Hard News by Russell Brown

86

The A-Word

It seems I wasn't the only one thinking the A-word as biographical details of Virginia Tech killer Cho Seung Hui emerged. It wasn't that hard: the inability to make eye contact, lack of friends, monotonal voice and history of being bullied are all pretty typical (but not universal) characteristics of people on the autistic spectrum. And this is a condition that at present can only be diagnosed by observing characteristics.

Tze Ming sent me a link to both the Daily Mirror's story on the brutal and spectacular denunciation of Cho by his grandfather and great aunt, which broached the childhood autism diagnosis, and the AutismLink press statement on the issue, with the dry observation that: "We the Asians of the World welcome the Autism Advocates of the World in suddenly needing to issue press releases apologising for and/or repudiating the actions of one of our 'own' and/or begging for tolerance and understanding, in order to fend off revenge attacks (because revenge-attackers always read press releases)."

Clearly, CNN decided it was a sensitive issue. It featured the autism diagnosis in its initial report, then removed all mention of it from its online story. Perhaps that was simply a matter of prudence, given that the news was hearsay, but I'm not sure I'm any more comfortable with the a-word being whisked away than I am with it being sensationalised.

We've been through this before: Martin Bryant, who massacred 35 people in Tasmania, was given a post-killing diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome around the same time we got Jimmy's diagnosis. Let's hear it for the internet and the better information that was available to us in 1996, and wouldn't have been three years earlier. That helped a lot.

Bryant, of course, had many other problems, and I expect that we will discover so did Cho. It's fair to say that when someone on the spectrum gets alienated, they can get really alienated, but that's not the same thing as the emotional and psychological disturbances that appear to have been present in both killers.

I prefer to think there won't be "revenge attacks", or the kind of moral panic that flared up around "goth culture" after the Columbine massacre. In Australia, Bryant's crime did not spark a wave of fear or prejudice against people on the autistic spectrum, but certain sections of American society have been known to over-react.

I think more likely than public prejudice is an anxious new policy setting in schools: the next time an aspie kid says something bad in the midst of a bout of school refusal (believe me, it happens) all hell will break loose and the kid's out of school. And being a "loner" becomes a "warning sign".

Which makes a pretty good segue into Craig Ranapia's thoughtful comment on related issues from Saturday's Public Address Radio.

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Also new in the podcast: a five-minute chat with Steven Price about the Coalition for Open Government.

And some consumer recommendations:

The Murray McDavid Dufftown 1993 (11 year old; Bourbon/Syrah finished) . A really rather splendid Speyside. Don't blow $120 on bloody Laphroiag when this is $83 at Glengarry's and a hell of a lot better.

Booniay!! A Collection of West African Funk and Pere Ubu's landmark The Modern Dance - both available for bugger-all (or as part of your trial 25 downloads) and both really worth owning. If you think you might like that, click on one of the eMusic ads on this site, and we get a little money if you sign up. (Actually, don't be shy about clicking on any ads - it's all good for us.)

And, from BBC Four: Racism: A History. A superb, serious three-parter that may shatter some ideas you have about white folks and civilisation. There are two eps showing up in a torrent search here.

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