Autism Shines – How We Decided to Respond to Newtown

by Tim on January 1, 2013

I wanted to start the year off on a positive note.

After weeks of struggling with sleep issues in our house, and then adding holiday stress and illnesses on top of that, December was not our finest month. And it’s not like any of these went away just because the new year started.

Like many of you, we also have carried a terrible sadness since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT. Several people have asked me my response both as a parent and as one concerned about the link so many in the media have irresponsibly made between autism and Asperger’s and these murders.

I have been unable to find any coherent words to pierce the grief and terror of it all. I cannot even begin to imagine the pain of loss these parents feel. My heart goes out to them. This is every parent’s worst nightmare.

I had hoped the major media outlets would use their reach and influence to try to heal a broken community, nation, and world. However, entire blocs of the media have completely abdicated their responsibilities and have instead compounded this unspeakable violence by stating – either implicitly or explicitly – that these horrific acts are linked to the murderer’s supposed autism. Not only has no link ever been established between autism and planned violence, there’s no clarity on whether the murderer was on the spectrum to begin with. It’s all hearsay and conjecture, and the most irresponsible kind.

But enough of that. This has been covered at length by people more wise than me.

As angry as this made us, some autism parent friends of mine and I decided to try a different approach – tell a new story. Perhaps it’s not as much a new story as it is telling the world the one we already know.

We wanted to celebrate autism and the people we love through photos and positive messages. We wanted the world to see the faces of autism and to hear the stories we had to tell. We wanted to do something to change the world for the people we love, particularly because it felt more and more unsafe for them in the wake of this massacre and the media stories.

And that’s how Autism Shines was born, first with a Facebook page and now with the Autism Shines web site.

One of Autism Shines’s co-creator’s, Lexi Magnusson at Mostly True Stuff, gave some great background on how Autism Shines was created basically in the span of a single day. I don’t have much to add to her story except about the name itself.

Autism Shines came to me as a name years ago. It felt like an antidote to all the negative stories told about autism, but I never really knew quite what to do with it. I went ahead and registered the domain name just in case and have had the Facebook page set up but hidden and blank for a long time. I guess I was just waiting on the right project to come along to match the name.

So literally as I was sitting on the edge of my bed about to go to sleep, my friends were talking on Facebook about this idea and saying that all we really needed was a name to tie it all together. And the name I hadn’t thought much about in a couple of years popped into my head immediately. It instantly resonated with everyone. It was the perfect fit.

I made them admins of the Facebook page, set it to public, and went to bed. At that point, it had one ‘like’ – me. They started posting photos they’d already received, and Autism Shines took off overnight. In less than two weeks, people have submitted hundreds of photos, and thousands of people have visited the Facebook page and web site.

I am really proud to be a part of this project. The stories and pictures are beautiful. I look through them, and they bring me to happy, soul-filled tears. They are a celebration of life and the people we love. Through the photos people are sharing on Autism Shines, it has become one light born out of this tragic darkness. So many lives and their stories were lost that day in Newtown. Nothing can ever replace that loss. Perhaps by telling all of our stories in this way we can continue trying to bring more hope into the world.

Need a good way to begin your year? Go visit the Autism Shines web site and Facebook page. Bring a box of tissues. Look through all the photos and read the stories. Then feel free to submit your own photo, and join us in celebrating the people we love.

This is how we begin to change the world.

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Lexi Sweatpants January 1, 2013 at 7:51 pm

I know I’ve said it before, but I’m so proud to be a part of this project. It helped me get out of the funk that set in after Newtown and Abby’s hospital stay. Too much to worry about. Too much sadness.

This was a bright spot of hope for me. I’m just lucky to be along for the ride.

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