Authorities have announced that they have apprehended 24-year-old Harry Burkhart for a string of arson fires that have left Los Angeles-area residents on edge for the past four days. In total, 53 fires have been set in Hollywood, California and surrounding areas, causing more than $3 million in damage. A Los Angeles County police spokesperson said they "feel good that we’ve got the right guy."
In a rather unsettling development, it has been reported that Burkhart has autism.
If proven true, there is a possibility that the mainstream media will incessantly fixate on his condition in an attempt to correlate it to his alleged crimes. Hopefully, that’s not the case but if an autism diagnosis is confirmed, it’s very likely to occur.
The truth is, we rarely hear about incidents involving individuals with autism committing crimes. That’s not to say they don’t occur, but past studies have actually shown that those with autism spectrum disorders are no more likely to commit crimes than their neurotypical counterparts (Barnhill, 2007; Griffith, 10 May 2006). Hopefully, the mainstream media will not overlook these facts when reporting on Burkhart’s condition.
Another area of concern is because of the broad definition we now have for autism, a new trend might be emerging involving criminal defense attorneys claiming their clients have "autism" in an attempt to build a legal defense case. In the process of doing so, reports of crimes committed by individuals with the disorder will be on the rise, creating false stereotypes in the process.
The autism community is finally starting to emerge from the "Rain Man" shadow that was cast nearly 25 years ago. The last thing we now need is the new perception that individuals with autism are computer hackers, arsonists and violent criminals