"You don't want to generalize," said MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, but that's exactly what he did when he said that James Holmes, the young man in custody as the Aurora, Colorado shooter, was "on the autism scale."
"As soon as I hear about this shooting, I knew who it was. I knew it was a young, white male, probably from an affluent neighborhood, disconnected from society — it happens time and time again. Most of it has to do with mental health; you have these people that are somewhere, I believe, on the autism scale," said Scarborough, whose son has Asperger's syndrome. "I don't know if that's the case here, but it happens more often than not. People that can walk around in society, they can function on college campuses — they can even excel on college campuses — but are socially disconnected."
What compounds the irresponsibility of his statement is that Scarborough is the parent of an autistic child. So he managed in one sentence, one very publicly stated sentence, to make autistics out to be dangerous potential murderers, and make parents of children with autism look like asses.
Here is one autistic adult's perspective, her open letter to the media:
I am an Autistic adult. In the wake of the tragic shootings in Aurora, Colorado, my community was sitting not only in the sadness that all such tragedies bring, but also in fear and anticipation that once again, we would be your scapegoat. Once again, you would start declaring that we and the killer had the same neurology before the bodies were even cold, before the initial tears had dried.And again, you did not disappoint. Again, you went to declare the killer mentally ill or Autistic before you even possibly had a chance to talk to anyone qualified to make those calls. Again, you cast yet another layer of suspicion on my community. Again, you made me someone to be feared.It would be lovely if Scarborough could apologize in as grand a way as he made his first declaration, but news cycles don't really encourage apologies. It would be even better if he took the time to educate his viewers about autism, perhaps he could, I don't know, have an autistic on his show, or talk to one, like his own son.
A journalist, Mike Elk, who recently "came out" as autistic, asked Scarborough to educate:
Hopefully, Mr. Scarborough will retract his remarks, as well as host a broader discussion on Autism to spell away the many stereotypes of Autism often spoken by non-Autistic people such as himself.What message did Scarborough send his own son with his proclamation this morning? What kind of self-loathing is he trying to instill in his child? This kind of language and the stereotypes it perpetuates makes it harder for young autistic adults to move through daily life, it stirs up anxiety in every adult autistic that we have once again gone back two steps, or more, and it makes other parents guilty by association.
It's easy to have a gaffe and I am all for allowing someone to apologize for something misspoken or said in haste. Talking heads are bound to make a mistake now and then, but then I was thinking, I'm a parent of an autistic child, and I know many autistics, and it did not occur to me at all to diagnose the shooter with autism. Troubled? Yes. Disturbed? Of course, but autistic? Really? Where did that even come from? Because someone said he was a loner? The fact that Scarborough "knew who it was" is so troubling and disturbing, because it leads me to believe that this is not a gaffe in any way, not a "whoopsie" but fundamentally the way he thinks.
and that, to me, is dangerous.
Sign the petition that Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg created demanding a retraction.
Other people, other posts:
Emily Willingham: Mental illness, autism, and mass murder, or why Joe Scarborough needs to shut up
Lydia Brown at Autistic Hoya: All I Want to Do is Weep
Jess at Diary of a Mom: Dear Joe
Lydia Brown The Dangers of Misrepresentation
David Cullen The Unknown Why in the Aurora Killings
Caroline Miller at Child Mind Institute James Holmes and the Downside of Amateur Diagnoses