Cho, Autism? This Woman is Going to Kill Herself!

As expected, I got my share of hate mail, both privately and publicly, after I posted on Cho and the Virginia Tech massacre, The Whole Class Started Laughing and Saying, "Go Back to China" and High Functioning Autism: Do You Know What It Feels Like To Be Torched Alive?

Many autism activists and concerned parents were worried that mentioning Cho's untreated high functioning Autistic Spectrum Disorder in connection with bullying and a comorbid paranoid rage, would bring further woe and discrimination onto autistic children.

My point, of course, was that autistic children should be treated and protected from bullying.

I got plenty of praise for being courageous and confronting the Denial in the Main Stream Media: CNN pulled the autism connection from its website, Yahoo News killed a news story which mentioned autism and the New York Times didn't note the autism link in a major Cho diagnosis story, despite Cho's aunt saying that he was diagnosed and other widespread stories around the world.

Monica Moshenko, Host of DisAbility News, wrote me, "We need to keep the truth out there as there are countless stories like the one you shared...sad commentary of how people with ASD live and continue without acknowledgement, support...nothing.

"Unfortunately if the autism community doesn't accept the truth of this, then all the research and education for autism won't mean much to me and ultimately will destroy the work that has been done."

One thing that was brought to my attention was the possible influence of Cho's Korean heritage. Psychology Professor Paul T.P. Wong said that Cho came from a shame-based Korean culture, where parents tend to keep quiet about family problems. One autism activist, whose husband is Asian, and has two autistic children, told me that it is a cultural taboo to acknowledge or admit behavior that differs from the norm. Apparently, Cho's mother, when confronted with the diagnosis of autism, vowed to take Cho to Church and use prayer to alleviate the obvious disability.

But one high functioning autistic woman's email from Canada (which she allowed me to publish) and the bullying she suffered makes me want to cry:

Mr. Fleetwood,

I have been following the Virginia shooting story and was especially drawn to the reports on his mental health. Before I read about his autism diagnosis for the first time on April 20th, I suspected Cho was somewhere on the spectrum.

Although I have an aversion to violence and can't even watch a TV show with violent scenes, I am another autism casualty who never got help early on.

Now 50, I was diagnosed with autism at age 3 and live in Montreal, Canada. In addition to that I have Tourette's Syndrome, personality disorder, severe sensory integration disorder (often accompanies autism), attention problems and coordination problems. Despite my diagnosis, my parents went into total denial, raised me as a normal kid, enrolled me as a normal student in a regular school, expected me to be normal and punished me for tics and autistic behaviors like not making friends and acting withdrawn. I endured a verbally and emotionally abusive upbringing. My parents devoted themselves to forcing me to be a person I could never be.

On the surface I seemed to succeed in the regular classes, but had learning problems that went unnoticed and unaddressed. Classes were so large staff ignored all but the most disruptive problems. I bluffed my way through school, learned nothing, got away with shirking most of the work and spent the day daydreaming behind the tall kids I strategically sat behind. I ended up with marks anyone would envy because all we needed was one good test and project to get by in elementary school and all the high school leaving exams were multiple choice. In high school I failed all the classwork in the humanities type subjects but ended up with high marks because the multiple choice finals counted for 100% of our marks if we did better on them than on classwork and exams combined. Some teachers did notice my coordination problems, short attention span and weaknesses in subjects requiring social understanding, but no one followed up on them. Thanks to the lax system and undeserved high marks, my parents and others thought I was much more capable than I was and expected too much of me.

Like many special needs kids, I was bullied. Not only did my classmates make fun of me, but kids from all grades joined in. I couldn't even step outside the house without a kid living on the street calling me the most demeaning names. I have a normal sister who made fun of me just as relentlessly as the kids at school and hollered at me for not being able to master games. Teasing continued in junior college and even in the part time undergrad university courses I took. Although I no longer attend school, I still get ostracized. Kids in the area make fun of my awkwardness. In every apartment I lived in, neighbors and even staff called me mental case because I depend on routines and get meltdowns during disruptions like power outages. When I worked as a nursing aide, unionized staff like kitchen helpers and fellow aides teased me the way my classmates did years ago even though some were old enough to be grandparents. I now work part time as a library/archives assistant in the same facility, but still get some teasing from certain staff and mistreatment from ones who are too mature to tease me.

The teasing is just one of the many trials I continue to face as an autistic adult living in mainstream. Because my parents never registered me as a developmental disabled citizen, I am now left to fumble in the community just as I did in school and other regular settings my parents forced me into as a child. My supervisor is satisfied with my work, but the stress of regular working conditions is taking its toll. Still afflicted with coordination and organization skill deficits, I struggle even harder to keep up with personal responsibilities like housekeeping. I am having a harder and harder time keeping up, especially in today's fast paced world. Born without the ability to adapt to change, I am not coping with disruptions and setbacks that come with the territory of mainstream living. Even when I'm not in the midst of an acute meltdown, I am chronically frustrated and irritated from the stress of struggling to keep house, keep up with an increasingly difficult job and cope with the especially tough Montreal living conditions. I am also burnt out. While most adults think in terms of goals, projects and dreams for the future, I use up all my mental energy just to get through a day.

I have been trying for years to get community support services like transportation and help with chores, but am unable to get anything at all. Montreal has no support services at all for people like me. The Quebec government run health and social service system (CLSC) literally treats my case as a joke because the system is short of money and sends cases like mine to the bottom of the priority list. I have no support system at all and don't think I can continue for much longer this way.

I lack the planning skills and other means needed to take my life and am too afraid of pain to even think of trying, but I spend most of my waking hours thinking of assisted suicide and wishing it would be legalized where I live. Isn't it sad that I have to think about such a drastic measure because I can't get the basic support I need to function and enjoy a decent quality of life?

Marla Comm Montreal, Canada

jfleetwood@aol.com