High School Reform

STUDENT VOICE: Don’t blame autism for the Florida school shooting

Special-needs teen explains why people with disabilities are much more likely to be victims than perpetrators

Coral Springs, FL — The memorial at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 victims were killed in a mass shooting on Feb. 14, 2018.

Coral Springs, Fla. — The memorial at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 victims were killed in a mass shooting on Feb. 14, 2018.

Like everyone else, I was devastated when I learned about yet another high school shooting.

Probably unlike most everyone else, I also became really upset when I learned that the shooting suspect was reported to be autistic and to have ADHD.

Why? Because I am autistic, and I have ADHD.

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There is no possible justification for the massacre of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

There is no way to comfort the families or the students or the teachers.

But there is also no justification for planting the seed that autism made this happen.

Related: Students on the autism spectrum are often as smart as their peers — so why do so few go to college?

The reality is that people like me are way more likely to be the victims of crimes than the perpetrators.

I know that people sometimes think I’m weird because of the sounds I make or movements I can’t always control or when I just can’t handle the noise level or situation, so I’ve learned to just be upfront and unapologetic about who I am.

That’s why I can’t let this dangerous myth, which is based on ignorance and false stereotypes, go unchallenged.

Related: Low academic expectations and poor support for special education students are ‘hurting their future’

We may never really know Nikolas Cruz’s life-story or what may have led him, allegedly, to this horrible darkness.

And though we may share the autism diagnosis, that’s where our similarity ends.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have amazing family, teachers and therapists — every possible support imaginable so that my future will be nothing like his, with the horror and heartache that were created.

But you can’t see that when you slap a single label across my forehead.

Related: The separate, unequal education of students with special needs

Now my upset is turning to anger, too — like the righteous anger of the Stoneman Douglas High School students who are demanding an end to the real insanity.

It’s the insanity of people who, along with the craziness of their unacceptable and intellectually destitute arguments against change, belittle anyone who may be different or atypical in some way.

I refuse to use labels like “deranged monster” or “maniac.” Mental illness is just that — an illness — and this unspeakable rampage is not simply the act of a mentally-ill person. It is the act of one who had access to weapons.

That our leaders continue to allow this access to weapons is what deserves to be labeled “insanity.”

Related: COLUMN: Marjory Stoneman Douglas students give legislators a civics lesson

I live with a different form of insanity every day.

It’s the insanity of ableism, of being just not quite different enough but still not fitting in. It’s the insanity of having to battle just for a level playing field.

It’s also the insanity of always having to work to fit into a “neurotypical” world and never having that world instead adapt to me — even for a single moment.

That’s why I am joining other students in chorus of #neveragain and #MarchForOurLives at the Kentucky State House on March 20, 2018.

I stand with my peers from across the political and diversity spectrum.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter.

 Jack Bradley is a high school junior at The Craft Academy for Excellence in Science and Mathematics at Morehead State University in Kentucky, the Inclusion Ambassador for the student voice team of the Pritchard Committee for Academic Excellence and chief storyteller for jackbenimble.org.


Jack Bradley

Jack Bradley is a high school junior at The Craft Academy for Excellence in Science and Mathematics at Morehead State University in Kentucky, the Inclusion… See Archive

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