Blame Where It Doesn't Belong
"Physical violence is not at all typical of people with Asperger Syndrome (AS). AANE has worked with thousands of families, teachers, and other professionals for more than a decade. In that time, we have never before heard of a comparable event. We hope the public will remain open minded and open hearted, and not compound this tragedy by forming a sweeping negative stereotype about all people with AS."
It is absolutely true that physical violence is not typical of AS (or any other autism spectrum condition). The diagnostic criteria for AS describe differences in social interaction, as well as repetitive behavior. Other autism spectrum conditions also are characterized by speech differences and delays. There is no mention of violence or aggression anywhere in the DSM-IV criteria for any form of autism. To put it another way: Whether or not a person has displayed violent behavior is completely irrelevant, from the standpoint of a clinical psychologist, to the determination of whether that person should be diagnosed as autistic.
Moreover, there is (to the best of my knowledge) no statistical evidence indicating that autistics commit any more violent assaults than the general population. The image of the autistic berserker who might explode into homicidal rage at any moment is a vile and groundless stereotype that has been spread intentionally by greedy fraudsters such as Mark Geier and David Geier, by dishonest journalists such as David Kirby, by melodramatic TV hacks such as Dr. Phil, and by a few criminal defense lawyers scrounging for any excuse to get a client off.
So I was dismayed when I read a post on Susan Senator's blog that contains the following response to AANE's statement:
"I think it is a little disingenuous of the AANE to claim that physical violence is not at all typical of Asperger Syndrome. I know at least two children whose behavior can cast doubt on that statement. But more to the point, what is really not helpful about this is that the AANE seems to be in effect seeking to separate themselves from those other disabled people who do have profiles of physical violence (like some people with more marked forms of autism, perhaps)."
As long as we're throwing around anecdotes in place of science, I know at least two Aspie teenagers who are the most responsible, even-tempered, and nonviolent kids you'll ever see, and they deserve much better than the ugly prejudices and discriminatory treatment that they are going to have to face as a result of misinformation of this sort.
What's more, I don't see any intent on the part of AANE to separate themselves from "people with more marked forms of autism," as suggested by Ms. Senator, and it is completely untrue that such people "have profiles of physical violence." As I discussed above, there is no mention of physical violence in the diagnostic criteria for any form of autism, however "marked" it may be. Of course, that doesn't mean an autistic person can't be violent—we are human, after all, and violence is an unfortunate characteristic of the human species in general—but there is no basis whatsoever for a broad assertion that those with more pronounced autistic traits "have profiles of physical violence." To the contrary, autistics in all diagnostic categories are much more likely to be victims of violent assaults than to commit such assaults.
I believe there has been a lot of public confusion caused by the widespread use of imprecise language such as "meltdown" to describe both tantrums and sensory overload experiences of autistic people. Sensory overstimulation is fairly common among autistics, but tantrums involving physical violence toward others are much rarer.
A tendency toward sensory overload should not be carelessly equated to a propensity for physical violence, especially in the context of a homicidal assault.