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Saturday, October 10, 2015

More on Autism, Crime, and the Oregon Shooting

In The Politics of Autism, I write:
People with disabilities are victims of violent crime three times as often as people without disabilities.[i] The Bureau of Justice Statistics does not report separately on autistic victims, but it does note that the victimization rate is especially high among those whose disabilities are cognitive. A small-sample study of Americans and Canadians found that adults with autism face a greater risk of sexual victimization than their peers. Autistic respondents were more than twice as likely to say that had been the victim of rape and over three times as likely to report unwanted sexual contact.[ii]
[i] Erika Harrell, “Crime Against Persons with Disabilities, 2009–2012 - Statistical Tables,” U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, February 2014. Online:[ii] S. M. Brown-Lavoie, M. A. Viecili, J. A. Weiss, “Sexual Knowledge and Victimization in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 44 (September 2014): 2185-2196. Online:
At The Austin American-Statesman, Suzanne Potts and Karen Ranus write:
In the midst of this tragedy, many are speculating that the shooter was on the autism spectrum or had a mental health disorder. While these reports are unconfirmed, it is easy for our community conversations to simplify these complex situations by pointing to these disorders as the cause.
There is absolutely no credible evidence that suggests a link between autism and planned violence. In fact, the reality is quite the opposite. While more than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), studies show that people with autism are four times more likely to become victims than perpetrators of crime.
As a community, it is much easier to have a knee-jerk reaction. We want immediate closure and comfort and believe that having a name for the perpetrator’s state of mind will somehow explain motivation or prove a theory.
But let’s be clear: autism or mental illness is not responsible for the actions of a lone shooter. It never has been, and it never will be. Why? Because whether you define ASD and mental illness as neurodevelopmental issues, genetic dispositions or erratic behavior, the truth is that we are all affected by our community, our experiences, environment, trauma, genetics and the time and place in which we live.
We must acknowledge the very complex nature of how these factors are woven together in every individual’s life. To do otherwise is willfully ignoring the truth about our neurodiverse world.
Suzanne Potts is the executive director of the Autism Society of Central Texas. For more information on resources, visit the website at Ranus is the executive director of NAMI Austin. For more information on resources, visit the website at