Unquestionably the most upsetting thing I read about autism and the Colorado shooting came from San Francisco autism blogger Laura Shumaker:
My son Matthew was home over the weekend, and I did everything in my power not only to protect him from the 24 hour news coverage of the horrible massacre in Colorado, but to make sure he was closely supervised at all times. Even with all the work I have done to increase autism awareness and acceptance, people still are uncomfortable with his social quirks, and are hyper-anxious around him after events like the one in Aurora. And who could blame them?
Who could blame them?
Who could blame them?
Well, anyone who has not swallowed a lot of ignorant lies about autistic people would blame them.
Laura either does not know or does not care that autistic people like her son Matthew are much more likely to be victims of crime than criminals. She does not understand that the problem with what Joe Scarborough said about James Holmes is that he reinforced a negative and untrue stereotype about autistic people (we are likely to be serial killers). She seems to believe that such a connection is reasonable and understandable, but that Joe just went too far:
I don’t think that Mr. Scarborough meant to imply that all murderers are on the autism, spectrum, but he did, and he shouldn’t have, so he should RETRACT, with a sincere apology.
Laura is right that it is not okay to imply that all murderers are on the autism spectrum. But, probably in part because, like Joe Scarborough, she has gotten a lot of her ideas from Autism Speaks, she does not understand that it is wrong to say that autism makes people more likely to kill.
Why did this bother me so much?
Because Laura is nice and smart and good. She has a big following which she deserves.
And she has internalized (and is spreading) the most negative stereotypes possible about the autistic people, including her son, who she claims to advocate for, at least to the point where she thinks people should not be blamed for scapegoating us for murder.
And that makes me incredibly sad.
Update: Laura has made some changes to clarify her meaning.
Thom Hartmann hosted an interview with Mike Elk and Ari Ne'eman yesterday. Hartmann takes Scarborough to task for his recent comments suggesting that accused shooter James Holmes is autistic, but the discussion went much further and could serve as an excellent introduction to basic concepts in neurodiversity.
Elk is a journalist for In These Times who believes that it is important for successful people like himself to be open about their autism. He says that autistic people are already isolated, and that comments linking us to violence will make us more isolated. Research does not show any connection between autism and the sort of violence Holmes is accused of.
Ne'eman is the president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and the first ever autistic presidential appointee. He points out that this is not an issue of political correctness, but one of prejudice.
Both discuss Autism Speaks. Elk shares my opinion that it has a lot in common with Komen for the Cure. Ne'eman talks about research priorities and the need for a discussion about autism that acknowledges both strengths and challenges.
Essential. I would have liked to have heard from a woman as well, but that's my only criticism.
Autism Speaks just posted this on their Facebook page:
We called Joe Monday to express our concerns about his comments on Monday's "Morning Joe" program, and the offense taken by the autism community. He invited us on his show any time to discuss the issues facing the autism community, an opportunity we will take as soon as we can arrange it. Many were outraged by the comments; Joe Scarborough issued a clarification of his remarks in a public statement Tuesday.
We all have a responsibility to advocate for sensitivity and understanding for those who struggle with autism. Moving forward, we will continue to hold ourselves and others accountable for ensuring there is no discrimination against those who live every day with the challenges associated with autism.
He did, however, email a pathetic statement to Mediaite:
During a debate regarding the recent Colorado shootings, I suggested that the Aurora tragedy should make Americans focus more on mental health in this country. I also stated that my own experiences raising a son with Aspergers made me keenly aware of how important strong support systems are to those who might otherwise be isolated.
The growing Autism epidemic is a tremendous burden for children, parents and loved ones to endure. My call for increased funding and awareness for Autism and other mental health conditions was meant to support the efforts of those who work every day to improve the lives of Americans impacted. Those suggesting that I was linking all violent behavior to Autism missed my larger point and overlooked the fact that I have a wonderful, loving son with Aspergers. Perhaps I could have made my point more eloquently.
I look forward to continuing my work with wonderful organizations like Autism Speaks to provide badly needed support to millions of Americans who struggle with Autism every day.
Does Scarborough understand that statements like his actually hurt autistic people?
Does Autism Speaks?
Will that organization choose to distance itself from his comments or will they continue to embrace the idea of demonizing autistic people?
Yesterday, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough suggested that James Holmes, the suspect in the the Aurora, Colorado shooting, is "on the autism scale."
Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg has created a petition asking him to retract his comments.
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network makes this statement:
Mr. Scarborough’s remarks suggesting that James Holmes, the shooter behind the Aurora movie theater killings, was an Autistic American are as perplexing as they are without evidence. No information on Mr. Holmes has suggested that he displays the diagnostic characteristics of autism and no evidence exists tying autism with violent behavior or threats to public safety. As a parent, Mr. Scarborough should know better than to perpetrate these types of unfortunate stereotypes. Autistic Americans are an integral part of our society and live, work and attend school alongside our non-Autistic peers. There exists no evidence linking autism with violent behavior. By spreading ill-founded and unsupported claims linking autism with violence, Mr. Scarborough does our community real harm. We urge him to reconsider and for him and MSNBC to retract his remarks.
The International Coalition for Autism and All Abilities says:
The recent comments made by Joe Scarborough were a sad yet strong illustration of the prevailing ignorance and bigotry in our culture regarding disabilities, specifically autism. The ICAA has reached out to Mr. Scarborough through our ICAA Radio program, offering a unique opportunity to issue an apology, retraction or other statement to our community. Mr. Scarborough seems to be an otherwise thoughtful individual, who has been awarded authority and opportunity to voice his opinions to millions on a global scale. We hope that Mr. Scarborough will become better educated about autism, and gain some perspective. The marginalization of autistic people, and people with other disabilities, is equally outrageous to the marginalization of people with racial or other differences. Mr. Scarborough and others in the media would do well to join us in our efforts to make the world a better place, rather than continue as a part of the problem.
Paula C. Durbin-Westby writes:
In 2007, the Autism Society reported that 22 people in a 5-year period used Asperger syndrome as a defense in a violent crime case, or about 4.5 per year. For comparison, the FBI Uniform Crime Report statistics for 2006, shows 1,417,745 violent crimes committed. 4.5 of almost 1.5 million. Clearly, autism is not the prime suspect in violent crimes of any type.
Rick Ellis says:
To be fair, Scarborough has a son with Aspergers, so it's not as if he doesn't have some real life experience with the subject. But I have a son with Aspergers as well, and it would never have occurred to me to make this sweeping generalization.
Which I suppose is one of the many reasons I don't have my own cable news show.