On Friday, December 14, 2012, a horrific thing happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown,CT.  A shooter forced himself into the school and opened fire killing 20 students between the ages of 6-7 along with 6 adults. He also killed his mother before going to the school. It is very heart breaking, many young lives that just began were ended way to soon. Out of all my fears as a parent, never would I have imagined this. 

My son is 6 years old and he has Autism. When I send him to school I expect that he comes home safe and sound. Some days, I haven't wanted him to come home because of the struggles and overwhelming stress. Today, I feel guilty for that; so I hugged him a little tighter and a little longer knowing that some parents will never get to see their child come home. For some parents, the only thing left is the shoe that they couldn't find a match for before rushing for the bus, unfinished Christmas preparations, the Legos on the stairs, and stains in the carpet. I can't even imagine the pain they must feel. 

In the past year we have come so far in gaining respect and acceptance for children on the ASD spectrum.  In light of these events there are new fears that are now coming up and existing. Our children have always had to deal with ignorance and misunderstanding. Media has brought this to a new level. Whenever events like this occur everyone grabbles trying to come up with reasons why. Sometimes, it is bullying, abuse as a child or mental instability. This time, the media chose Aspergers, a developmental disability characterized by difficulties in social exchanges and repetitive patterns or behaviors. This is a form of autism. It has always been my goal to spread awareness and understanding. 

On a personal level, with two boys on the spectrum, I have always wanted to gain more acceptance for my children.  This is because of the lack of acknowledgement and understanding people have towards children like mine. Many do not understand but make assumptions that the behaviors the children display are simply due to a lack of discipline. 

The reason why this is affecting me is because of a situation that that arose on Saturday. My daughter sings in a youth group and we were at her concert. I allow my son to use my camera during the performance to help keep him calm. I over heard a woman complaining about my son, so I took him out of the room. During the intermission I approached the woman, apologizing for my son disrupting the performance and explained he was autistic.   She immediately understood. The part that bothered me was the comment made to me regarding my explanation. Someone approached me saying that I should be careful what information I share with people. I have not censored his diagnosis since I came to terms with it and that is exactly what I replied back to her. It wasn't until I got home that evening that I understood why she said that. She was looking out for my son's safety because of the recent media frenzy. Today many parents fear sending their children to school and out in the community as others may perceive them as dangerous people. They may notice behaviors and lash on him angrily just because he has a neurological disorder. Yes, neurological, not mental illness!! 

I am angry that Aspergers has been brought into such a gruesome situation.  It hasn't been confirmed by doctor's which makes it all speculation. Speculation by a group of peers that may or may not have kept in touch with him since school. Speculation about when he was "an awkward teenager". I don't know what teenager doesn't go through those "awkward" moments, but this is how society works.  Society needs to be able to make sense of a senseless act of horror.

The stigma that everyone on the spectrum has to live with, is now larger and the fear is greater.  9-11 was yet another disastrous situation that occurred and the same domino affect happened. Anyone who wore a turban or looked middle eastern was targeted; not because they were bad people but because they fit the description.  I have the same fear regarding children on the spectrum. Do I still spread awareness in public or is it dangerous? Is this going to cause unnecessary fear toward my child? Will there be more bullying? Are hate crimes going to occur? Maybe I should stay inside to avoid the stares and comments, but what would that solve? Nothing!!

 We as parents need to be sure not to allow our fears to take control. If we allow this to affect how we spread awareness it will set us back 20 years. Now is the time to say NO, I will not hide away! These are wonderful children and we will not hide their diagnosis or abilities away for fear of others having the wrong information. These are our children and we MUST stand up and fight even harder for them.  We must be understanding of other's lack of knowledge and continue to provide accurate information. We must be willing to keep moving forward in our battle towards research, understanding and acceptance. We are the voice for these children. We are their advocate and no one can change that. 

I want to remember all of the precious gifts that were lost. My thoughts go to their families, friends, and community. I also want to send my thoughts and love to the children, teachers and staff at the Sandy Hook Elementary school who survived this tragedy. My thoughts go to the families of the wonderful staff that lost their lives protecting our young children. There is never any way of knowing what tomorrow will bring so, hug them a little longer, tighter and always tell them you love them. 

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