The Executive Board of the Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities sends its heartfelt condolences to the families affected by the horrific events that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Recent media reports that the shooter may have had an autism spectrum disorder are disturbing and, at the moment, unsubstantiated. We recognize that everyone is attempting to understand the circumstances that lead to this tragedy and, consequently, there has been a great deal of discussion about the role autism and mental health may have had in this horrific event. While we welcome discussions that may lead to improved services and a better society, it is critical that the media and public refrain from generating fear and demonizing people with autism.
Students with autism usually grow into adults who live happy, productive, and fulfilling lives. Importantly, there is no evidence that people with autism are more prone to violent behavior than the general population. We urge the media to exercise caution when reporting the details about the tragedy. Inaccurate reporting, sensational language, and a need for an explanation for the seemingly unexplainable are already generating stereotypes about people with autism. We stand with Autism Speaks and the Autism Society of America in their request that the public not fear people with autism and other developmental disabilities. No matter what is learned about the tragedy, autism is not to blame. Such a suggestion distracts from the very necessary conversation this country needs to have regarding safety, services, and violence prevention.
The professionals who work with students who have autism spectrum disorder will likely have many colleagues, parents, and friends who may come to them for information. The Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities requests that professionals emphasize during their discussions that violence is not part of autism and that people with autism are deserving of our compassion and support.