Health: Sensationalist articles part of why autistic people are discriminated

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Iam autistic. 
Every aspect of my 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.

I urge the reader to be cautious when believing any statistics about autistic people

Last week brought a headline linking autism to terrorism. It read ‘those with the condition could be more likely to become ‘lone wolf’ terrorists’.

If one does not read the papers with a critical eye one 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 researchers have then speculated which aspects of their autism influenced their behaviour. There is absolutely no evidence that autism increases the risk of individuals becoming terrorists.

In fact, I found these statistics in the research literature.

When compared with our non-autistic counterparts, autistic people are less likely to commit a crime, seven times more likely to be arrested, more likely to be victims of violence or abuse and more law-abiding because of our tendency to keep to rules and regulations .

I urge the reader to be cautious awhen believing any statistics about autistic people, mainly because so many of us remain unidentified so it’s not possible to trust any statistics.

I feel fairly confident however, in concluding that it is not non autistic people who should be fearful of autistic people - rather the other way around.

The authors of this most recent paper 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 paper is intended 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, thereby raising the profile of the university and the team of autism researchers.

Once the newspaper article was published matters were made worse by tweets from a colleague of the researchers.

Autistic people were told to mind their tone when talking about a team of academics who have ‘extensive research record on this topic’. No academics are beyond criticism.

It is of critical importance that when one researches a group of people you listen to their views.

Academics are often in a position of power compared to autistic people, they should be amplifying our voices not talking over us to further their own careers.

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.

If the purpose of this paper were to help autistic people it has completely missed the mark.

Instead it 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 undergoing an assessment for autism or disclosing their autism and therefore receiving support.

This in turn means more mental health problems, more suicides, less understanding.

As a minority group autistic people have to live with discrimination and misunderstanding every day. These sorts of inaccurate and sensationalist articles are one of 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 who aren’t autistic must collaborate closely with autistic people at all stages of the research from design through to the write up.

For far too long non autistic people have been judging us from their non autistic perspective. It’s time to let us speak for ourselves.