Dear Elisabeth, Who Thinks That All Autistic People Should Be Locked Up
December 19th, 2012 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

I saw your post making the rounds of Facebook today. I’m sure you know the one I mean. It’s the one in which you refer to autistic people as “monsters” who “need to be locked up… ALL OF THEM.”














I realize that you’re scared. I realize that we live in a country in which 20 little children were just murdered while sitting in their classrooms. I realize that you want to somehow solve it, that you want to somehow feel safe, that you want to somehow cast this evil out of our midst.

I understand how you feel. I feel scared, too. I want to solve it, and I want to feel safe, and I want to cast this evil out of our midst so that no one ever has to bury a loved one again after such a horror.

But calling for all to be punished for the evil done by one person — that is its own violence.

It is prejudice. To decide that, because one member of a group did a despicable thing, all members of that group are suspect is the very definition of prejudice.

It is scapegoating. The person who did that despicable act didn’t do it because he was autistic. I don’t know why he did it, but autism wasn’t the cause.

It is verbal violence. It engenders hatred. It has the potential to put innocent people at risk. I have friends who are fearful for their safety right now. I know parents who are afraid for the safety of their children right now. Innocent people. Good people.

People like me.

I am on the autism spectrum. Let me show you who I am.













This is a picture of me with my husband Bob. It was taken at my kid’s high school graduation in 2011. I look distinctly like a full-fledged human being, don’t I?

That’s because I am. I’m a human being with a husband and a kid who love me, and who rely on me, and who can’t imagine their lives without me.

I’m a human being with friends both near and far.

I’m a human being who loves to write and to think and to create things of beauty.

I’m a human being who becomes upset at injustice, and who sometimes can’t sleep at night because she feels the suffering of other human beings so deeply.

I’m a human being who walks into any situation just wanting to help and to extend a kindness.

I’m a human being whom other human beings implicitly trust, because they know that I would never use anything they tell me against them, and that I would never break a confidence, and that I would never willingly hurt a living soul.

That is who I am.

Autism doesn’t make monsters. The monster is the fear that evil creates.

Don’t let the evil win. Don’t let it make you see monsters in the place that human beings are standing. Because if you do, evil wins. And after the events of last Friday, none of us wants to see that happen.

© 2012 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg


25 Responses  
  • Liz writes:
    December 19th, 201211:27 pmat

    I am a teacher, who has worked with students on the autism spectrum in general ed classes for several years. While I have never been officially tested, I recognise myself too much in the trainings on autism I’ve attended to see that I am on the spectrum myself. The children I’ve worked with are usually more caring and considerate of others than their “normal” peers – they just have difficulty expressing it. Being socially awkward is not a crime.
    That someone would say this frightens me – for my students, for myself, and for the world.
    Who is more socially awkward – the autistic child or the person who would lock them out of the sun forever because of the actions of someone else.

  • Jess writes:
    December 19th, 201211:45 pmat

    With all my heart and soul, THANK YOU.

  • Sandra K. writes:
    December 20th, 201212:45 amat

    Really glad I came across this, because I have been blazing a trail with that snapshot you posted up there, it has sent a fire thru me that makes me see red at this chick. I know I shouldn’t get upset, but my child has autism, and I refuse to let some uneducated person ( i am trying to keep it civil here, no cussing) bring my son down in the eyes of the public. Whomever this cousin of hers is, they must be some pretty bad talk going on amongst them. But that kind of talk is EVERYWHERE right now, thanks to the media, and all the crap they sling out there. Not sure I understand this womans motivation. But it really irks me, knowing my child would have to grow up in this world, misunderstood by people like her, and I am sure there are more. I am hearing more and more that autism is being called a mental illness. Does that not tell anyone how much people really do NOT understand about ASD????
    This aggravates me on a personal level.
    I just really want to thank you for writing this, I truly appreciate it!

  • Kaitlin writes:
    December 20th, 20121:24 amat

    I would like to thank you.
    You amazing Lady.
    I work with people with all types of disabilities on a daily basis. It is the most rewarding job you could imagine. seeing the smiles you can bring to those peoples faces, its priceless…

  • Heather Clark writes:
    December 20th, 20124:10 amat

    Oh my! I am awake in the middle of the night worrying about my family, worrying about my friends, and wondering why someone as thoughtful and kind as you has to continually assert her humanity. Why does the world always seem upside down? I can barely tell where to put my feet and walk anymore. I can barely understand it any more. You have been a good and trusted friend of mine, Rachel. I am so sorry that someone, that too many, would say such awful and ignorant things. You don’t deserve that in any way. There should be more people like you. The world would be a better place. My love to you and yours.

  • Kylie Robertson writes:
    December 20th, 20126:59 amat

    For my 7yr old ASD son, & our family- I cannot thankyou enough, your words- perfect xxxxxx

  • The Goldfish writes:
    December 20th, 20127:33 amat

    Wow, I think, in terms of logic, this stands equally with the theory I read yesterday that if only the school wasn’t such a “feminized” environment, then the older boys would had the ability to physically tackle any intruder with an automatic weapon, and prevent deaths.

    But at least that wasn’t hate speech. Well done for addressing this so eloquently.

  • faith in us « a diary of a mom writes:
    December 20th, 20127:59 amat

    [...] Dear Elisabeth Who Thinks That All Autistic People Should Be Locked Up by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg [...]

  • Jim W writes:
    December 20th, 201210:15 amat

    I feel like this is more grace than I can muster in a response to that woman’s kind of thinking. I feel like it’s wasted on her.

    About the only use I can make out of it is to store it to trot out as evidence when someone says “oh, come on, people don’t really think that about autistics, do they?” and then I can say, “Yes, ‘people’ do…and here’s an example of one such…”

    • Jonathan writes:
      December 20th, 201212:34 pmat

      Jim W,

      Kindness and patience are never wasted on people. In fact, there is nothing so empowering as to be kind in the face of people spewing anger and hate. When we meet anger with anger, any chance of open dialog disappears.

      One of the (many) reasons I like Rachel’s writing so much is that she is so often both kind and patient, particularly with those who have demonstrated that they have neither.

  • Angeerah writes:
    December 20th, 201211:02 amat

    I like you, I like you a lot. On behalf of my very sweet ASD son, my husband, oh heck my dog and cats, and me, thank you for this.

  • Julie writes:
    December 20th, 20121:26 pmat

    I too am a writer, with a surprisingly similar career path to yours. My 14-year-old ASD son is also a writer, or hopes to be. He’s also a voracious reader. He’s creative, loving, open. And easily hurt. I hope that he will someday be able to advocate for himself as eloquently as you do. And I hope, too, that he won’t have to, because people like you have come before him. Thank you.

  • Tammy writes:
    December 20th, 20121:47 pmat

    Very well stated. Thank you for posting this. I like the approach – introducing yourself to the person who spewed hatred. Even if it does not change her mind, it can change others who read this. My daughter is sweet, smart, and creative, and it pains me that other people fear her when they see her flapping or mouthing things in public. We need more articles like yours to educate the public about differences and acceptance.

  • Tara Woods writes:
    December 20th, 20121:53 pmat

    That’s a lovely photograph, and I’m grateful to you for sharing it with us.

    For me, the worst part is that this alleged cousin works with children whom she apparently has no problem dehumanizing.

    No, wait, the WORST part is that it feels like this is what all the people muttering darkly about ‘mental illness’ in relation to the tragedy are secretly thinking.

    You managed to construct a far more composed, gracious reply than I would have.

  • Genealogy Lady writes:
    December 20th, 20122:11 pmat

    Thank you for being who you are, a unique and individual human being! Thank you!

  • theresa russell writes:
    December 20th, 20122:47 pmat

    this is scarry people feel this way.she made me sick,turned my stomache!my grandson is autistic and the most loveing person alive!!!

  • Tiffany Jean Greer writes:
    December 20th, 20123:50 pmat

    On behalf of myself who is on the spectrum, and my fiance who is as well, I would like to thank you for standing up to this uneducated bigot…. God made this world, he made you he made me and he made my fiance, and he never makes mistakes, you are a beautiful strong intelligent woman who, like me, is just a little fed up with getting stereotyped and dehumanized. Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth! God bless!

  • Brittany writes:
    December 20th, 20123:59 pmat

    Thank you so much for this response.

  • megansspark writes:
    December 20th, 20124:51 pmat

    Thank you Rachel… words matter, and you have shown the beauty of words well used.

  • Meeusea writes:
    December 20th, 20127:48 pmat

    Thank you Rachael,
    I am so glad that there are people in the world that take the time to write such beautiful words, and try to make this world a bit better than it is.

    Thank you so much,

  • Disability and Representation» Blog Archive » Guest Post: A Letter to Elisabeth from the Mother of an Autistic Son writes:
    December 21st, 201212:02 amat

    [...] boys, one of whom has autism. The piece is addressed to Elisabeth, the person to whom I directed my last post. Please feel free to share it [...]

  • Michelle Sutton writes:
    December 21st, 20121:28 amat

    thank you for writing this! I have struggled to clarify my thoughts and your words really helped. I am relieved to find such thoughtful, positive helpful words after wading through so many awful and thoughtless ones in the past week. I greatly appreciate that you address the fear people are feeling with such compassion.

  • Flannery writes:
    December 21st, 20122:21 pmat

    A most excellent response, friend.

  • In the Wake of Tragedy | writes:
    December 21st, 20129:46 pmat

    [...] possibility that Lanza was autistic is still continuously brought up. And then you see things like this (follow the link to see the Facebook screen [...]

  • Murderers, Retards, and Geniuses. | Autism & Oughtisms writes:
    December 21st, 201211:34 pmat

    [...] “Dear Elizabeth, who thinks that all autistic people should be locked up.” Disability and Representation. [...]

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