mental illness, the facts that his mother is his legal guardian and a judge once ruled him unable to care for himself. Okay, maybe now we’re getting somewhere. How about this headline: “Accused Best Buy attacker illiterate, nonverbal, has history of mental illness.”
No way am I defending this guy, or trying to minimize what this poor child endured.
But leading the public to believe he committed this crime because he’s autistic? Irresponsible. Wrong. Ignorant. I could go on, but I don’t want to get aggravated enough to call the reporter a bonehead. That would make me seem small-minded. Which is exactly what that bonehead reporter, or maybe his editor, showed himself to be.
NOTE TO REPORTER: Sorry, dude. But listen: don’t ever send out that clip.