Too often, autism makes news for all the wrong reasons. The sentencing of Andrew Notch this week is the most recent example.
Andrew Nolch, the man who graffitied Eurydice Dixon’s memorial site with a giant dick as a “political statement”, is a ‘men’s rights’ activist and an anti-vaccine podcast producer.Yes, the man who raped and murdered Eurydice Dixon was on the autism spectrum disorder (ASD). No, I’m not going to revive the debate about vaccines and autism. But while that link has long since been debunked, there’s another totally unfounded yet increasingly common misconception that I want to talk about: the media-made link between autism and violent sociopathy.
I am a woman with autism. And, like most of us on the spectrum, I have never committed a crime. The reality is, people with disabilities are more likely to be on the receiving end of crime than perpetrators of it. In fact, we are more likely to harm or kill ourselves than anyone else.
Telling people you’re on the spectrum is sort of like coming out. I’m not ‘normal’, so I have to explain myself to others for their comfort. When you disclose your diagnosis, offensive questions, stereotypes and assumptions about your capabilities and who you are as a person are likely to follow. It isn’t made any easier when all that most people know about those of us with ASD is a rapist and a couple of American school shooters were also on the spectrum.
Violence is not a "symptom used by doctors to diagnose" autism.
People on the spectrum experience a full array of emotions. How we express ourselves is where we differ from people who are neurotypical. Instead of expressing our emotions, we internalise them. But just because we don't show them, doesn't mean we don't feel them. And from the assumption that we don’t have emotions, comes the falsehood that we lack empathy. From there we find ourselves having to explain how autism is not sociopathy.
We are more likely to harm ourselves than anyone else.
Autistic people may not realise that we’ve upset someone. If brought to our attention, we can be deeply apologetic. Sociopaths just don’t care. Difficulty recognising how someone is feeling doesn’t make us sadists. Autistic people often have an affinity with animals. What do sociopaths tend to direct their rage at before graduating to human beings? Animals.
To attribute violent crime to autism is to avoid grappling with a much deeper, much broader problem: toxic masculinity. Men with entitlement issues rage when their needs are not met. But, almost by definition, the tabloid media isn’t interested in grappling with deeper problems or willing to risk offending a major audience - men. Minority groups are much easier targets.
To have ASD is to have different ways of relating to other people. It is not an emotional deficit. We have a communication deficit. We are misrepresented. And since we struggle to express ourselves, how the media talks about us is all the more important.
This story was authored by someone with lived experience of the issue. If the media is talking about you, we want to talk with you; so please pitch us your story via a Facebook message.