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Why Do They Blame Every School Shooting On Autism?

44efeef52d7869ac_640We’ve all heard it. Adam Lanza had Asperger’s. Elliot Rodger had Asperger’s. And now, surprise surprise, they’re saying that the media’s new darling, Chris Harper-Mercer, who killed nine people at a community college in Oregon, had Asperger’s.

I think we need to consider why this one single disorder is so demonized.

Many of those reports are dubious or unconfirmed. If the shooter is alive, autism makes a great insanity plea. Grieving parents might be looking for reasons not to hold their kid accountable. Even though most people with autism easily manage not to kill anyone.

However, Chris Harper-Mercer had a diagnosis. And Seung Hui-Cho apparently had selective mutism, which sounds like a dead giveaway to me.

But. Autism probably isn’t James Holmes’ problem. They say he has schizophrenia.

Why don’t we hear about violent acts committed by people with other disorders? Like bipolar with psychosis. Narcissism. Borderline personality disorder. (Although personality disorders get less sympathy than “traditional” mental illnesses for whatever reason.)

The vast majority of people with any mental illness are not murderers. But if the media insists on targeting us as such, I’d like to see some fairness.

I bet a lot of gang members have something. But it’s not autism. I can’t imagine most guys who kill their wives have autism either. I get that mass shootings are sexy, but they don’t account for over 99% of murders.

Why are we always the scapegoats?

Is social awkwardness really that viscerally alarming? Are loners such aliens to you that you can’t imagine us reading about Jane Austen on the Internet instead of how to make bombs?

That awkward guy I know who doesn’t really need to see people that much? Who spends most of his time playing videogames?

He also puts on a button-down shirt and waits patiently outside my apartment building for me to get ready for dinner.

He also taped the debates and waited to watch them until I came over.

He also gets my veggie sandwich from the corner deli for me every Sunday morning and serves it to me in bed.

People with autism are people. First and foremost. We run the gamut of ethics, morals, and sensitivity. Just like anyone else.

Keep in mind that people with mental disorders are far more likely to be the victims of attacks then the perpetrators. Especially autistic people. We’re so gullible. There are waaaay more stories out there about autistic people getting raped and killed than the reverse.

And then, because the media presents us as being either a.) crazed killers who shoot ten people because we can’t get laid or b.) indifferent dweebs camped out in our mom’s basements counting out the Cheez Doodles we’re about to eat, people just go “oh, that mom killed her weird kid. Oh well.”

I wish autism was presented as the developmental disorder that it is. A disorder that affects nuanced human beings. Not as some otherworldly thing that escapes all comparisons with ~normal~ people.

As for the shootings, look at it this way: if we’re talking about a mental disorder (any mental disorder) that isolates people, isn’t it likely that a few psychopaths with it are going to resort to violence to get attention?

Or even, dare I say it, respect?

After all, our competitive society can’t stand weakness.

What gets headlines?


By releasing the names of the shooters, we’re offering an easy route to fame for homicidal, suicidal malcontents with no other marketable talents.

I’m no expert on mass shootings. I don’t enjoy reading all the dirty details like many people do. People who apparently wish they were watching slaves get mauled by lions in a gladiator pit. Because that’s what news coverage looks like. Both about autism and shootings.

I’m not seeing much respect for human life on either account.

By focusing on the shooter first instead of gun control debates and mental illness statistics, we’re presenting mass murders as a narrative instead of an epidemic.

By creating this nefarious mythology around autism, we’re dragging some of the most vulnerable members of society through a snake pit.

We need to stop.



Why Do They Blame Every School Shooting On Autism?

Gwendolyn Kansen

Gwen Kansen is a mental health writer in New York. She likes food, karaoke, and smart-but-campy books & TV. She's hoping to capture a little sliver of life on here that might not be the first thing you'd see.

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APA Reference
Kansen, G. (2015). Why Do They Blame Every School Shooting On Autism?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 13 Oct 2015
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