Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dangerous Autistics? Statistics Say No

Autism Blog - » Blog Archive » Autism and Murder: "Autism and Murder"

Two stories recently made a splash in the autism community. In the first:

An 18-year-old man described as “severely autistic” is in custody on suspicion he murdered a 59-year-old Coos County woman…

and in the second:

A judge has ruled that Asperger’s syndrome cannot be used by the defense in the case of a man accused or murdering a woman after he lured her to his home in Savage in October 2007.

Three blogs carried this story, each revealing their owners particular viewpoints. In his small circulation blog, Harold Doherty said:

In recent days and weeks two severely autistic young men have been implicated in homicides. In one case, a young man with autism has been implicated in the death of his mother who publicly professed her deep love for her son and the joy that he brought to her….Neurodiversity ideologues are unlikely to change. Their views are entrenched and tied to their own public careers as professional “autistics” or “enlightened” autism parents. The truth is that they discourage society from addressing the harsher realities of autism by effective therapy, treatment or cure. They help keep members of the public from understanding the full nature of autism, particularly as it affects the most severely autistic. Theirs is a movement whose aim is to keep everyone from facing autism reality. Theirs is a movement which wants society to keep our heads in the sand and ignore autism reality.

And on their advert covered anti vaccination site, Age of Autism said:

How many stories of violent deaths allegedly at the hands of autistic teen males will we have to read before the world either A) embraces treatment for autism as a medical ailment or B) paints all autistic males as dangerous killers and locks them away a la 1955?

So you can see that Harold uses these deaths to say how silly neurodiversity is and AoA use them to say that treatment for autism is the only valid option before society is overrun with autistic killers.

Of course, the biases are clear - but irrespective of interpretive bias, are there any facts to go on? That would be a rhetorical question, folks. I AM citing Leftbrain|Rightbrain, noted for it's tiny, barely noticeable perseverance bias toward sources with an high factual content. So what does Kev find, going to the literature? Precious little, but what there is contradicts doom and gloom as a prognosis.

I found it quite difficult to get ahold of papers about autism and death attributed to an autistic person. But the few that I did get access to point to quite a different direction than the overly bleak and purposefully twisted futures foreseen by Harold Doherty and AoA.

In this study, the authors looked at rates of criminality amongst those with a Pervasive Developmental Disability (subgrouped to ‘childhood autism’, atypical autism and AS) . In the childhood autism group (which corresponds to severe/kanners/etc) 0.9% had a conviction as adults. In the control group, the rate was 18.9%. For atypical autism the conviction rate was 8.1%. The control group was 14.7%. For AS, the rate was 18.4% and the control group was 19.6%.

So, in each subgroup of PDD the authors looked at, the rate of criminal conviction was lower than controls. For the type of autism that Doherty and AoA are talking about less than 1% had a conviction compared to 18.9%. I think its clear that if this paper is accurate then we’re hardly going to be overrun with autistic killers.

In a side note, I've long observed that the real issue with these groups is that they are generally composed of authoritarian social conservatives who cannot easily cope with a child who's wetware biases them against reflexive conformity and who has a substantive deficit in making sense of emotional demands for reassurance or submission cloaked in only superficially sensible communications. I've often had interactions with such parents and frankly, I've lost patience to such a degree with that mindset that I no longer bother at all - and I find it entirely likely that "loss of language" is far more a coping strategy than a "disease process."

Seriously, I'm entirely familiar with the astounding phenomenon of being argued with over sensory issues. "You don't really feel that way" is an utterly disrespectful response to a child for whom sunlight is painful. The issue is addressed with sunglasses, not a lecture. But such sensory processing issues are often seen first and tragically, sometimes last and always as "willful disobedience," or "insufficient submission."

That's my experiential bias, at any rate, and somewhat beside the point. There's no reason to be concerned that a few exceptions prove any sort of rule, indeed, less so that in regard to "normal" adolescents.

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