Response to NBC News

Assault victim

The autistic population are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it

This is in response to the NBC News article Asperger’s not an explanation for Lanza’s Connecticut killing spree, experts say.

Thanks to the reporter for this story.  My only gripe was the “or no diagnosed mental illness at all” sentence.  Asperger’s isn’t a mental illness.  It is an attribute like eye color or hair color.  It isn’t something that needs to be cured.  It isn’t dangerous.

Remember the phrase “going postal”?  There was an unfortunate time when there was a cluster of shootings associated with post offices and postal workers.  There are enough postal workers that if you dug a little it would heve been easy to find people who swore that their neighbor postal worker was drunk, violent and abusive.  You could have found scenarios to support any theory.

But nobody suggested it was appropriate to fear all postal workers or curtail their rights and freedoms.

Now there’s some speculation that Adam Lanza had Asperger’s and everyone assumes causality there.  Why?  Because having some way to identify mass murders in advance makes us feel safer.  And based on many of the comments here, that preference to have someone to blame holds true even when the correlation isn’t borne out by statistics.  What *is* borne out by statistics is that the autistic population is far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it.  Where is your righteous indignation against the violence perpetrated on the autistic population?

And, I’m not saying this was the cause here but, suppose someone with Asperger’s is bullied all through school and finally snaps and  fires into a crowd.  Would the cause then be Asperger’s?  Suppose you sequestered all the autistics to prevent further occurrences.  The bullies would just find someone else, perhaps fat kids.  Then after years of abuse some fat kids snap and shoot into a crowd.  What then?  Sequester all the fat kids?  No matter how you categorize the population, there will always be things that divide us, and psychopaths will always have one or more of those traits.  In my example, the root cause was not the Asperger’s or the obesity but the culture of violence that tolerates bullying.

In Adam Lanza’s case, I have no idea if bullying was a factor but I do know that blaming autism won’t make you any safer.  In fact, singling out an arbitrary subset of the population results in more violence and suffering overall.  Ask anyone of Japanese heritage about how patriotic American citizens were held as prisoners of war based on their physical appearance and not on their character.  Disguise it however you want, discrimination and bigotry are reprehensible in any form.

A note about all the comments saying things like “People with mental illnesses should not have firearms.”  I agree.  Now, how do you propose to implement that?  We already have extensive programs to deal with mental illness.  They are massively underfunded.  Does anyone actually think it is possible to accurately identify mental illness across the entire population without massive funding?  Here’s a clue: any large population of people will contain mentally ill individuals.  You can’t eliminate them from the population “gun owners,” but you can reduce the population of guns, *and* you can do that cheaply.  But we don’t have a way to fund the kinds of screening programs required to remove the mentally ill from the population of gun owners.  It’s a lot more likely that we’ll ban guns first, simply because it’s the cheaper way to solve that aspect of the problem.

An incident like this shakes us up and makes us scared.  We all want to feel safer and feel the need to “do” something.  We need to identify a cause and take some action.  Singling out autism and taking action on that basis won’t make you any safer.  It will just make the autistic population suffer even more.  If you want to take action that will make you safer, it is actually really easy.  Find a  perfect stranger and do something nice for them with no expectations of getting anything in return.  Find a way to contribute your unique gift to improve your local community, and then go do it.  Imagine if everyone affected by the loss of a loved one took up the habit of performing daily random acts of kindness to honor that person’s memory.  Safety doesn’t come from holding people down.  It comes from lifting them up.

And, yes, I have Asperger’s.

About T.Rob

Computer security nerd. WebSphere MQ expert. Autist. Advocate. Author. Humanist. Text-based life form. Find me on Facebook, Twitter, G+, or LinkedIn.
This entry was posted in Aspergers, Clue train and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Response to NBC News

  1. Aspiegirlier says:

    Yes autistic people are often targets of sick people who prey on vulnerable people. Worse, they sometimes blame parents when their autistic children is abused, as if the person with autism is less than human and somehow just being autistic is a reason you can abuse them! How screwed up is our world? Caregivers caught on tape punching, kicking and poking eye of severely autsitic man deny all charges also take a new twist by blaming mom of autistic child, for being a “high maintence mom” who demands high standard of care for her autistic son, as if that justifies caregivers abusing him! Just horrific. See channel 8 san diego news: December 27, 2012

    • T.Rob says:

      That video was very difficult for me to watch but it shows the mindset at work when, as you mention, people who are different are singled out and in particular, people unable to fend for themselves are dehumanized and bullied. I doubt those “caregivers” would treat their own children the same way or treat anyone that way in public. Yet behind closed doors and given power over someone vulnerable, they reveal their true character. I’ve known many home health care nurses and even one of small stature who is properly trained would have been able to work with the man on the video safely. At best these guys were untrained and at worst they were sadistic, but either way had no business caring for anyone at all, let alone doing so unsupervised. This is heartbreaking and I hope the young man won’t have to endure this again. Bravo for mom, setting up a web cam. Personally I am coming around to the idea all vulnerable populations should be monitored independently. Schools, day care, elderly care, rehab centers, etc. Although the privacy aspects concern me, I think if done right the benefits outweigh the costs. Still pondering it though. Thanks for the post! Please see the new site, where I’ll be posting autism and bullying essays from now on.

  2. Sree says:

    Very well written T-Rob. I was and am still quite concerned about the possible backlash from this incident, against people on the autism spectrum.

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