No, We Don't Need to Worry About the 'Autistic Shooter'

Writer debunks a myth born of ignorance
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 12, 2015 1:54 PM CDT
No, We Don't Need to Worry About the 'Autistic Shooter'
Charley Thompson, left, and his wife Rachel Thompson place flowers at a makeshift memorial near the road leading to Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore.   (AP Photo/John Locher)

The mother of the man who opened fire at a community college in Oregon thought her son was autistic, leading to a Facebook page whose name is self-explanatory: “Families Against Autistic Shooters." It ranted against "cold, calculating killing machines" and asked, “What do all shooters over the last few years have in common? A lack of empathy and compassion due to Autism!” Well, no, writes Andrew Solomon in the New York Times. Facebook finally took the page down amid mounting criticism, but in the time it was up, it "stigmatized a population far more likely to be attacked than to attack, far less likely to receive justice when injured, and far more likely to be misunderstood."

The kind of thinking evident in the page is prejudice, fueled by ignorance about the complexities of autism, writes Solomon. Yes, some autistic people struggle with social interactions and thus get labeled, "unfairly," as lacking in empathy or unkind. But "failing to intuit certain aspects of other people’s inner experience does not equate to disdain for human life," writes Solomon. People are confusing autism with psychopathy, and the two couldn't be further apart. "Tarring the autistic community in this manner—like presuming that most black people are thieves or that most Muslims are terrorists—is an insidious form of profiling," writes Solomon. "It exacerbates the tendency for people with autism to be excluded, teased, and assaulted in childhood and adulthood." Click for his full post. (More autism stories.)

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