23 December 2012


Trigger Warning: Extreme internalized ableism, eugenics, ableism, violence, murder, suicide.



That's the most accurate word to describe my current emotional state. I am in a state of profound grief. I am in mourning.

On 30 November 2012, twenty-three days ago, 25 year old Christopher Krumm stabbed his father's girlfriend Heidi Arnold, a 42 year old math teacher, in front of the house she shared with Christopher's father in Casper, Wyoming. Later that day, Christopher walked into a classroom in Casper College nearby and shot his father James Krumm, a 56 year old computer science instructor, with "an arrow using a high-powered bow." (News article.) Then he stabbed his father and himself, killing both.

Christopher Krumm identified himself as autistic. His suicide note (same source as link above) claimed that he never had a love life and was fired or forced to quit from four different jobs. The direct quotes from the suicide note that have been pulled from the Associated Press article include the following statements:
"[I] always had to subsist as a sort of bottom feeder."

"I am extremely bitter and frothing with hatred toward my father. I am resentful that my country did not castrate him."

"You should not have allowed my father to breed because he was genetically predispositioned toward having Asperger's Syndrome and put me at greatly increased risk for having it (and in fact I do). How could you hold his right to breed over my right not to be born?"

"Despite having a Master's Degree in Electrical Engineering I have not been able to solve the novel problems I need to solve at work."
These are the consequences of internalized ableism. Because Christopher Krumm lived in a society that fed him with messages that he was less than, conditioned him to believe that disability in general and autism in particular are defects that ought to be prevented, and neglected to embed systems of support for him, he internalized these forms of oppression and he began to believe them as true. He espoused eugenics as a means of eradicating autism as an unwanted phenotype or genotype, and he wished he had never been born. And then, Christopher Krumm murdered two people and killed himself.

Christopher Krumm's story has been overshadowed and largely erased in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtorn Connecticut, and even after the shooting in Portland, Oregon, and the stabbing at the school in China. But his story is important and must be told.

I cannot condone Christopher's actions. I will never accept or justify violence for any reason whatsoever.

Yet I grieve for Christopher as much as I grieve for James Krumm and Heidi Arnold, as much as I grieve for the twenty-six victims at Sandy Hook, the twenty-three victims in China, and the two victims in Portland. I mourn for him. I mourn for all of them.

What might their lives have looked like?

Two of the children who were killed at Sandy Hook were autistic. One of them was killed alongside his aide. And part of me wonders what kind of world they would have grown up in had they lived.

I do not believe that Christopher Krumm would have believed what he did and then committed murder and suicide had he not been raised in such a profoundly ableist society.

In an alternative reality, Christopher Krumm would never have internalized ableism so thoroughly that he chose to commit acts of violence. In an alternative reality, Dylan Hockley and Josephine Gay might have  come to age in the Autistic community with knowledge of and access to Autistic culture. As much as Christopher Krumm was a perpetrator of horrific crimes, he was also a victim. The choice to end his life and to take the lives of two others was his, but it was not a choice he made in isolation, without any outside influences or other external factors that drove him toward it. That choice and the reasons he gave for it could only have occurred in the context of the absolute worst kind of internalized ableism.

This is not the kind of world I want my friends and their children to age into.

I have decided for this holiday season and for the New Year to make a simple request of my friends, acquaintances, and readers -- the Loud Hands: Autistic People, Speaking anthology was released a little over a week or so ago, and is now available on Amazon for purchase. I have compiled a list of some schools, libraries, and other centers to which I would like to see copies of the anthology donated (possibly in my name), in the hopes that the more the voices of Autistic people combating ableism can be heard and made accessible, the less the chances that tragedies like Christopher Krumm's will occur. Among a sizable list, I have included the libraries of the colleges where his father taught and where he attended.

Will reading an anthology prevent someone from committing murder? I don't know. But the voices challenging the ableist hegemony need to be made available in as many places as possible, because these are the voices of the future. These are the voices of our community. Take a look at the list. It's in a Google Doc to allow people to edit it, by moving the contact information of recipients to a separate column so that all of the targeted recipients can receive a copy eventually. You may add addresses of additional places to the wishlist column as you see fit. But spread that link.

I do not want to mourn for more lives lost. 

Grief is a hard, hard thing to process.

But this is my attempt, however small, to begin the process of recovery and healing from this grief, to begin moving forward, to begin to wonder what I can do to change the world, even if only a bit, for the better.

16 December 2012

Can I hide somewhere until it's over?

Trigger Warning: Ableism, violence, ableism about violence and disability, and ableist quotes.

17 December 2012: This post is edited to reflect additional Google searches. I have also added citations to peer-reviewed reports and studies.

Can I hide somewhere until it's over?

In the last twenty-four hours, various pages on this blog were found after Google searches for the terms
  • are autistic people more likely to kill
  • commonaility of mass murderers shootings autism aspergers
  • how many mass shooters were autistic?
  • aspergers mass murderers
  • are mass murderers autistic
  • percentage of all murders committed by people with autism
  • autistic violent "home anymore"
  • how often do autistics commit crimes later in life
  • has there ever been a mass murderer with aspergers
  • autism mass shootings 
  • how many autistic people commit murders 
  • are people with autism dangerous
  • how many of 2012 mass murderers had aspergers?

Part of me is horrified and appalled that people are searching for these phrases and finding this website. And part of me is thankful that they're finding and clicking through to this site instead of somewhere else.

Here are some facts.
  • Autistics are more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators.
  • When Autistics commit crimes, being Autistic rarely has anything to do with the actual crime.
  • Autism is not violence.
  • Mental health disabilities aren't violence.
  • People with mental health disabilities are also more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators.

Here are some citations. (N.B. I use the language of the study authors to describe their results.) The links should be to copies of the PDFs where I was able to obtain them, and to the abstract where I wasn't.
  • This study showed no association between Asperger syndrome and criminal behavior. (Kalpana Dein and Marc Woodbury-Smith, 2010.)
  • This study also reiterates that most Autistics are law-abiding people. (Nachum Katz and Zvi Zemishlany, 2006.)
  • This study actually found a prevalence rate of violence of 2.7% in people with Asperger syndrome, which is below the prevalence rate of violence in the general population. (M. Ghaziuddin, Luke Tsai, and N. Ghaziuddin, 1991.)
  • This study found that adults with "severe mental illness" are eleven times more likely than non-disabled adults to be victimized by crime. (Linda A. Teplin, Gary M. McClelland, Karen M. Abram, and Dana A. Weiner, 2005.)
  • This study reviewed a number of other studies to demonstrate significantly higher levels of violence and abuse against people with developmental disabilities--which includes Autistic people--than the general population. (Joan R. Petersilia, 2001.)
  • This study found that "the mentally ill" are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence, and questions the supposed link between "mental illness" and violence. (Heather Stuart, 2003.)

Here are some answers to those Google searches.

are autistic people more likely to kill
No. We're less likely to kill.

commonaility of mass murderers shootings autism aspergers
Not common, not by a long shot.

how many mass shooters were autistic?
No idea. Does it matter?

aspergers mass murderers
Asperger's doesn't make someone a mass murderer. Ever.

are mass murderers autistic
I'm sure there have been Autistic mass murderers. There have also been Muslim and Black and Women mass murderers. That doesn't make all mass murderers Muslim or Black or Women, nor does it make them all Autistic. And being Autistic doesn't make someone a mass murderer.
percentage of all murders committed by people with autism
No statistics. There was a study not too long ago that showed that autistic people have a slightly lower rate of violent crime than the general population. Citation is lying around somewhere. No spoons to get it.

autistic violent "home anymore"
No idea what you were trying to find. I can tell you though that we're not generally violent people, because, hey, autism doesn't create violence.

how often do autistics commit crimes later in life
Not as often as the general population, according to a study on "Asperger disorder and violence." Pretty sure that's the title of the paper. I don't remember the year or authors. If someone reminds me, I might upload a PDF that people can read.

has there ever been a mass murderer with aspergers
See "are mass murderers autistic" above.

autism mass shootings
See "are mass murderers autistic" above.

how many autistic people commit murders
See "percentage of all murders committed by people with autism" above.

are people with autism dangerous
Not any more or less in general than anyone else. Specific Autistics may be more aggressive than specific non-Autistics, but it's not a reflection on Autistic people in general.

how many of 2012 mass murderers had aspergers?
See "percentage of all murders committed by people with autism" above.

I'm sad.

I'm having difficulty forming words, and I have things to write and study. It's finals period. I have several pages to write about something tangentially related -- the abuse and torture of disabled people -- and I've got an exam coming up in one of the most ableist fields of all time. I scribbled out something to submit as an op-ed somewhere, and who knows, maybe they'll publish it. I wrote a short poem, an emotional response, really, to the shootings the other day.

I'm intentionally avoiding the news and the blogosphere and Tumblr and Facebook, really, too. I made the mistake of posting a link to one particularly good response to a problematic article on my own personal Facebook page, and it's been flooded with comments, only some of which are actually helpful and supportive. A lot of derailing going on there. Now I remember why I've been avoiding public conversations about this stuff.

I just want to cry. And hide.

Can I hide somewhere until it's over?

You can read my responses to similar media accusations about Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian gunman, at "The Dangers of Misrepresentation," or the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting at "All I want to do is weep."

14 December 2012

nameless things dismantle

This poem is my response to the shooting in Oregon, the shooting in Connecticut, and the stabbings in China.


nameless things dismantle

Those whispered words slipping from
brittle tongues in susurrus murmurs mean little to me now.
Pain slices open my lips, frigid and unforgiving as searing and merciless.
Fingers flutter for tender flesh,
and I, unknowing, surrender.
It's anger slipshod and terror all askew, and bits
and shards of jealous and happy spatter the bitter-spangled floor stained wistful.

Thunder rumbling behind my eyes, waterfall roaring behind my ears,
cavernous cacophony all in between the crevices—
I am smothered by the flitting, fleeting thoughts,
impressed by the crowded solitude inside here,
and I want to taste the silence,
but it only tastes like blood—
acrid, metallic, wrong.

I see ghosts of me move in behind their faces before nameless things dismantle,
before they bleed
and they come to gravity's cradle,
the words ripped out of their throats
understanding rendered stolen in lost breath.

02 December 2012

Not a child; don't treat me like one

Trigger Warning: Ableism and infantilization.


Not a child; don't treat me like one

I spent the last two days in Long Beach, California for the TASH National Conference where I was giving a presentation. This morning, I was sitting in LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) waiting for my plane to begin boarding so I could return to Washington. The terminal was impossibly cacophonous. Scores of people dressed in red Santa hats or green Christmas elf hats jabbered in raucous conversations, competing to be heard over scores of children wearing identical white Fantasy Flight t-shirts and red Santa hats as they occupied four rows of seats at the gate.

I'd never heard of a Fantasy Flight before, so I asked one of the staff what they were doing. She winked as she told me they were taking the children to "the North Pole." Another member of the staff told me that they fly around California and look for snow-covered mountains, and then tell the children that it's the North Pole. "Basically," he said with a light smile, "we lie to them." The children, they said, primarily come from lower socio-economic background. It's a fun holiday tradition that the airline does across the country.

Sounds like a nice experience for the children, many of whom (if not all of them) probably are still young enough to believe in Santa Claus. Some of the staff perform for them during the flight. Others are dressed in costume as characters. And the event concludes with a visit from "Santa." And that's great, because it's always nice to do something fun for children around holidays.

Here's the problem -- not everyone participating in the Fantasy Flight event was a kid. There were maybe ten or fifteen adults with Down Syndrome, some of them middle-aged (and possibly a bit older than that). And that bothered me. There was something inherently, innately problematic with that, and I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was for the longest time.

And I realized what it was as an alarm began to blare in the terminal. (Someone had accidentally opened a door without keying the code first, and it actually took the next several long minutes before someone figured out how to deactivate it. I noticed one of the actual children covering his ears, and was relieved I wasn't the only one with that immediate impulse.)

However well-meaning the event organizers and coordinators and volunteers and staff were -- and I have no doubt that they were nothing less than extremely well-meaning and positively-intentioned -- the fact remains that they were infantilizing disabled adults. For those not familiar with the term, infantilization is when a person is treated or thought of as if they were an infant when they are not. It's an incredibly common occurrence with disabled people, and particularly with developmentally and intellectually disabled people. I wince when I hear service providers or teachers talking to disabled adults in a slow, high-pitched "baby voice." I have sudden, strong urges to bash my head against the nearest wall when I witness non-disabled people in positions of authority or power depriving disabled adults of agency by making decisions for them despite their clear ability to express (however unconventionally) their own choices.

What the people organizing this particular Fantasy Flight were doing was treating disabled adults as if they were children. The underlying ableist presumptions of this type of treatment are that a.) disabled adults are mentally like children or infants, b.) disabled adults should participate in the same activities as children because they're essentially "on the same level," c.) disabled adults, like many young children, won't realize that "Santa" doesn't really exist, or that the plane isn't really going to another destination, d.) disabled adults should be thought of as grown-up children in adult-looking bodies, and e.) disabled adults aren't competent and don't have agency.

Could a disabled adult make a voluntary and fully informed decision to participate in this kind of event? Of course. And while it's entirely possible that that was the case today, the evidence suggested otherwise. The evidence suggested, rather, that the adults with Down Syndrome participating in the Fantasy Flight had been taken along on a bastardized field trip by their service providers or support people as an "activity." I also noticed that none of the children seemed to be talking to the adults with Down Syndrome. And I couldn't help but wonder if any of them knew about organizations like Self Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE), which is primarily an organization of people with Down Syndrome and other intellectual disabilities, or TASH itself -- at the conference, there had been a large number of folks with Down Syndrome, including a few celebrity actors with the disability.

It was so easy to picture them participating in a local self-advocacy group or a national disability rights conference. And it was so cringe-inducing to see them dressed in the same shirts as what looked like six and seven year olds (or thereabouts), being treated the same way as the children, being shepherded along for the activity.

Disabled adults, regardless of the specific disability group, regardless of the nature and level of an individual's specific impairments, regardless of presumptions about an individual's mental or neurological state, should never, never, never be treated as if they are small children. It's more than insulting, offensive, and patronizing -- it's dangerous and it's dehumanizing.