Today has seen another flurry of news reports about autism. Unfortunately, they have been about a young man who has a very specific severe mental health situation which leads him to want to kill people...and who has tried to do exactly that in the past. He also has learning difficulties. He also has a low IQ. He is also autistic. He is on trial for an incident that led to the death of a young woman.
As ever, the only thing most of the media have focused on is the autism.
Please, media, you are lovely and dedicated people, and I know you want a good story. But autism has no known link to crime....other than two things:
a) Some criminals soon realise that some autistic people may be very naïve...and fool a few of our young autistic folk into doing silly or criminal things. For example convincing a young autistic person to deliver some 'packages' and collect money...and then the young person finds out it's drugs in the packages. It never occurred to them that this was a set-up. Lack of social understanding. We're doing very good work with the Police and the Courts to get better understanding of this.
b) Autistic people are nearly all victims of crime. We know for example that 30% of autistic women report that they have been raped. 80% report bullying. 70% report sexual victimisation generally. Huge numbers are victims of other general violence and fraud, too.
We know that there are some 550 murders in the UK every year. If 549 of those are by people who are not autistic, would a headline be, "549 non-autistic people are killers - be afraid of non-autistic people!". Indeed not.
But if one of them happens to also be autistic, that's often the focus. And it's also the difficulty.
The thing is, it makes our lives so much worse. We're already so often misunderstood. We're already battling a system that wants to find fault with all we are. Autism is a sensory processing difference and a need for routine. It's not a criminal condition. It's no more relevant to criminal intent than the size of the person's feet. It makes it more difficult for us to find friends. It makes it more difficult for us to be employed. It makes it more difficult for us to be trusted to help with charities and neighbourhood groups. People become afraid of us for no good reason. Such a sad thing for everyone.
So, lovely media folk, please can we ask that you be careful about the ways in which you are reporting things around autism? Get to know us. Most of us are wonderful, socially-responsible people who work very hard in society. We work on getting better laws, on safeguarding, on improving care and education. We're as responsible as anyone else is likely to be, as a group.
Get to know us, and help us to really make the country safer and better informed.