Tag Archives: Murder

Mass Murder and Autism: I’m Not Impressed

Today, I came across a post on why the new DSM-5 definition of autism may actually be good. In it, the author talked about an apparent mass murder and the associated speculation of the killer having Asperger’s Syndrome. I googled, hoping to find out which mass murder she was writing about, but instead came across a Washington Post article which claimed a “significant” link beteeen mass murder and autism. I read the original study (Allely et al., 2014) on which this article was based, and I’m not impressed.

First, the actual question the authors aim to answer, is inverted. They research whether a significant number of mass or serial killers have autism and/or head injury. They found that this is so: roughly ten percent of the mass or serial killers the researchers read about, had suspected or diagnosed ASD, and a similar percentage had a possible or definite head injury. This may be significantly more than the prevalence of autism or head injury in the general population, but so what? The really important question is whether autistics or those who sustained head trauma are more likely to become serial killers. One thing I learned from Ton Dekrsen, author of Lucia de B., a book on the Dutch nurse falsely accused of serial murder on her patients, is that a statistical link that runs in one direction, doesn’t necessarily run in the other as well. Since serial or mass murders are rare, this is especially important.

Also please note that Allely et al. state that, of none of the six murderers (out of 239 total!) with “definite” autism, diagnostic data was available. “Probable” ASD also included a psychiatrist or psychologist having said the murderer had ASD. This raises suspicion, as psychologists and psychiatrists are not immune to media hyping wanting to label every murderer with the mental illness du jour. Dutch readers might remember psychiatrist Menno Oosterhoff accusing Volkert van der Graaf, who murdered politician Pim Fortuyn, of having Asperger’s in 2003. With no diagnostic data on any of the murderers with suspected or “definite” ASD, it is really speculative to even say that there is a one-directional link between mass murder and ASD. And don’t get me talking on the “possible” ASD people, who were simply described as “odd” or “loners” by their family members.

Allely et al. do say in their discussion that speculation about a link between autism and mass murder may lead to negative steretoypes. This of course is not a reason not to document it. If autistics are in fact more likely to be serial or mass murderers, there’s no reason not to write that into a research paper. The thing is, due to the rarity of serial and mass murders, this is unlikely to ever become truly apparent. And even if a definite link could be found, so what? I recently read in another book that, while there is a link between schizophrenia and violence, locking away all schizophrenics in England and Wales for the rest of their lives would save the lives of four potential murder victims each year.

Reference

Allely CS, Minnis H, Thompson L, Wilson P, and Gillberg C (2014), Neurodevelopmental and Psychosocial Risk Factors in Serial Killers and Mass Murderers. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 19(3)288-301. DOI: 10.1016/j.avb.2014.04.004.

Murder of Autistics: Understanding, Advocacy, Excusing

As H.L. Doherty writes, a mother killed her severely autistic child and herself. This is not the first murder/suicide where autism is involved, and it sadly will not be the last case I’m afraid. Doherty goes on in his post to shame autistic advocates who doubt that severe autism was the reason for this murder/suicide. I have to agree with the autistic advocates, in part: while circumstances can drive a person to murder or suicide, it is not like autism parents somehow need extra sympathy if they’ve killed their children. All parents of disabled children, and disabled people of any age themselves need understanding and support.

Let me tell you my experience. In 2007, I was quite severely disabled by my autism. I was aggresssive and self-injurious, including smashing my head into the brick walls of my apartment and trying to jump out of a moving car. I wasn’t being taken seriously by the crisis team, who said that admission to a hospital would not be good either. On November 2, I threatend suicide in my parents’ city, and the crisis team there took me seriously and admitted me to hospital. I got slightly bettter there, but still struggled. After years of having many meltdowns, I finally found medication that helped reduce my irritability. I have a post in the works about my changing attitude towards medication, recognizing that many autistic advocates are against the type of medication I take.

By 2015, I may or may not fall under the Long-Term Care Act. If I do, I’m entitled to residential care for as long as I need it. If I don’t, I need to get support at home, which I got a lot of already when I was in this severe state in 2007. Please note that I was quite aggressive and self-injurious all my life, and that it just escalated in 2007.

Please also note that I’m not the most severely autistic person imaginable. For one thing, I don’t have an intellectual disability and am mostly verbal. I do not claim to know what it is like to have an intellectual disability or be completely non-verbal. What I do claim to know about is the despair of having to deal with complex needs in a system that is facing massive budget cuts.

That being said, of course we need more supports for people with complex needs, including those with more severe autism than mine. Of course we need to understand how hard it can be to care for a person who has these complex needs. What I ask Doherty, however, is to also understand those people who live with significant disabilities.

Please understand, Mr. Doherty and supporters, that we don’t choose to be self-injurious, aggressive or have complex care needs for other reasons. We agree with you that more support is needed. I, for one, am realistic enough to admit that some people need drugs to curb severe aggression. (I take a high dose of an antipsychotic to prevent milder irritability, but I am not going to advocate that children or adults who can’t consent are forced to take this.) I, for one, have myself been suicidal, so I know what it’s like to want to end your life because of lack of care.

Where I disagree with Doherty and his supporters, is where he connotes that auitsm is the cause of murder/suicides like this one, in a tone as if to say that, as long as severely disabled autistics exist, we’re asking to be killed, or at least that killing us is understandable. And it is not. Writing about murder as if it’s somehow provoked by the victim’s disability, is denying the disabled victim the basic human right to life. It is not the call for support we, the autistic community, are fighting against, or even the fact that people with severe autism and an intellectual disability exist. However, I ask that Doherty et al. please stop excusing murder just because it offers an opportunity to advocate. No-one should be murdered. Stop excusing it.