Autism DOES NOT Create Mass Murderers

Today

Autism does NOT equal mass shooter. However, the media often includes information in their stories that may lead the general public to make that assumption. Right now the tragic and senseless shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon is all over the news, as well as the subject of Autism. For example, the Today show ran a news clip on 10/6/2015 (the day of this post), with the description that “Information about the gunman in last week’s mass shooting in Oregon is emerging, indicating that his mother may have had an impact on his fascination with guns.” Then the first part of the piece proceeded to discuss not guns, but Autism. Here is a link to the clip:

http://www.today.com/video/new-details-emerge-about-oregon-shooters-mother-539317827583

The reporter Miguel Amaguer says, “Starling new revelations about the mother of Chris Harper-Mercer, a shooter who killed nine people at Umpqua Community College last week. For over a decade Laurel Harper, a registered nurse, offered online advice on various medical issues like Asperger’s Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum disorder that she wrote both she and her son struggled with.”

The story also mentioned that Harper wrote of dealing with a “screaming autistic head banger.” Why was that necessary? It then without explanation segued into the portion that was actually related to the story’s description: that the mother’s involvement with guns and the way she exposed her son to them may have possibly helped contribute to her son’s obsession with firearms.

So what was the link that viewers were supposed to make between the “new information” about Autism within the family, and the new information about their involvement with guns? What was Today trying to imply? Why was Autism even relevant to a story that seemed to be about the fact that the mother taught her son how to shoot guns?

It seemed to me to be to be a sensationalistic treatment of Autism, NOT relevant to the story, and disrespectful to Autistic people in general.

Stories like these are potentially damaging and can help foster the fear and stigma that is so often faced by Autistic individuals.

(Update: I did not address the gun issue in this post because this is a discussion about Autism. My point is that the news report purported to be about guns, but then also included seemingly unrelated information about Autism. I am not making any sort of commentary about guns one way or another. While it is an important discussion, that was not my focus here.)

Years ago, while the world was reeling from what transpired at Sandy Hook, best-selling Author John Elder Robison wrote an article for Psychology Today called “Asperger’s, Autism, and Mass Murder.” Speculation had arisen then, as now, that the shooter may have had Asperger’s. Robison is himself Autistic (he describes himself using both terms Asperger’s and Autistic), and warned, “Let’s stop the rush to judgment.” He also stated plainly, “Correlation does not imply causation.”  Continue reading

Why I Told the World My Son Has Autism


(An abridged version of an earlier post, “The Story Behind ‘Sea lion Shadow'”)

A short video featuring a gleeful little boy and a sea lion playing follow-the-leader somehow turned into a viral story that spread across the globe. That boy is my son, and I never dreamed that a visit to the zoo could be the catalyst for such a surprising chain of events and an unexpected opportunity, with my son’s permission, to share special-needs awareness.

One late winter morning my family of four took a day trip to Washington’s National Zoo. The Sea Lion exhibit was one of our first stops, and we found ourselves alone in the underground observation area. A young sea lion almost immediately appeared at the glass and stared straight at my 7-year-old son, seemingly attracted to the contrasting colors on his coat. The beautiful animal began to shadow his movements and Alex cried out, “He LIKES ME!” Little did we know at the time that the sea lion was actually a girl, named Sophie, and that Sophie regularly initiates games with her visitors. My son was simply happy that, for just a moment, Sophie was choosing to play with him. I began to record the encounter and she kept pace for several minutes, surfacing only for air. Alex, who has an Autism Spectrum Disorder, could barely contain his joy and shouted, “THIS IS THE BEST THING OF MY LIFE!” He often struggles with feelings of isolation, as do many children with special needs, and to see him so happy and in sync with his new friend struck a chord deep within my heart. Time seemed to freeze and we were mesmerized watching the two moving together as if in a dance. There was the feeling that we were alone with a magical creature in our own beautiful world.

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