Since last Friday’s murderous rampage at UCSB, it has been widely reported that mass murderer Elliot Rodger had an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) formerly known as Asperger’s Syndrome*, and some of that reporting has falsely suggested a link between autism and criminal violence. A closer look at that reporting, however, reveals that according to a spokesman for the Rodger family, Elliot Rodger was never even diagnosed with an ASD.
For several days now, I’ve been highlighting the false and irresponsible reporting on autism in the wake of last Friday’s massacre, but there have also been examples of responsible reporting on Elliot Rodger’s alleged autism, even on MSNBC. The most important thing to remember is that, whether or not Rodger was autistic, that fact has no relevance to the horrific acts he committed:
Having said that, though, it also matters whether the fact of his autism was even true. A friend asked me, yesterday, how much confidence I had in the reported autism diagnosis, but as I’ve said before, being an autism parent doesn’t automatically make me an expert. There were things about Rodger’s manifesto that made me skeptical. Aside from some very superficially recognizable characteristics, Rodger didn’t describe any of the experiences that would go along with an ASD, nothing about communication difficulties, nothing about sensory issues, nothing about receiving any educational services.
That manifesto was, among other things, excruciatingly thorough and brutally honest, and while Rodger described, in detail, all of the things he viewed as deficits that had been inflicted upon him, he never mentions anything remotely related to autism. He also recounts meetings with everyone he ever met, including a “life coach” named Tony and the psychiatrist who prescribed him an anti-psychotic medication, but never mentions a child study team, or any evaluation for autism. While I’m no more qualified to render a diagnosis than Dr. Joe Scarborough is, it made me skeptical. The reporting on that diagnosis is something that’s right in my wheelhouse, so I set about trying to find out where this all actually came from.
The source of all the reporting on Rodger’s supposed autism appears to be a statement by Rodger family attorney Alan Shifman, on Saturday, in which he told reporters that Elliot Rodger had been under the care of multiple professionals since childhood, and that he was a “highly functional Asperger’s Syndrome child,” but Shifman is never directly quoted as saying there was ever a diagnosis.
That precise verbiage is also found in some 1999 divorce papers obtained by RadarOnline, in which Li Chin Rodger, Elliot’s mother, was seeking three thousand dollars a month in child support, in part because, she claimed, “Elliot has special needs; he is a high functioning autistic child.”
In that same filing, though, Peter Rodger responds by saying he doesn’t know anything about an autism diagnosis for his son:
Though Li Chin Rodger claims in her court documents that Elliot is a high functioning autistic child, I was not involved in any prior evaluation of Elliot. Li Chin did not inform me about any evaluation of Elliot. This disturbed me greatly. I am now in the process of having Elliot evaluated by a child psychiatrist. Li Chin Rodger has agreed to be a part of the process.
Whether that evaluation ever occurred is unknown, but if it did, it did not result in an autism diagnosis, according to Simon Astaire, a family friend whom the Wall Street Journal reports was “appointed to speak for the Rodger family.” Here’s what Astaire told The Telegraph:
Simon Astaire, a family friend, said their son had been seeing therapists since the age of eight, including virtually “every day” while at high school.
He said: “What more could they have done? They are going through indescribable grief dealing with the loss of their son. His parents were conscious and concerned about their son’s health. They thought he was in good hands.”
Mr Astaire said Rodger, who was believed to have Asperger’s but had not been diagnosed, was “reserved to a daunting degree” and “fundamentally withdrawn”, but seemed to have “no affinity to guns whatsoever”.
Clearly, Rodger’s parents became convinced that he was autistic, and his psychiatrist, celebrity shrink and non-autism specialist Dr. Charles Sophy, may have seen superficial traits in Elliot that reminded him of Asperger’s/autism, but if there was no diagnosis, then there was no autism. Just because your kid is awkward and really likes video games does not make him autistic. Unlike many older adults who are diagnosed later in life because of the increased awareness, Elliot Rodger was under the care of medical and psychiatric professionals for over ten years. If he was autistic, he would have been diagnosed.
Given the nightmarish horror that some make autism out to be, it might be difficult to understand why a parent would cling to, or even hope for, such a diagnosis, but when the alternative is something like, say, paranoid schizophrenia and/or sociopathy, “high-functioning autism” might not sound so bad. Nobody’s going to stick a “Sociopath Awareness” magnet on their car.
Again, I’m not remotely qualified to diagnose anyone with anything, but I am qualified to report the fact that Elliot Rodger was prescribed a medication used to treat paranoid schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder, and that sociopathy, the symptoms of which Rodger’s own manifesto checks nearly every box, is often confused for autism by idiots and quacks. During the last round of autism propaganda, following Newtown, there were “experts” and reporters all over the TV reporting that people with ASD “lack empathy,” and even have “something missing in the brain,” which is completely untrue of autistic people, but completely true of sociopaths.
Whatever the truth turns out to be, journalists should stop reporting that Elliot Rodger was autistic, unless and until someone presents evidence that he was actually diagnosed with it.
*Author’s note: Asperger’s Syndrome was once a standalone diagnosis, but is now included in the autism spectrum.