And I was having such a good day. I had learned that Ernie Els won the British Open, which prompted me to look more closely into his links with the autism community and to be really encouraged and inspired by his generosity. Plus, my little girl came home from a long weekend with her grandfather and seemed to have a very good time—just a couple of ASD flare-ups needing to be addressed. Plus, I was making good progress on a set od articles at work. Yes, things were going well.
But then I just had to do it. I just had to check in with Facebook one more time. And what did I find? Links to a video clip from MSNBC commentator Joe Scarborough this morning. He was discussing Friday night’s shooting in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater, trying to find sense in the horrendous events. Then in the course of the conversation, Scarborough offers these words of deep wisdom and insight:
As soon as I heard about this shooting, I knew who it was. I knew it was a young, white male, probably from an affluent neighborhood, disconnected from society. It happens time and time again. Most of it has to do with mental health; you have these people that are somewhere, I believe, on the autism scale. I don’t know if that’s the case here, but it happens more often than not. People that can walk around in society, they can function on college campuses—they can even excel on college campuses—but are socially disconnected.
Then, as if to pour salt in the wound, Scarborough tells us that he has a son with Asperger syndrome. So I guess that means he’s qualified to make a long-distance provisional diagnosis of the shooter. And that he’s qualified to suggest that being on the autism spectrum makes you more likely to become a homicidal maniac.
What Was He Thinking?
Now it’s possible that Scarborough’s own journey with autism has been particularly challenging, and he is projecting his experience onto the whole autism community. I know of kids on the spectrum who seem to fit the kind of picture Scarborough painted—kids who stick to themselves, are socially awkward, and may be prone to violent melt downs.
But these people are far from the norm. And even those who tend to be more aggressive take out their aggression on themselves and their caregivers, not on perfect strangers. Not to mention that a melt down is pretty spontaneous. It’s not usually something four months in the making, involving elaborate booby traps and multiple purchases of ammunition on the Internet.
My real problem is that Scarborough stigmatized an entire population that is already suffering from a lot of misunderstanding and prejudice. As the father of a child on the autism spectrum, he should know better. As a professional journalist, he should know better. But he couldn’t resist the temptation to shoot off his mouth. By his unfettered logorrhea not only did he end up espousing an indefensible theory; he gave people another baseless reason to be afraid of people on the spectrum and to treat them as a separate class, “others” who are just weird enough to shoot up a whole movie theater.
No, They’re Not.
No, people on the autism spectrum are not more prone to violent crimes than the general population.
No, people on the autism spectrum are not sociopaths. There is no correlation between ASD and mass murder.
No, people on the autism spectrum are not retarded—even if some of them do suffer from mental retardation.
No, people on the autism spectrum are not automatons devoid of personal emotions and incapable of empathy—even if some struggle in expressing what is going on inside of them.
No, people on the autism spectrum are not just spoiled brats who need more parental discipline.
Send a Message.
So if this makes you uncomfortable in any way, follow this link. It will take you to an online petition asking that Scarborough retract his speculation and offer an apology to the autism community. He really does need to set the record straight, if only for the sake of his son.