I am autistic, every aspect of behaviour is influenced by the fact that I am autistic. You could take any of my achievements or failures and relate them to my autism if you wished. That’s how it works! Autism is an integral part of me. Autism, alongside other aspects such as personality, makes me, me.
This week brings a headline linking autism to terrorism. It read ‘those with the condition could be more likely to become ‘lone wolf’ terrorists. If you don’t read the papers with a critical eye you may be thinking ‘there’s no smoke without fire’ or ‘there must be a reason why a paper would print this’. The original source was a research paper which looks at case studies of autistic individuals who happen to be involved in terrorism. The researcher has then speculated which aspects of their autism influenced their behaviour. There is no evidence that autism increases the risk of individuals becoming terrorists.
The researchers say that their intention was good. Of course they do! Probably even Ivor Lovaas who used to research how to make autistic children ‘normal’ by electrocuting them believed he was helping us (or at least our parents). The authors say they want this paper to be available for use as part of the defence if an autistic person were to end up in the criminal justice system for terrorism. I agree that autism often needs consideration to achieve justice. This however is the case for any crime. The cynic in me wonders if terrorism was chosen as an example because it is topical at the moment and likely to get coverage.
Throughout the academic paper there are caveats stating that there is no evidence that autistic people are at increased risk of engaging in terrorist activities. But a headline of ‘autistic people at no increased risk of becoming terrorists’ is not going to sell many papers, so it was pretty easy to predict that would get left out of media coverage.
So if the purpose of this paper was to help autistic people it has completely missed the mark. All it has done has enabled an irresponsible tabloid to write an unfair, harmful story which further adds to the oppression of autistic people. Whilst ever there is stigma to being autistic, there is a reduced likelihood of autistic people voluntarily getting assessed for autism, disclosing their autism and therefore receiving support. This in turn means more mental health problems, more suicides, less understanding. Those autistic people who aren’t terrorists (i.e. virtually every single one of us) have to live with discrimination and misunderstanding every day. These sorts of articles are the reasons why.
So how do we stop this sort of harmful ‘research’ and the articles that follow? The answer is obvious. No autistic research team would have published a paper like that. Researchers need to either be autistic or collaborate closely with autistic people. For far too long non autistic people have been judging us from their non autistic perspective. It’s time to move aside and let us speak for ourselves.