A lawyer for one of the individuals implicated in the attacks on our nation’s capital on January 6th released a statement claiming that his client, among others in attendance on that day, was easily compelled to storm the building due to being Autistic. He actually said much more disparaging and disgusting comments about those with documented psychiatric disorders or developmental disorders as a way to defend the rioters’ violent actions. These statements are not only hurtful but the suggested link between violence and mental illness is not supported by research. It only serves to falsely shame and endanger the Autistic community.
Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder, is a developmental disability characterized by differences in thinking, processing, and communicating in the world. Autism is a type of Neurodivergence, meaning those who are Autistic show non-typical brain functioning compared to societal standards of what is considered “normal.”
Common characteristics of Autism are sensitivity to sounds or light, benefitting from more structure when starting and finishing tasks, difficulty with coordination, the presence of high focus on specific interests, and decreased eye contact or range of facial expressions. Autism is present in all communities of race, class, gender, age, and sexual/romantic orientation. One thing that Autism is not, is prone to violence towards others or propaganda as the aforementioned lawyer claimed.
This is not the first time that Autism has been blamed in the media for violence perpetrated against others. The Autism Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) released a report entitled “Make Real Change on Gun Violence: Stop Scapegoating People with Mental Health Disabilities,” compiling compelling research against the notion that those with developmental or intellectual disabilities are more likely to commit violent crimes. Among other data, this report cites an important analysis from Everytown for Gun Safety that tracks the trends of gun related homicide from 2009 to 2015 and found that of the 134 incidents, only 15 showed a history of mental health concerns brought to the attention of healthcare providers. In fact, many studies suggest that people with Disabilities of all kinds are far more at risk for experiencing violence at the hands of police due to misinterpretations of distress for violence. Simply put, the data does not support a connection between Autism and violence.
At Anxiety Specialists of Atlanta, we don’t condone any form of physical violence against others, nor do we condone violent speech against groups of Neurodivergent individuals, those who are marginalized or underrepresented, or who represent racial, ethnic, or sexual minority populations.
Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN): https://autisticadvocacy.org/
Autistic Women and Non-Binary Network (AWN): https://awnnetwork.org/news/
Asperger’s Experts: https://www.aspergerexperts.com/
Information on Neurodivergence: Therapist Neurodiversity Collective: https://therapistndc.org/education/
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Lizzie Booher, APC, NCC, CCH, is an Associate Professional Counselor specializing in the assessment and treatment of anxiety disorders, OCD, and teen gaming addiction