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AERI Speaks Out About Event in Newtown
Official Statement Submitted to the Center for Safe Schools Bullying Prevention Network Regarding Tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary
Both as individuals who support communities and as representatives of AERI Behavioral Health Services, we express deep sympathy and condolences to the community of Newtown, CT while at the same time wish to share some brief thoughts to dispel myths and assumptions.
Since initial weekend reports that linked autism to the shooting as a possible cause, countless statements have been published by local and national advocacy organizations that refute this connection. There is no research that connects pre-meditated violence and individuals on the autism spectrum. In fact, these persons are more likely to be a victim than to perpetrate a crime.
(1. Gunasekaran, S., & Chaplin, E. (2012). Autism spectrum disorders and offending. Advances in Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities, 6, 308-313.
2. Hughes, K., Bellis, M. A., Jones, L., Wood, S., Bates, G., Eckley, L., ... & Officer, A. (2012). Prevalence and risk of violence against adults with disabilities: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. The Lancet. 379, 1621-1629.
3. Newman SS, Ghaziuddin M: Violent crime in Asperger syndrome: the role of psychiatric comorbidity. J Autism Dev Disord 39:1949-52, 2008.)
Persons with autism who display aggression are often reacting in the moment. It is important to note that though someone on the autism spectrum may have a co-existing mental health diagnosis, autism itself is not a mental illness. It is also not equivalent to mental retardation. Autism is a complex neurological disorder of the brain.
Spreading false information only increases the stigma on a collective population of individuals who already face prejudice in a world that often struggles to understand, support and respect them. We would like to call your attention to a recent Pittsburgh broadcast that featured AERI’s Director of Family Support Services and her son, a teen on the spectrum. During this segment, Ms. Hughes shares that she recently supported a family whose son with Asperger’s Syndrome was bullied by a group of girls that taunted, “You’re a loser! No wonder you don’t have friends.”
We are all looking for answers that help us to make sense of this horrific tragedy. One of those answers, however, is not that “persons with autism are criminals.” This is not a legacy that the autism community deserves, and this is not based in fact.
As our nation mourns and we struggle to understand “why,” let us take the time to be honest with our children about violence, work together to promote safer school environments, and quell current rumors about autism being “dangerous.” Not doing so would be a terrible crime in and of itself.
Sharon Greene, MA
Director of Individualized Education Services-Autism Education Research Institute (AERI)
Bullying Prevention Network Member- Center for Safe Schools
Olweus Bullying Prevention Trainer and Technical Assistant Consultant
Catherine A. Hughes
Director of Family Support Services-Autism Education and Research Institute (AERI)
Olweus Bullying Prevention Coordinating Committee Member