In The Politics of Autism, I write:
There is no evidence linking autism to planned violence, but in recent years, mass shootings by young men have led commentators in the mainstream media and on the Internet to suggest such a connection. After the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, for instance, news reports said that the shooter was on the spectrum. The speculation made little sense to anyone who understood autism. Whereas autistic people have language delays and deficits, the killer had learned English as a second language — and learned it well enough to major in the subject in college. Later on, it turned out that he had an entirely different problem, a social anxiety disorder. Adam Lanza, who committed the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, may have had an Asperger’s diagnosis, but his father emphasized that his behavior stemmed from the psychiatric illnesses that he also had. Nevertheless, the media speculated about Lanza’s place on the spectrum, which worried autism parents. One mother of an autistic child wrote: “This is the first time I'm truly afraid for him. Afraid of what may happen to my son with autism at the hands of a stranger; a stranger who has chosen to buy into the media-fueled misinformation that individuals diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder are dangerous and capable of horrendous acts of terror and violence.”
Autism Speaks extends its deepest condolences to the community of Parkland, Florida, after last week’s deadly shooting rampage. As investigators search for motives, media reports indicated that the gunman had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. But an autism diagnosis does not explain this horrific act of violence. We know that speculation and misinformation about autism and other neurodevelopmental disabilities have hurtful and lasting consequences.
Many people with autism also have secondary health issues and, in some, that secondary condition can be a mental health condition. However, research shows that people on the autism spectrum do not have higher rates of criminal behavior than the general public. In fact, teens and adults with autism are more likely than average to be the victims of crime. Autism affects each person differently, and misconceptions can increase prejudice toward the vast majority who are peaceful and productive members of society. Together, we can increase understanding and acceptance of each person’s unique story – the challenges, interests, abilities and aspirations. This is a time to mourn with the Parkland community and to remember that words matter when discussing this heartbreaking loss of life and shattered sense of security.From the Autism Society:
The Autism Society of America extends our thoughts and prayers to the families of the 17 innocent adults and children who were killed and those injured in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. We can’t imagine the grief and sorrow of all impacted by these shootings. We thank the first responders and teachers who were there to help students through this horrific tragedy.
Some media outlets and social media messages are suggesting the individual arrested for these killings may have autism. In some news reports, the reporting of his diagnosis may imply a linkage of an autism diagnosis and committing violence. 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.
We ask that those reporting about this tragic event not suggest or imply any linkage of autism and violence. Implying or suggesting that a person who is diagnosed with autism is violent is not only wrong but hurtful to the over 3.5 million individuals living in the United States and any other individual with an autism diagnosis.
We again strongly encourage Congress and state legislatures to bring together experts on violence and develop a comprehensive and effective national response to stop these senseless killings.