Autism Speaks extends its deepest condolences to the community of Parkland, Florida, after last week’s deadly shooting rampage. As investigators search for motives, media reports indicated that the gunman had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. But an autism diagnosis does not explain this horrific act of violence. We know that speculation and misinformation about autism and other neurodevelopmental disabilities have hurtful and lasting consequences.
Many people with autism also have secondary health issues and, in some, that secondary condition can be a mental health condition. However, research shows that people on the autism spectrum do not have higher rates of criminal behavior than the general public. In fact, teens and adults with autism are more likely than average to be the victims of crime. Autism affects each person differently, and misconceptions can increase prejudice toward the vast majority who are peaceful and productive members of society. Together, we can increase understanding and acceptance of each person’s unique story – the challenges, interests, abilities and aspirations. This is a time to mourn with the Parkland community and to remember that words matter when discussing this heartbreaking loss of life and shattered sense of security.