By Karen Weintraub
Within hours of the Newtown school massacre Friday, media outlets such as Fox began reporting that the young man police identified as the shooter — Adam Lanza — had an autism spectrum disorder. They said their information came from a comment Lanza’s brother, Ryan, made to law enforcement officials, as well as suggestions from family friends and acquaintances.
Several reporters referred to Lanza’s autism as fact and in the same breath, they mentioned his alleged atrocities – leaving the impression that one had led to the other.
The autism community reacted with horror to that suggestion. advocates took to the Internet to express concern about the way the media was portraying Lanza and autism. Several blogs appeared and were widely shared, including Slate’s Emily Willingham, who explained that just because people with Asperger’s have trouble reading other people’s emotional cues doesn’t mean they don’t have empathy – and certainly doesn’t make them more inclined toward violence. Ron Fournier of National Journal also wrote a widely circulated piece urging readers not to stigmatize those with Asperger’s, like his son Tyler, 15.
Tweets abounded in response to the suggestion that there was somehow a link between autism and the elementary school tragedy:
“I’ve been lucky to work with some VERY wonderful people with autism. Don’t stereotype, please,” one said. “Would be a huge blow to the wonderful Autism community that has come so far if in fact Lanza was on the spectrum…” noted another.
“We don’t believe that it was the autism that caused this act to occur,” said Peter Bell, executive vice president of Autism Speaks, an advocacy group. “It is not part of the definition of autism.”
There is no link between autism and violence against others. Studies show that anyone with a disability is far more likely to be the victim of a crime than the perpetrator of one, and nearly half of teenagers on the spectrum have reportedly been the victim of bullying.
“We need to remember that in the aftermath of horrifying tragedies like this, for fear of adding to the stereotypes and prejudice that Autistic people and others with disabilities already face,” said Ari Ne’eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, a group of adults who identify themselves as having an autism spectrum diagnosis. Continue reading