Dr. Joe Scarborough Has Some Important Misinformation About Autism

MSNBC continues to allow Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough to lead a campaign of lies and misinformation about Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) and mass murderers like UCSB shooter Elliot Rodger.

On Wednesday morning, Scarborough and company continued to insist that Rodger’s autism was a factor in the killings, and even made the completely unsubstantiated, contraindicated claim that Rodger refused to take a medication that he had been prescribed for autism.

Then, the “fun” really started.

The 15-minute segment was ostensibly devoted to yammering about the incredibly stupid premise that Seth Rogen is somehow to blame for the killings,  and while there was enough other stupid thrown in there to fill a hundred columns, the most egregious was directed at autism. Co-host Mika Brzezinski set the tone by saying that Elliot Rodger “had been in therapy since childhood, had a form of autism, and had blown off the medication that had been prescribed.”

Since this was the springboard for all of Joe Scarborough’s commentary on autism throughout the rest of the segment, in which he continued to falsely identify autism as a mental illness, this bit of reporting looms large, and it is categorically a lie. The medication that Rodger named in his manifesto, Risperidone, wasn’t prescribed to him for treatment of autism.

The coverage of these shootings is characterized by the proverbial kick in the crotch of naming and blaming the shooter’s unrelated neurodevelopmental disorder, and ignoring the actual mental illnesses that they may have had. In Elliot Rodger’s case, there has been no reporting on the specific mental illness he may have had.

Well, almost no reporting.

There is this, from RadarOnline:

“Elliot has always been troubled and couldn’t express himself,” the source tells us.

“His parents did everything they could to help him. It seemed that Elliot suffered from extreme paranoia and heard voices, but it was impossible to properly diagnose because he just wouldn’t talk. Having been prescribed psychiatric medication, Elliot refused to take it.

An unnamed source from RadarOnline isn’t all that compelling, by itself, but there is a more reliable source to debunk the notion that Rodger was prescribed Risperidone for autism, and to support Radar’s reporting: medical science. From the National Institutes of Health (emphasis mine):

Risperidone is used to treat the symptoms of schizophrenia (a mental illness that causes disturbed or unusual thinking, loss of interest in life, and strong or inappropriate emotions) in adults and teenagers 13 years of age and older. It is also used to treat episodes of mania (frenzied, abnormally excited, or irritated mood) or mixed episodes (symptoms of mania and depression that happen together) in adults and in teenagers and children 10 years of age and older with bipolar disorder (manic depressive disorder; a disease that causes episodes of depression, episodes of mania, and other abnormal moods). Risperidone is also used to treat behavior problems such as aggression, self-injury, and sudden mood changes in teenagers and children 5 to 16 years of age who have autism (a condition that causes repetitive behavior, difficulty interacting with others, and problems with communication).

Whatever condition Elliot Rodger was prescribed Risperidone for last year, it wasn’t for an ASD, which isn’t a mental illness, and is not linked to violent crime.

Aside from that glaring, destructive lie, Scarborough went on to attribute Rodger’s “mental challenges” to his alleged autism, and share his experiences grousing with other autism parents about how their kids are completely friendless and unable to get girlfriends. Here’s the clip of just the autism bits:

Once again, if Elliot Rodger even had an ASD, it had nothing to do with his crime, but also, what Scarborough is saying about autistic kids having no friends simply is not true. While the communication problems associated with autism can be a challenge, my kids have never had problems making friends. As for girls, my oldest is in a long term relationship right now, and when he was growing up, there were constantly girls his age crushing on him. Every autistic kid is different, but there is nothing about an ASD that makes a kid, or an adult, inherently unable to form friendships and intimate relationships. If anything, the extra lifting that it can take tends to make those relationships stronger.

What would be hilarious, if it wasn’t so damaging, is the fact that Scarborough singles out other people’s “ignorance of what young males and young women on the spectrum go through,” when he’s getting his info from ignorant fellow parents at Autism Speaks cocktail parties, instead of from autistic people themselves.