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Saturday, July 3, 2021

Blaming Autism, Again

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 connectionAfter 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.” 

 Alex Mann at The Capital Gazette:

A neurologist testified Friday afternoon that the man who murdered five Capital Gazette employees has autism spectrum disorder, one of the diagnoses his defense attorneys are basing his insanity claims on.

The gunman who fatally shot Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters falls at the mild to moderate end of the developmental disorder’s continuum, the doctor said.

Apart from being awkward, Dr. Thomas Hyde said, that means Jarrod Ramos may have seemed normal to people he encountered. Hyde said Ramos does not have any intellectual impairment, which sometimes accompanies autism, but struggled with the social aspects of life — a hallmark of the disorder.
Assistant State’s Attorney David Russell questioned Hyde’s sources of information, highlighting that the doctor only talked to Ramos and his sister, Michelle Jeans, before coming to a diagnosis. Russell also emphasized that Ramos claimed in interviews with other psychiatrists to have friends as a child, joined a chess club, a running team and earned a nickname, Gizmo, while hiking the Appalachian Trail.

 From the Autism Society:

As leaders of intellectual and developmental disabilities organizations, we find recent statements made by Albert Watkins regarding our communities as reprehensible, inexcusable and deeply offensive.

Albert Watkins, an attorney representing Jacob Chansley, one of the rioters of the Capitol on January 6, 2021, recently suggested that Mr. Chansley has Asperger’s syndrome, which is an older term that is no longer used as it’s part of the diagnosis for Autism Spectrum Disorder. He stated that this diagnosis and other contributing factors will be a part of Mr. Chansley’s defense.

While making his argument, Mr. Watkins stated, “A lot of these defendants—and I’m going to use this colloquial term, perhaps disrespectfully—but they’re all f__king short-bus people. These are people with brain damage, they’re f__king ret__ed, they’re on the g__damn spectrum.”

This language is unacceptable and the suggestion that having autism or other developmental disabilities is a defense to a crime cannot be tolerated. As a graduate of St. Louis University and having received his law degree from Georgetown Law School, Mr. Watkins knows the power of words and the harm caused by such offensive and unnecessary language.