Cynthia Parkhill works as an editor of the Lake County (Calif.) Record Bee, which publishes this column, and also blogs about Asperger’s syndrome and disability in general. Parkhill has Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism.
Said 44-year-old Parkhill, “One issue I look at (on my blog at cynthiaparkhill.blogspot.com) is how people with autism often are covered in the media. One disturbing thing I saw in media relating to the tragic Connecticut school shootings was the linking of autism with violence. It wasn’t accurate. It puts us (people on the autism spectrum) in a position of having to confront unfair stereotypes.”
Parkhill was referring to Adam Lanza having Asperger’s syndrome. The National Institutes of Health states people with Asperger’s exhibit “social impairment, communication difficulties, and restrictive, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.” A person with Asperger’s often has trouble maintaining eye contact, back and forth communication, and relationships.
Parkhill said, “My main concerns (regarding the Connecticut shootings) were references to autism in two print publications. The Washington Post wrote that a (Lanza) family member had told investigators the shooter had a form of autism, which was attributed to an unnamed law enforcement official. Another print source cited an unnamed law enforcement official as saying Lanza had ‘suffered’ from Asperger’s. I was concerned anonymous sources were being permitted to diagnose Lanza with autism. (When seeing it) I proactively posted on social media about the absence of a link (between autism and violence) and how people with disabilities were more likely to be victims of violence rather than the people doing violence.”
Parkhill especially objected to reporters saying Lanza had “suffered” from Asperger’s. “I don’t feel I suffer from Asperger’s,” said Parkhill. “It is part of who I am. There are strengths and weaknesses (to having it). I celebrate the strengths and try overcoming the weaknesses, just as anyone would. As a person on the autism spectrum, and as a professional journalist, I try writing my portrayals (about people with disabilities) as accurately and respectfully as possible.”
She said Asperger’s had given her a degree of creativity and spatial awareness that helps her excel as an editor in laying out newspaper text blocks and photos.
Parkhill said, “It may be a cliché, but it’s true. If you have met one person with Asperger’s syndrome, you have met one person. We are all different. We are individuals.”