ARCHIVED Autism Vs The Media: The war is on!

ARCHIVED: Please note, whilst every effort has been made to update blog posts, this blog post has been archived and may present outdated and incorrect information and terminology. 

There was a time when I would have been drawn to any news article with the word Autism thrown into it, nowadays I avoid such articles like I do ones on Bird Flu and the imminent death of millions. Unfortunately for the autistic population the only people who seem to represent us now to the media and the masses are also psychopaths. This is a slight generalization but the only ones who seem to capture the public’s imagination are those who have either killed or are responsible for some other inhumane atrocity.  This is not giving us a good reputation. Why do we not hear about autistic sportsman  winning a medal for synchronized diving at the Olympics, or someone who isn’t an awkward novelty act dressed in a tinfoil suite on the Britain’s Got Talent stage? No, we get linked to murders, sexual assaults, awkward social daters (see the Undateables), fraudsters, UFOS and computer hackers; we are the media scapegoat, trying to ‘bleeeeet’ (or whatever noise a goat makes) from being engulfed by the public ignorance such coverage sparks.

Just to be clear, the fact that someone has committed murder does not necessarily have anything do to with them also being autistic, the two are not mutually inclusive. I repeat, I will not kill you because I am autistic, if I kill it will be because you’ve really, really annoyed me. The matter is not exactly helped by the fact that whenever someone is in a spot of bother bad enough to lead to their incarceration they are very quick to jump onto the autism bandwagon. Well please get off, you are bringing us down, you may jump back on once you have become an Olympic gymnast.

When my Dad first found out I had Asperger’s he had no idea what it meant, until one day he eagerly beckoned me into the lounge to show me what was on the news. “Is that what you’ve got?!” He asked a little bit too excitedly as a solemn and mute adolescent stood on the screen aided by his mother and lawyer, whilst being interviewed about his recent arrest for computer hacking. To this day my dad is still surprised every day I make it home with being arrested. In fact, were you to type ‘Autism’ into the Daily Mail website a whole host of crimes are listed. From “Mass killer Breivik may have have rare form of Asperger’s…” and “Boy, 12 stabbed baby brother to death” to “Teenage LulzSec hacker’ accused of attacking websites is banned from seeing his girlfriend alone”. One of the most famous cases in the UK at the moment is that of fellow ‘Aspergian’ Gary McKinnin who is facing extradition to the USA after hacking into the Pentagon. Top Asperger’s experts have claimed that there is a significant threat that he will kill himself if sent to jail in the USA, and that his motives ‘posed no harm to society and that his special interest in UFOs had been the cause’. Leading Autism expert Baron-Cohen states that he should be treated in the same way a child who commits a crime should. But where do we draw the line? Clearly being autistic can cause substantial difficulties, we can be naive at the best of times, but having a lack of morals is not a symptom, killing people is not a symptom. In fact in a very interesting study into the criminal behaviour of those with autism by Hippler and colleagues, a group of autistic subjects had a conviction rate of 1.30% for crimes committed, which was very similar to the general male populations’ conviction rate of 1.25.

So why is a person’s Autism so often linked to their psychopathic criminal behaviour in the media? The simple answer is that it gives a very satisfying reason for some shocking behaviour; it avoids blaming society and instead blames a biological impairment, which politicians can then ignore and leave for the scientists to examine. My favourite recent depiction of Autism in the media has been from the documentary entitled “The girl who became three boys” on Channel 4. The girl in question posed as three separate boys to her friends in order to sexually assault them. For many reasons this crime seems to contradict the classic autism triad of impairments, yet her criminal and deceptive behaviour was linked to her possibly being autistic. This little nugget was thrown in right at the end as if it would provide a satisfying conclusion to the gullible audience. The second question is why does the media feel the need to report crimes such as computer hacking just because the individual who committed the crime is autistic? Everyday computer systems are hacked into and the individuals responsible are not brandished over the newspaper with the tagline “Asperger’s to blame”. Maybe it’s just because we are better at it, or maybe we are just more adventurous with t; why hack into the local library’s files when you have the Pentagon at your finger tips!? Whatever the reason, I would just like one day to tell someone who doesn’t know much about Autism that I have Asperger’s, and for their prior knowledge of the condition from the media not to make them take a step back whilst looking for an exit.

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