March 20, 2018

Mental Illness is Just an Illness

By Jack Bradley

Like everyone else, I was devastated when I learned about yet another high school shooting. Probably unlike most everyone else, I was also became really upset when I learned that the shooter was believed to be autistic and to have ADHD. Why? Because I am autistic, and I have ADHD.

There is no possible justification for what he did. There is no way to comfort the families or the students or the teachers. But there is also no justification for planting the seed that autism is the reason for this guy's actions. The reality is that people like me are way more likely to be the victim of crimes than the perpetrator. As the Autism Society of America, the oldest and largest grassroots autism organization in the US, notes:

“No reliable research has found that a person who is autistic is more likely to commit violence than a person without an autism diagnosis. In fact, existing research finds that autistic individuals are more likely to be victims of violence than those without an autism diagnosis. There is no confirmation of the diagnosis of the individual arrested.”

I know that people sometimes think I'm weird because of the sounds I make or the movements I can't always control or when I can't handle the noise level or situation, so I've learned to be upfront and unapologetic about who I am. That's why I can’t let this dangerous myth, based on ignorance and false stereotypes, just go by the wayside.

We may never really know Nikolas Cruz's life story or what led him to this horrible darkness. And though we may share being autistic, that’s where our similarity ends. I've been incredibly fortunate to have amazing family, teachers, and therapists - every possible support imaginable so that my future will be nothing like his, with the horror and heartache he created. But you can't see that when you slap a single label across my forehead.

Now my upset is turning to anger too - like the righteous anger of the Stoneman Douglas High School students who are demanding an end to the real insanity. It's the insanity of people who, along with the craziness of their unacceptable and intellectually destitute arguments against change, belittle anyone who may be different or atypical in some way.

I refuse to use labels like “deranged monster” or “maniac”. Mental illness is just that - an illness, and Cruz’s unspeakable rampage is not simply the act of a mentally ill person. It is the act of a mentally ill person who had access to weapons. That our leaders continue to allow this access is what really deserves to be labelled “insanity”.

I live with a different form of insanity every day. It's the insanity of ableism (think “racism” or “sexism”), of being not quite different enough but still not fitting in; the insanity of having to battle just for a level playing field; the insanity of always having to work to fit into a "neurotypical" world and never having that world instead adapt to me - even for a single moment.

In the parallel universe where many kids like me live, we are basically invisible. We go down the halls of our schools unseen, unheard, uninvited. It is time for the world to do a little adapting - to see us, to hear us, and to invite us into the conversation for changing school cultures. That is why I am raising my voice and joining the chorus of my peers from across the political and diversity spectrum.

These remarks were deliverd at the March For Our Lives Kentucky Rally organized by the Student Voice Team on the steps of the capitol in Frankfort on March 20, 2018.

Jack Bradley

Jack Bradley

Jack is a Yoda Corps Advisor of KSVT and former member. He previously served as the Inclusion Ambassador. Jack graduated from the Craft Academy in 2019 and is a student at Centre College.