Autism and Crime in 2012

It’s the end of the year and that most frustrating season in news reporting is upon us. Between Christmas and New Year’s Day the media look back or count things up or both.

It seems that every year the time for stats and retrospectives starts earlier and earlier, much like Christmas sales seem to start at least one holiday sooner every year. In early December, Google tells us about the most searched items, Twitter tells us the most popular tweet and Time tells us the Person of the year with several weeks to go before we sing Auld Lang Syne.

In the spirit of looking back on the year that was, there were a couple of important items for the autism communities in 2012.

For me, one of the most frightening stories of the year was Joe Scarborough’s comments on the Aurora murders.

Here was a former politician who has a national media presence who offered his special insight into acts of mass murder by saying “more often than not” these types of acts were perpetrated by people on the spectrum, or scale as he put it. In the video below, he gives a long, rambling description of all the characteristics he feels make up mass murderers like the one in Aurora, starting at about the 7:22 mark, with the “more often than not” coming at about 8:05.

I knew that the next time something like this would happen remarks about autism would be amplified. No, I do not work as a psychic in my spare time.

Another story of note for those of us in the autism communities this year was the March 2012 report from the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network. That’s the report that estimated the rate of autism spectrum disorders in the United States among 8 year old children was 1 in 88 as of 2008 for a prevalence of 11.3 children per 1,000. That is pretty close to double the prevalence of 6.6 per 1,000 in 2002. Here’s a link the pdf of that ADDM report.

It is important to note that the CDC didn’t say that 1 in 88 children born in 2012 will be diagnosed with autism. The report on 2012 births won’t be published until 2024, if I did the math right on that one. Yet, much of the coverage and discussion of the 1 in 88 number suggests that number is the reality for children born today, not a snapshot of diagnoses four years ago.

I would like to mix the Joe Scarborough verbal assault with the CDC report and add a third item from the past year.

Late this year, at about same time they do every year, the FBI released their Uniform Crime Reports for 2011. The great news for the health and well-being of Americans is that violent crime rates continue to decline. According to the FBI report violent crime in 2011 was down 3.8% from 2010 and down 15.5% from 2002.

Source: US Dept of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Criminal Justice Information Services Division

Source: US Dept of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Criminal Justice Information Services Division

Great news for Americans and for anybody visiting the US, but what does the decrease in violent crime have to do with increasing autism prevalence?

Nothing as far as I know. I am not a researcher in the field of development disorders, population studies, epidemiology, criminology or in any other area. I like to have fun with stats, but I am in no way shape or form a statistician, nor am I an actuarial.

But I would like to offer a modest proposal at this point. By modest, I mean absurd and refer you to Jonathon Swift.

I have pretty much the same qualifications to comment on mass murder in the US and the connection to autism that Joe Scarborough does; that is to say that we both know precious little about crime and autism.

But we can both make a spurious argument sound convincing.

Here’s my specious claim: that with the prevalence of autism rising and US violent crime falling, more autistic individuals make the US a safer country.

I know some people will jump on this right away and say there is no connection at all or that I am mixing two data sets together to come up with an unsupported assertion.

People who think that would be right, of course, and would not think my case is strengthened by inserting the chart from the CDC here.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/features/countingautism/

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/features/countingautism/

I am not going to be so bold and careless as to create my own graph here because someone might take what I am suggesting seriously. Still, if someone in the media needs a person to make a completely unsound argument about gun violence and autism, I did take a few minutes to pull a couple of charts off the internet, so I am equipped to take up a few minutes of airtime.

What I have done here is to pull together completely unconnected stats and tables from respected American institutions to suggest a causal relationship and that is just as inaccurate as advancing a personal opinion as proof.

My humour here is a bit of a shield. I have to admit that the year in review for me with the comments about Aurora and Sandy Hook have created a new fear about how people see my son and others on the spectrum.

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2 thoughts on “Autism and Crime in 2012

  1. Ha! You have a sense of humor that I completely get! Really. Too bad so many people would take this for real. Perhaps we should take some comfort in statistics about how future generations are bound to understand the humor in this post – if I could find those kind of statistics, and if they were reliable and, of course, included charts. 😉

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    • Karen, finding statistics is hard work. It is often easier to make them up or misrepresent them.

      As for charts, well, charts baffle brains, to paraphrase a former teacher.

      True story (or more likely apocryphal but confidently stated): an English prof of mine told the story of teaching an English for Engineers course and introducing the class to ‘A Modest Proposal.’ The students thought it was actually a pretty good solution and a well-argued idea.

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