A Correlation Between Autism and Murder?


Two stories recently made a splash in the autism community. In the first:

An 18-year-old man described as “severely autistic” is in custody on suspicion he murdered a 59-year-old Coos County woman…

and in the second:

judge has ruled that Asperger’s syndrome cannot be used by the defense
in the case of a man accused or murdering a woman after he lured her to
his home in Savage in October 2007.

Three blogs
carried this story, each revealing their owners particular viewpoints.
In his small circulation blog, Harold Doherty said:

recent days and weeks two severely autistic young men have been
implicated in homicides. In one case, a young man with autism has been
implicated in the death of his mother who publicly professed her deep
love for her son and the joy that he brought to her….Neurodiversity
ideologues are unlikely to change. Their views are entrenched and tied
to their own public careers as professional “autistics” or
“enlightened” autism parents. The truth is that they discourage society
from addressing the harsher realities of autism by effective therapy,
treatment or cure. They help keep members of the public from
understanding the full nature of autism, particularly as it affects the
most severely autistic. Theirs is a movement whose aim is to keep
everyone from facing autism reality. Theirs is a movement which wants
society to keep our heads in the sand and ignore autism reality.

And on their advert covered anti vaccination site, Age of Autism said:

many stories of violent deaths allegedly at the hands of autistic teen
males will we have to read before the world either A) embraces
treatment for autism as a medical ailment or B) paints all autistic
males as dangerous killers and locks them away a la 1955?

you can see that Harold uses these deaths to say how silly
neurodiversity is and AoA use them to say that treatment for autism is
the only valid option before society is overrun with autistic killers.

viewpoints are pretty ridiculous. Harold builds up the idea that
members of neurodiversity don’t like to talk about the bad things
autism can bring. This is patently untrue as just a fairly random
peruse around Autism Hub blogs would reveal. In fact, what
neurodiversity bloggers tend to talk about are the good things and the
bad. A quick example
from Niksmom for example. The thing is that for parents on the Autism
Hub who talk openly about their kids, they easily mix the good and the
bad. Amanda Baggs, an autistic person, talks about some of the bad things that can happen to autistic people often. What Harold finds offensive is that we talk about the good things at all . I have no idea why.

And of course, on AoA they are desperate to link everything together with treatment. To make sure that every aspect
of autism is seen as medical and to encourage biomedical treatment of
those issues. A simple look at the advert-riddled blog that they have
become is evidence of that. NB - I’m not knocking ads on websites at all but six image and text ads and five ‘sponsors’ is a little bit too much.

But then the third blog I’m talking about is Lisa Jo Rudy’s where she asks carefully and thoughtfully about how we can make sure that autism is accurately reported on and presented to the world?

can we battle the anxiety felt around the “autism spectrum” diagnosis?
How can we present the face of autism accurately, without raising the
specter of violence? What are your thoughts on this thorny issue?

the lack of appeal to fear (cure ‘em or they’ll kill us!!) or appeal to
fallacy (the evil ND’s are brainwashing the world!!) that AoA and
Harold feel compelled to perpetuate. In fact the only quibble I’d have
with Lisa Jo’s piece is the emphasis she places solely on children.
However as someone writing from the POV of a parent maybe this is understandable.

my opinion, the answer to Lisa Jo’s question – how do we get accurate
information out about autism? – can be answered in some part by science.

found it quite difficult to get ahold of papers about autism and death
attributed to an autistic person. But the few that I did get access to
point to quite a different direction than the overly bleak and
purposefully twisted futures foreseen by Harold Doherty and AoA.

In this study,
the authors looked at rates of criminality amongst those with a
Pervasive Developmental Disability (subgrouped to ‘childhood autism’,
atypical autism and AS) . In the childhood autism group (which
corresponds to severe/kanners/etc) 0.9% had a conviction as adults. In
the control group, the rate was 18.9%. For atypical autism the
conviction rate was 8.1%. The control group was 14.7%. For AS, the rate
was 18.4% and the control group was 19.6%.

So, in each subgroup of PDD
the authors looked at, the rate of criminal conviction was lower than
controls. For the type of autism that Doherty and AoA are talking about
less than 1% had a conviction compared to 18.9%. I think its clear that
if this paper is accurate then we’re hardly going to be overrun with
autistic killers.

In the other paper
I couldnt get ahold of to read in its entirety, the authors looked at
wether moral judgement was present in autism. Its worth noting the
assumption that ‘theory of mind’ is somewhat accurate by these authors
but still,:

Cry baby scenarios, in which the
distress of the victim is “unreasonable” or “unjustified,” do not
elicit moral condemnation from normally developing preschoolers or from
children with autism. Judgments of moral transgressions in which the
victim displays distress are therefore not likely the result of a
simple automatic reaction to distress and more likely involve moral


...basic moral judgment [is] substantially intact in children with autism who are severely impaired in ‘theory of mind’.

Or in other words, severely autistic people demonstrably know the difference between right and wrong.

The third paper
that I did get ahold of in its entirety was a very disturbing case
study about an autistic 10 year old girl who killed her baby sister.
After reading it and the heap of physical and mental abuses placed upon
the autistic child, including the parents letting neighbours beat her
and the parents withdrawing her seizure medications I felt this case
was too extreme to be valid.

The feeling I get is that these
tragic cases of severely autistic people seriously harming others are
rarer than rare. Certainly the observation that severely autistic
people clearly are aware of right and wrong and that the follow up
observation that severely autistic (and atypically autistic) people had
an extremely low conviction rate compared to controls shows that I
think its very wrong to paint autistic people as requiring a cure
before they kill us all or are forcibly locked away. It is also wrong
to suggest that the ability to find happiness in a life with autism is
somehow not realistic because autistic people kill others. Its a real
shame that Doherty and AoA – all parents of autistic people – have so
little respect for the sort of people their children may turn out to be.


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