There's been a lot of talk over the past week over whether the Connecticut school shooter had Asperger syndrome and how that affects the public's perception of people on the spectrum. As happens too often when the murderer gets all the publicity and the victims too little, it's been less well-known that at least two of the children being mourned this week had special needs. A moving story in the New Canaan News on Monday starts out:
"Staring down the barrel of a rifle, Anne Marie Murphy pulled Dylan Hockley close to her, trying to shield him from the hail of bullets that would kill them both. Dylan, 6, had special needs, his family said Monday. And Murphy was his 'amazing' aide, they said. He loved her, pointing happily to her photo on the Hockley's refrigerator every day."
If you've ever had a child with an amazing aide, those words will put a lump in your throat. In the article, Dylan's parents praise the principal and school psychologist killed in the attack for helping them "navigate Dylan's special education needs." There's also a mention that Murphy's family has asked that donations in her memory be made to Autism Speaks.
The family of one of Dylan's classmates, Josephine Gay, is requesting donations to the Douglas Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism. On the page for "Joey's Fund" on the Flutie Foundation website, her family writes:
"Joey was autistic and severely apraxic. She could not speak, yet she touched the lives of so many around her: teachers, therapists, friends, neighbors, all loved and cherished her. Joey was social and affectionate; she smiled, she loved hugs, and she even had a wonderful sense of humor. Her spirit was indomitable. She participated in rigorous therapy and treatment on a daily basis without complaint. ... We will not let this tragedy define her life. Instead, we will honor her inspiring and generous spirit. ... The proceeds of this fund will help families raising autistic children. It's our way of dealing with this pain and never letting go of her love."
It would be great if these were the messages about autism and children with special needs getting all the play, rather than the fear and misunderstanding and cruel ignorance that's been going around in the wake of armchair diagnosis of the shooter. If you're moved to celebrate your own child or your child's school family, the Reader Respond pages for giving thanks for your child with special needs and telling good school stories can help you get the word out.