Following the awful events of December 14th in Newtown when a gun massacre hit a community at its core, many that work or live in and around Autism are acting quickly to rubbish claims that Autism may be at the root of the cause. As some are pointing out, what started out as some mild insinuation has developed into outright blame with terminology such as “odd”, “aloof”, “loner” and “lacking empathy” all being used to describe Adam Lanza. Days later, some reporters had even gone as far as saying that he was “on the autism spectrum” or suffering from “a mental illness like Asperger’s signalling that this had turned into a storm of accusation.
What is clear is that this is extremely unfair for the Autism community and must stop. Whether this is just lazy journalism with reporters lumping together vague conclusions, individuals reporting on this atrocity must surely be more careful not to send out harmful messages.
Autism Support : Asperger’s or Autism aren’t a mental illness
Firstly, neither Asperger’s or Autism are forms of mental illness – they are neurodevelopmental disorders or disabilities. Autism manifests itself before an individual is three years old whereas a mental illness is far more likely to appear. Secondly, medication can be used to combat a number of mental illnesses whereas this is very rarely the case with autism. The differences between these conditions, their symptoms and how they affect an individual must surely be established by journalists before they write scathing stories.
Secondly, it needs to be pointed out that psychopathic, sociopathic and homicidal tendencies – such as those demonstrated by Adam Lanza and other mass murderers – are entirely separate from autism. In the very rare case that autistic children are aggressive, this is usually out of frustration at being able to express themselves properly. This aggression usually only turns out to be harmful to themselves and it most certainly does not take the form of systematic, carefully planned and intentional acts of premeditated violence.
Overall, a person with autism is no more likely to engage in violent behaviour than a neurotypical individual. Indeed, autistic individuals are more often the victims of bullying and physical abuse. So instead of using an incorrect and outdated stereotype, reporting of the Newtown tragedy and other events going forward should be far more carefully research and thought out. Autism support plays an incredible role in the lives of many and insinuations such as these only compromise the fantastic progress being made.