In the wake of the Isla Vista tragedy, there were initial multiple media reports that the killer, Elliot Rodger, had been diagnosed with a high-functioning form of autism, called Asperger’s, in which the main symptom is significant trouble with social situations. Although other, later media reports have backed off from that initial diagnosis, the correlation in some people’s minds between autism and murder is still out there, like a dark cloud on the horizon.
Naturally, parents, friends and self-advocates in the autism world are deeply concerned that these reports will only serve to make the general public more frightened to hear that someone they know has autism. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network released a statement last week regarding the media claims linking autism and violence. “Attempts by pundits to stigmatize members of the autistic and disability communities due to the diagnosis or possible diagnosis of someone who commits a violent act are inappropriate and out of step with our country’s shared values. “
As one 30-year with autism wisely posted on WrongPlanet.net: “The problem isn't so much whether he had an Aspergers diagnosis or whether his family labeled him such: the major problem is that Aspergers is becoming a media / pop-culture shorthand to describe people of an anti-social disposition. And that means that the public are beginning to associate the condition with criminality, violence and psychopaths. And that is dangerous for those of us who want to at least try and have some semblance of a life.”
By all accounts, Rodger was clearly a very disturbed young man with severe mental illness who had been seeing therapists for over a decade and prescribed medications that are commonly prescribed for paranoid schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder. He was living in an Independent Living Community in Santa Barbara for adults with a wide range of disabilities, although not designed for people who are known to be harmful to themselves or to others.
We grieve with the parents, family and friends of the Isla Vista murder victims, but blaming violent crime on an autism diagnosis isn’t the solution. Instead, we can and should work together for multi-sector solutions such as combination of gun control reform, improved training for law enforcement in the area of mental illness, including better monitoring of social media, and making it easier for parents to help their adult children with severe mental illness.