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Sunday, April 29. 2007
I missed this piece which indicates that Cho was diagnosed with Autism when the family moved to the US. That puts things in a different light. He could not communicate with anyone, including his family.
When I think about autism in adults, I think of Arthur "Boo" Radley (as played by Robert Duvall in the remarkable 1962 movie) - a rare example of a movie which was better than the book.
The reader who sent the link notes that this April happens to be National Autism Awareness Month.
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You're right it was Autism Awareness Month. Also I think you'll find about Cho being autistic, was a reference made by his Grandmother. There is a great deal of doubt and media hype about whether he was or wasn't.
It was his uncle, as I read the story. The reason why there is doubt is that, as far as anyone can tell, his parents ( 1st generation S. Korean immigrants working in a dry cleaning store) did not get him treatment or care. Without a lot of money or a generous health plan, kids with developmental disabilities, mental illness or just plain bad kids slip thru the cracks until some appalling behavior ends in tragedy.
Plenty of kids get misdiagnosed autistic, who have some other problem. Diagnosis, like politics, is often applesauce, only important for getting insurance reimbursements or special education services for kids with serious problems.
I would be interested if our resident experts on logical fallacies could apply their more disinterested logic to the problem of people hearing that a vicious killer is autistic. WIll people look with even more distaste and suspicion at an autistic kid from now on. Using the flawed logic of: Kiler is autistic, therefore all autistic kids are potential killers. Same as when it is reported that other killers have severe mental illnesses.
As the parent of an autistic kid, I can see how certain behaviors and tendencies, if not structured and trained and roundly opposed by a disciplined school and home, could lead to major trouble in the outside world.
After grad school, when still a feckless single I almost took a job at a school for autistic kids where they asked me how I would cope with violence. When I walked thru the place with kids nearly a foot higher than me, I reconsidered....
It is interesting that the autism community closes ranks on the issue of violence and violent potential in people with developmental disorders. It's hard even to Google much, let alone get people to talk candidly. Occasionally another parent will confide about their kid having punched them black and blue, but only to someone they know really well.
Whenever one hears about an autistic kid doing something awful, I feel a pang and can, for a moment, empathize with a god-fearing, hardworking black citizen who cringes at the latest news story about thug-like rappers or teenaged gangs. The sins of some members of the community a source of shame and fear for decent people. Fear of being seen as like the criminal elements within one's community.
Nevertheless, being prone to violent tantrums, usually triggered by sensory issues or huge routine breaks or unbearable feelings of shame and isolation (what leads to trouble with the autistic kids I know), are not the same as pre-planning, consciously posturing, making videos, and proceeding to kill 32 people in cold blood.
Most of the autistic kids I know are one sort of social misfit or another, but misfit in the sense of being clumsy, weird, eager to please but geeky, oblivious, etc. Not cold-blooded, planning murder and mayhem.
Even if Cho does turn out to have been autistic, that disorder would neither entirely explain or at all excuse his behavior.
It is my observation that most autistic kids possess multiple diagnoses. Partially this reflects the mediocre, revolving door quality of the psychiatric care (seldom the same shrink for more than a year or two) most of them get (few of the best and brightest have gone into this field--they prefer rich neurotics who can pay their bills, may recover, and will probably be grateful). But mostly, I think, it reflects the fact that mostpeople with autism gradually show signs of some kind of mood disorder, personality disorder and/or conduct disorder as well. Some have seizure disorders, that can result in terrible, impulsive behaviors (tho Cho's actions sound to me just sociopathic). Perhaps, duh, being autistic (even high functioning, ie verbal and not wearing a diaper, and able to go around and occasionally appear normal) is depressing. Not fitting in, not being to read social cues, being thought weird and a little scarey. Or maybe it is true that there is a high preponderance of mood disorders in the families of many autistic people?
The point is, autism sucks for the person who has it, and their family, but it is not what makes a killer. For that you need wickedness and sin. Perhaps demonic possession? Only the Shadow knows...
When I watched the Cho videos, autism struck me as a distinct possibilitity. It's also consistent with the reports of his social difficulties. Disembedded (a clinician with one of the world's top therapeutic schools) was thinking the same thing. Autism with psychotic features is a reasonable hypothesis. If it is so, it makes the harsh moralizing about this fellow seem all the more cruel. His family must be suffering as much as the victim's families and villifying him would be a cruel revictimization of people who are suffering every bit as much as the others who lost children.
"villifying him" How do I not do that Dr. X. With what faculty of mind do I separate the person from the action? Just how much grace am I asked too have? I ask from ignorance, did he know right from wrong or not? Didn't he do what he did exactly because it was wrong? I understand the sentiment, but just can't quite get over the crest of the hill being discussed. I don't mean too be glib, but actions do have consequences. BTW, I agreed with 'apple pie's' suggestion, at the time, to send flowers to the family. Hopefully, they are receiving the counseling they need.
LM, you took the words out of my mouth! I wrote at such great and tedious length because it is my worst nightmare that my kid could do something violent. That, as much as concern for his personal welfare, motivates me to get him treatment, in fact to take a job based solely on its ability to provide the insurance necessary for that treatment. We are not our own. Treatment is not simply for his benefit, but to make him able to contribute to society, not just take from it.
I vilified Cho to my son today when warning him that because a visious murderer had been once diagnosed autistic, he would have to be doubly careful of his own behavior. That autism covers such a broad spectrum, but the average person on the street won't make fine distinctions, so he will have to make sure that nothing in his behavior gives people cause for alarm.
He got the message.
I think one thing that a lot of shrinks need to remember is that, no matter how admirable their dedication to the troubled and troubling people they treat, those people's families and sometimes, sadly, victims are as deserving of compassion as the identified patient.
I don't know how many times I have been told that perhaps I had been insensitive for making some motherish remark about the need for adolescent boys to shower regularly, after this had elicited a violent response from said boy. Being a stubborn sort, I feel that the moment someone becomes violent they have lost their case.
I have tried to imagine what Cho's parets went thru. So much hardship, even before he did this thing...
I have been blessed by access to close to as much care as one can get for a kid with developmental difficulties. And a loving and supportive church and school. But even so, I never cease to be frustrated by the helplessness and uselessness of the well meaning psychologist he has when behaviors get out of control. Only the psychiatrist has been any use in the end, because he has an understanding of the biological, and can prescribe. But he has never had what I consider adequate time consistently with any shrink who both understands and is good at working with someone with his condition. So we settle for kind and supportive. Way too few child psychiatrists near us, just as there are never enough child psych beds when a kid is psychotic... My kid has multiple diagnoses, and nothing really solves or cures anything, but sometimes meds make him available to learn. I am fond of his psychologist, but she doesn't really get it, tho clearly she cares about him and does her best.
Our church and one minister in particular and the congregation praying for him, loving him, teaching, talking and making friends with him, has done more to heal him than anything else. And I say that as someone who has taken care of numerous family members in and out of hospitals on meds good and bad, with clinical training myself.
It is so frustrating to me how few clinicians are willing to take the risk of working with such difficult patients.
I so agreed what Dr. X wrote a day or two ago about the rotten care in university health services, so PC, driven by administrative rivalries.
What I see of kiddie shrinks where I live (huge extremes of wealth, education and class) is either gold coast shrinks who charge $350 for 45 minutes and tell parents what they want to hear (and do the kids no service thereby) and help keep things looking nice or else ill trained social workers tossing pop psychology or else clinics for the really poor, really screwed up, desperate families. We found something sort of in the middle, and have at least had continuity of care, which is rare.
But I wonder why I am able to find compassionate and expert care for my own problems (which chiefly make me miserable) whereas it is so hard to find the right care for a kid whose problems, if not solved, could make him such a burden to others.
Not too excuse R., but it is a tough profession, and not yet a science, as much as some may think different. Thinking just now, a profession who's practitioner's have many doubts of their own, I suspect, at least if they are honest with themselves. Their ultimate goal just what exactly? To protect society, protect the individual, no, wrong word there, 'protect.' Assimilate the unassimilated and the unassimilatable. Trying to find a 'comfortable' if not perfect, fit, in a world of round, for those of a 'square' nature. Probably few have the internal resources needed for such an ultimate commitment to an individual, in the main. And, yes, for a certain percentage, power, prestige, and money is the primary motivator. It is not an easy world. Please excuse my made up words and understand I take none of this lightly, though my ignorance may indicate otherwise.
In my former profession, (before having to have reliable health insurance) we saw our work with people as being to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Simplistic, perhaps, but a useful guide...