Autism in the (Bad) News


Some parents were discussing whether and how they should share with their AS-diagnosed kids information about a recent case where an AS-identified person had committed a terrible crime. The discussion prompted me to post:

It's really a matter of the effects of labeling, isn't it? I mean, the vast majority of AS-diagnosed people do no harm their whole lives. But in any newspaper/TV/radio story about one individual who does great wrong and happens to have an AS diagnosis, the AS-diagnosis is mentioned and becomes part of the mental baggage carried around by everyone who sees/hears the story.

It's the same as how "race" (ethnicity) has been institutionalized in the U.S. Traditionally, the only people in news stories whose "race" is mentioned are people who are not "white." Most news stories are about bad news. Combine those two factors, and the only African-American people many "white" (Euro-American) people hear about on a regular basis are those who are flagged "Black" for them by the evening news. The fact that the vast majority of people with that ethnicity do no harm is not news, so it is not mentioned. Nor does the news (traditionally) bother to say when the perpetrator of a crime is "white." Thus the mental picture of dangerous Black people forms in the sub-conscious, while the bad "white" (but un-labled) people remain exceptions, not taken as evidence that "white" people are likely to be dangerous.

Similarly, most AS-diagnosed people are not dangerous. But mentioning AS every time a person who happens to have that diagnosis is accused of a crime does tend to build up a mental connection between AS and crime/danger/badness. When non-AS-diagnosed people are accused of a crime, the news does not label them, so their (alleged) badness does not "contaminate" the category "normals" (or non-AS).

Since it's obviously true that most AS-diagnosed people are not killers, AS cannot be presumed to be the cause of any killer's crime.



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