Dear Media: Stop Blaming Autism for Acts of Mass Violence
We need to talk.
As an autistic individual, it’s clear there is an issue that can no longer be overlooked. With the recent shootings in Florida, America has had to process yet another horrific act of mass violence. And once more, the autism community has had to deal with another unsurprising attempt to blame autism for the carnage. Turning on the news we find psychologists, analysts and “mental health experts” attempting to wedge in a correlation between the criminality of the perpetrator and autism spectrum disorder. We saw this with the shootings in Sandy Hook, Parkland, Santa Fe and most recently in Fort Lauderdale. While the autism community mourns each of these senseless tragedies, it is clear that many members of the media are wildly uneducated about the nuances and characteristics of autistic people.
To the uninformed in your audience, autism spectrum disorder is simply an “unknown,” causing the public to rely on their consumption of media to define autistics. We are often described as cold, puzzling, concerning and more recently, as having a “serious mental illness.” But here’s the thing, ASD is not a mental illness. People with mental health disabilities have not been shown to any more likely to commit a violent crime than any other group. Despairingly, we are more likely to be victimized by violent crime than the general population.
It was recently said on a television interview that “All you have to do is look at [the shooter’s] eyes and you can see he’s on the autism spectrum.” It is a deceitful rationalization and falsehood that those of us with disabilities or mental health differences can be identified as violent by looking at our eyes or physical appearance.
Not only does it do serious harm to the autistic population when you portray autism as the guilty party in a mass shooting, but it is also discriminatory to associate disability with violence. When we are made to look violent due to our diverse neurology, we are sidelined and risk losing the ability to speak above the loud noise of a false narrative.
You see, when autistic people are marginalized, everyone loses the spectrum of color we bring to the tapestry of humanity.
Because of continued understanding, healthy advocacy and acceptance, more and more people are being recognized as being members of the autism spectrum. The media is uniquely and wonderfully positioned to bring clarity and cognizance about the autistic experience to your audiences. Or rather we can, when you listen to our voice.
So in the end, we need your help. When a psychologist is intent on bringing Asperger’s syndrome or autism into the next post-violence discussion, invite an autistic expert into the conversation. We will help educate your viewers, readers and listeners about the positive differences that can come with being autistic. It is interesting that technology including your cameras, computers and internet networks that are used to spread these distortions about autism were created in part by autistic people. Let us move into the forefront of the discussion. You have a real chance to help create a world that doesn’t fear autism, but celebrates our differences. I think you can do better; I know you can.
Here’s to a better understanding and brighter future.
Getty image by Prathaan.