As details continue to emerge about Colorado ‘Dark Knight’ murder suspect James Holmes, many media figures are beginning discuss his background, upbringing, mental health and overall state-of-mind. Unfortunately, this has invariably (and predictively) once again exposed the ignorance associated with autism.
Such is the case on yesterday’s "Morning Joe" program, when MSNBC host Joe Scarborough irresponsibly suggested that Holmes, and others like him, were autistic:
“Most of it has to do with mental health. You have these people that are somewhere, I believe, probably on the autism scale," he stated
Scarborough went on to say that he did not want to "generalize," despite having done just that. He also noted that his own son has Asperger’s Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. However, having a family member on the autism spectrum does not excuse one from making ignorant and irresponsible statements.
First of all, there is absolutely no evidence that James Holmes has autism. Being a recluse and loner are not sole qualifiers for a diagnosis.
Scarborough’s comments were not surprising and I was actually wondering how long it would take before someone linked James Holmes to the disorder. As we have previously discussed in the past, any time a high-profile crime is committed and the suspect is described as "quiet" or "reserved," the autism label soon follows.
The fact is, there is no evidence to suggest that those with autism have a propensity to commit violent acts and studies have actually proven that those with autism spectrum disorders are no more likely to commit crimes than their neurotypical counterparts (Barnhill, 2007; Griffith, 10 May 2006).
It’s extremely disheartening to see the level of ignorance that still exists, especially in this instance involving a parent of someone on the spectrum. Scarborough did not even get his terminology correct when referring to "the autism scale," a term hardly (if ever) used. Presumably, he intended to say "the autism spectrum."
Hopefully, Scarborough educates himself a bit further and retract his statements, which should include an apology to the autism community.
We have a hard enough time fighting intolerance, misconceptions and discrimination, and the last thing needed is an influential media figure making armchair diagnoses about people they know nothing about.
Watch Scarorough’s comments below. They come between the 8:00 and 9:00 mark.