Saturday, 30 April 2016

Unhelpful Media Reporting around Autism and Violence

In today's papers, further coverage of a teenager, James F,  who killed two people in planned attacks.  He has been sentenced to 27 years in prison.

We learn a lot about this young person, from the news reports. We learn that he is ..

Has short brown hair
Wears glasses
Lives in Colchester
Went to school
Was sitting his GCSE exams
Had a psychopathic personality
Got an autism diagnosis as well, after his arrest when being held in a secure unit.

The Judge in the case was quite clear with the Jury that autism does not cause violence.

Dr Sarah Clayton, a specialist Clinical Psychologist, explains:

"In summary, there is as little chance of someone on the autism spectrum carrying out a violent crime as someone who does not have autism. In fact, research often shows a reduced risk of crime in people on the autism spectrum, due to their strong sense of what is right and wrong.”

Important words.  And accurate.

There are well over a million autistic people in the UK.  One can make a good case for saying it is 1 in 30 of the population, which would put the figure upwards of two million.  We are peaceful, gentle, caring people, on average.  Autism is not a mental health condition.  It does not cause deliberate violence.  It does not make people into psychopaths.  If anything, it does the opposite of that.  There were myths about 'lack of empathy'.  Those have been proven wrong.

Very very occasionally, out of these more-than-a-million, an autistic person will also be a psychopath.  And it's the psychopath that may become a killer.

There are a lot of people with brown hair.  We should not be afraid of people with brown hair.
There are a lot of people who live in Colchester.  We should not be afraid of people who live in Colchester.
There are a lot of people who are autistic.  We have no reason to be afraid of autism.  It's a sensory processing difference, where people focus on hobbies and special interests, and like routine and rules.  Often geeky and quirky, keen on social justice and fairness.

Psychopaths, though?  Yes, I can safely say that there's good reason to be cautious around them.  Some - a few - do things like this.

Please be careful what we blame for this type of violence. 

Make sure we report the correct cause of events in media.

Autistic people are usually the victims of crime.  We tend to die much earlier than others because our quality of life is already so poor, on average.  We don't need to be more marginalised and feared-for-no-good-reason than we already are.

Huge thanks.  And much prayer for the families, friends and communities of the individuals who were killed by this teenager, and those who were part of the life of James.  My heart breaks for them.