Upon coming out as Aspie/autistic to a friend last year, I was shocked when, during one of our early discussions, they brought up the fact that thinking back over their career, which included working with children, and they associated Asperger’s/autism with violence. Because they knew a kid who was “probably” autistic, and he had a tendency to lash out unpredictably. My friend’s claim ran counter to everything I had known and experienced regarding Asperger’s/autism.
I’m sure my demeanor took on a slightly harder edged than intended when I flatly stated, “that’s not autism. That particular child may have been autistic, but they also must have had something else going on, too. Or they weren’t even autistic at all. But lashing out isn’t necessarily inherent to the autism spectrum.”
I’m not sure if I ever convinced them. They responded with the usual shrug of the shoulders as if to say…well, I don’t know. I’m not sure what that means in a conversation like this.
But they dropped the subject. (Cue the embarrassment at myself for the über-bluntness that I’m sure came across the wrong way. I often find it easy to go too far.)
I, however, could not (drop the subject, that is). To be clear, I didn’t say anything more, but my brain was redlining inside, and my burning desire to seek the truth probably was, too.
Truthfully, I do understand where my friend was coming from. The whole “autistic = violent” is a common stereotype, after all. Movies like “Vaxxed” and YouTube videos featuring children in helmets so that they don’t suffer brain damage when they hit their heads on walls, or practice other self-injurious behaviors, don’t help bust any stereotypes. At all. This makes the uninformed or less-informed public think we’re all like that. But we aren’t all anything; we are all different.
I knew that people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum are no more violent than anyone else; if anything, we’re probably less violent (in reference to the “average”). I had the instinctive feeling that we’re generally rather pacifist, but that gut instinct wasn’t going to be enough; I needed evidence.
With the conversation long behind us, I still needed to settle the score for myself. I needed to confirm my intuitions.
As it turns out, I was right. We, the people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, are generally a pretty nonviolent–even if misunderstood–bunch.
There’s absolutely zero conclusive evidence to support the misconception that we lash out at the drop of a hat, or even display higher rates of violence than the rest of the population.
In fact, our prevalence of violence may very well actually be lower than that of the general population.
Sure, there are the stories of people diagnosed or otherwise presumed to be autistic. However, these people usually have something else going on.
They may be on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, but their spectrum status is more circumstantial and not directly linked to any violent tendencies.
For example, many people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum are prescribed medications to alleviate some of the specific symptoms that create a negative impact on their lives. Some of these medications are actually linked to violence as a “side”-effect.
Another example: we might be in pain. Autistic children especially have a different central nervous system perception of pain–meaning that their brain perceives pain more intensely and for longer periods, even after the cause of the pain has been eliminated. Being in pain, especially suffering from chronic pain, is linked with a higher tendency toward violence in some people (this is meant in an understanding and empathetic way, and in no way am I trying to pass any judgment).
Alternatively, there may be anxiety and/or anger. Behind almost every angry person is actually a scared person; it’s called the fight or flight response. When you’re scared, you either flee, or lash out. If one don’t see a way out of the immediate situation, guess what? They lash out. That happens to everybody if pushed hard enough, not just Aspergian/autistic people.
In fact, the article from the Autism Research Center (that I had linked to but will again here for clarity (describes an 18-year-old male with a propensity toward violence, which was miraculously improved with vitamin and mineral supplements (yes, seriously).
I concur with these findings. The nutrients in question were Vitamin B6 (which is needed to convert Tryptophan into Serotonin, the shortage of which can manifest as anger) and Magnesium, deficiencies in both of which are extremely common and well-known to result in depression, irritability, aggression, and violent behavior.
This means that these violent episodes could manifest in anyone with these deficiencies, not just Aspergian/autistic people. We don’t have a monopoly on these deficiencies or this type of behavior.
Of course, the media are quick to jump to their conclusions, especially if they know that the story will grab viewers and readers. They’re out to sell advertising space, and the greater the number of engaging people they can boast to their prospects, the better their leverage when quoting higher advertising rates. That’s just how it works, at least here in the US (of course, I can’t speak for other regions).
But you can’t believe everything you hear, see, or read. The media don’t always make their agenda obvious. And they do abysmally little fact-checking these days (a quick google search turns up numerous results, one of which I’ve linked to here).
Which means only one thing: do your homework. Don’t just latch onto the most sensational news headline and assume the journalists got the facts straight. The best way to find out how people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum think, act, and approach life is to…approach us.
Forming unfounded conclusions without looking at the evidence is dangerous. Assumptions are often mistaken. Misconceptions turn into urban-legendary myths that won’t die, remaining pervasive throughout the general public and spreading as easily as the common cold, thanks to the virality of social media. Obtaining information from one’s timeline and newsfeed is quick and efficient, but the problem is that it’s too quick and easy. Many don’t take the time to check the validity of the story before hitting that “share” button (I’ve been guilty of this myself). And before you know it, another hundred people might have seen that link and trust it because it was posted or shared by someone they personally know.
Glancing at a click-bait headline from a questionable “news” source is not enough. Doing so does not increase one’s knowledge base. It’s not nearly the same as peering into the Asperger’s/autism community on Twitter or WordPress (or another blog site) and combing through the posts for the same 20 minutes one might spend mindlessly scrolling through their (algorithmic, social-media-site-manipulated) newsfeed.
It’s unfortunate that what should be the job of the journalists (and in many instances, that word applies only weakly) falls on the shoulders of the public; after all, it’s a reporter’s job to do the fact-checking. But the fact is, it does, and if they’re not going to do it, then the public should, at least before forming (and spreading) opinions. It’s the price we pay for the freedoms of speech and press, I guess, and even though I would never exchange or compromise those freedoms for anything, it’s important to realize–and adjust for–the potential downsides.
So anyway, I have a message for any non-autistic people out there who might need it (and I’m well aware that not all of y’all do, because after all, you’re here!): if you haven’t already, please spend time in the Asperger’s/autistic community, even if you’re just lurking. Even if you never say a word or ask a question. At least you’ll come away with a more accurate perception. 🙂
(Hint: if you’re reading this, then the above message is largely irrelevant for you 🙂 But perhaps it might help someone you know.) ❤
Who Says Asperger’s / Autistic People Lack Empathy? ~ November 14, 2016
Myths About Asperger’s / Autism ~ Part 2 ~ August 14, 2016
They Said I Had ‘Anger Issues’…When I Was Just Actually Autistic ~ January 22, 2017