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I am not a Killer

You know that study, the one that's been in the news lately, about how lots of serial killers are autistic?

This one?

That study... Yeah, it's bad science, or bad journalism, depending on whether it's the researcher or the reporter who made the leap from "people say you have autism" to "you actually have autism".

What they did was look at news articles about serial killers and mass murderers. Then they checked to see which ones the press had speculated about having ASD traits. About a quarter had had a newspaper reporter make that assumption about them. Only one, Adam Lanza, had a pre-existing ASD diagnosis.

So, the only conclusion you can draw is, "journalists like to say that mass murderers and serial killers have autism."

In reality, autistic people can become murderers, but we are not more likely to become murderers than NTs are. If you take the whole population of people with autism, and check to see who commits crimes, there's no increased crime rate among autistics.

Here's such a study:
Pervasive developmental disorders and criminal behaviour: a case control study.

The prevalence and pattern of criminal behaviour in a population of 313 former child psychiatric in-patients with pervasive developmental disorders were studied. The patients were divided into three subgroups and compared with 933 matched controls from the general population. Age at follow-up was between 25 years and 59 years. An account of convictions in the nationwide Danish Register of Criminality was used as a measure of criminal behaviour. Among 113 cases with childhood autism, .9% had been convicted. In atypical autism (n=86) and Asperger's syndrome (n=114) the percentages were 8.1% and 18.4%, respectively. The corresponding rate of convictions in the comparison groups was 18.9%, 14.7%, and 19.6% respectively. Particular attention is given to arson in Asperger's syndrome (p= .0009).

So Aspies are more likely to play with fire, but for every other crime, we're either much less likely (classic autism) or no more likely (AS) to commit a crime.

The serial-killer study does not connect autism with murder. It connects murder with retroactive speculation that you may have been autistic--and that says much more about how people talk about crime, than about how autistic people actually behave.

To my fellow autistics:
Don't let this affect your behavior. Let them talk. Let them call you killers, if they want. You are still the same compassionate, caring people you always have been. You do not have to become vengeful or turn prejudice back against NTs, just because they claim that's what you want to do. Once you have set them straight and they still call you a killer, there is nothing you can do about the way they talk. The best revenge is to be the person you know you should be. When you help rather than hurting others, you don't need to have people praise you for it, or even notice it. Let them call you killers--you will know you are not; you will know the world is a little better because you are in it.



Thank you for this. Can I link to it in my next Autism News? (I think I've linked to you without asking before... Not sure why I feel a compulsion to ask for permission this time, but I do. Maybe because of the subject matter.)
Yep, I've noticed; I get a notification when you link to me. And yes, it's fine.

I really wish I could explain better about this. It's so dangerous for autistic people to get this kind of negative reputation; we're already so vulnerable to abuse and to murder--we don't need yet another rationalization that a murderous parent or staff member can use to explain to themselves why it's okay to abuse or kill that autistic person.

If we really did have an increased risk of becoming serial killers, that would be one thing--I'd be saying, let's find out how people become serial killers; let's find out what it is about autism that makes those things more likely to happen. But--we aren't. We're no more violent than the general population. It's a lie, and it's a dangerous lie.

I don't think these reporters are trying to hurt autistic people. I think they're just going for sensationalism here, and for the comforting idea that "normal people don't kill"--that a person has got to be crazy to kill someone. It makes them feel safer to pretend that we could predict who's going to kill--like if we just get rid of all the crazy people, we could keep ourselves perfectly safe from murderers.
I don't think the reporters in these instances are thinking about autistic people at all. . .


Normal people don't kill

If you want to keep safe, don't avoid autistic people, avoid 19 year old males. They are the highest age and sex group for crime: perhaps they have too many hormones and not enough experience to control them. Anyway, when I looked at crime statistics, sex and age (and a childhood background in poverty/long term unemployment) seem to be far more relevant than autism. Hardly any criminal sentence judgments (I have searched over thousands in my state) mention autism or Asperger's - they are more likely to mention ADHD, conduct disorder, etc and things like indigenous background (usually a sign of poverty and marginalisation), and even more so things like drugs and alcohol. It is possible, in my opinion, that a murderer who is autistic will do it differently (perhaps "more efficiently") than non-autistic murderers - and that might make for sensational headlines when it happens. But that has nothing to do with the likelihood of an autistic person being violent. We are - especially the classically autistic - less dangerous than the average NT, and we are far more likely to be the victims of crimes like assault, including sexual assault. Most autistic people I see mentioned in criminal judgments were the victims of the crime, not the perpetrators.
conclusion - journalists aren't a reliable source for news.
My suspicion is that it has to do with both ASD and killers being conflated with the "unsociable loner stereotype" in the popular mind. Few are informed enough about psychology to know, for instance, that murder is most commonly associated with sociopathy, not ASD, and that sociopathy is a condition in which "cognitive empathy" (guessing how others will think/feel) is intact or even superior to average while "emotive empathy" (actually caring how others think/feel) is absent, whereas ASD is generally associated with the opposite profile.

There also seems to be a conflation in the popular mind between milder forms of ASD and the scientific temperament, for similar reasons: that both are associated with having more cognitive and logical abilities and less sociability than average.
Thanks for wring this.
I'm worried about how people will treat me if they find out I'm autistic and they read the Daily Mail. I had started to feel safe rocking in public but not any more.
We are scapegoats.


Hang in there

I'm a 56 year old male and an Aspie. It gets easier. The more time you spend in society, the more you understand it. Doesn't mean it makes sense, but.....

Haven't read a lot of your blog yet, but intend to.

Take care,