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Olson: What a difference a year makes

Published: Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 2)

The saying used to be that newspapers were history, written one day at a time.

In a modern newsroom, it’s more like writing history one minute at a time.

When you stop and take a long-view look at all that happens in a given year, all the stories covered, photos and videos shot, you get a sense of just how much really went down in all those minutes and days cataloged and reported upon.

Our story on the front of today’s paper hits the high points of the year here in DeKalb County, and the year’s sports highlights can be found on page B1.

We had some crossover this year, what with Northern Illinois University’s football team playing in the Orange Bowl. How cool is that?

Personally, when 2012 began I had not even an inkling of where I would be when it ended. I did not expect in January that by the time we got to December, I would have changed jobs, sold my house and relocated my family.

But a year can make a tremendous difference in our lives, which is why we pause each year to take note of all the ways our world changed (or didn’t change) at the end of each one.

It was a year filled with news nationally and locally, from the exciting and uplifting to the tragic and painful. We tried to bring it all to you truthfully and accurately this year, and we’ll do the same in 2013 and for many years to come.

• • •

Not the culprit: Asperger’s syndrome is not a mental illness. It is not the reason that the man I won’t name shot all of those innocent people in Newtown, Conn.

In the aftermath of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, we collectively started looking for answers.

Asperger’s, they reported he might have had Asperger’s. That’s some kind of mental thing, right? He probably needed medication … the system let him down.

The logical conclusion is we need to do better helping people cope. It’s our fault as a society that this happened. If only this person had been medicated, counseled or mentored better.

Although we as a society probably should do a better job helping the mentally ill – before they end up in the penal system – we shouldn’t use Asperger’s syndrome as a reason for this tragedy.

First of all, Asperger’s is a developmental disorder in the spectrum of autism. It’s not a mental illness. Symptoms include difficulty reading social cues, which can lead to isolation.

People with Asperger’s syndrome can be obsessively interested in a single topic, fall into repetitive routines or rituals, and may have peculiarities in speech and language, according to the National Institutes of Health.

I’ve known people with the condition. They face some challenges, but there certainly is nothing that makes them inherently dangerous or unfriendly.

They can also work to better themselves. One person with Asperger’s syndrome, David Finch, wrote a book called “The Journal of Best Practices,” in which he describes learning to relate to people by watching David Letterman on TV and listening to Howard Stern on the radio.

People with Asperger’s should not be stigmatized because of this tragedy.

Second, I get tired of us making excuses for the shooter. He no doubt faced challenges in life; his family seems to have largely fallen apart, leaving him adrift.

About 6 percent of Americans – about 18 million – suffer from mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the National Institute of Health. Many, many more come from dysfunctional families.

None of them were responsible for what happened Dec. 14.

The shooter was vile, as was his act; one can hope he will have to answer for it.

We shouldn’t pin it on a developmental syndrome any more than we would acid reflux or halitosis.

• • •

Go Huskies: It was tough listening to the harsh words that ESPN’s college football analysts had immediately after Northern Illinois University’s football team was selected to participate in the Orange Bowl this year.

Yes, I have my own T-shirt with a personal message to Kirk Herbstreit, who can’t really be too upset. His Q-rating in DeKalb has shot up about 400 percent, I’d say.

But the only way to really make people eat their words is for the Huskies to beat Florida State on Tuesday night on national TV.

It won’t be easy for coach Rod Carey’s team. The Seminoles have one of college football’s top defenses, they’ll be playing in their home state, and their players are far more accustomed to this size stage than NIU.

The Huskies earned the right to play with the big boys. Now they can show they belong by pulling out a win.

If you want to know more about the matchup, check out our special 16-page preview section inside today’s edition. And follow our coverage online at ­HuskieWire.com, and on Twitter @HuskieWire, for on-scene updates from Miami, including photos and video, leading up to and during the big game.

Good luck to the Huskies. Here’s hoping all the fans who make their way to Miami have a great game to enjoy along with some great weather.

• • •

Amateur night: Going out on New Year’s Eve lost some of its luster for me early on New Year’s Day 2002.

My wife and I were returning from a party when we were almost hit by a drunken driver driving the wrong way on Cumberland Avenue in Chicago.

I tried using a cellphone to call 911, but this was 2002, so I got the police station in Palatine, where I lived at the time. The police dispatcher essentially told me they were too busy with drunks in Palatine to worry about Chicago, too.

Since that night, New Year’s has been pretty low-key for my family. One year we went skiing during the day and were so tired when we came home that we didn’t even stay up until midnight. A few years later, my youngest daughter was born on Dec. 31, and that changed the game entirely.

Now I’m more worried about throwing a child’s birthday party than an adult bash for New Year’s, and that’s fine with me.

If going out New Year’s Eve is your thing – and I do seem to remember having a good time at it – try to stay off the roads, have a designated driver, hire a cab, or don’t drink for Auld Lang Syne.

It also can be fun to spend a night away from home once in a while.

Whatever you choose to do as this year ends, here’s wishing you a Happy New Year. As one of my favorite holiday songs goes, “let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear.”

• Eric Olson is editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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