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Is autism associated with violent criminal activity?

Posted Jun 29 2013 12:39pm

Short answer: no. Just in case you don’t want to read through my introduction or skip down to the abstract below.

Whenever there is a major news story involving, say, mass murder, it is just a matter of time before speculation arises that the perpetrator was autistic. It happened last year with the Sandy Hook elementary shooting. It happened with the Virginia Tech shooting. It happened after Columbine.

We on the IACC felt it important enough to issue a statement following Sandy Hook. At the end of that statement one can find three studies indicating no association between autism (or autism spectrum disorders) and violent/criminal behavior. And now we can add another study, this one from Sweden:

Here is the abstract:

The longitudinal relationship between attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and violent criminality has been extensively documented, while long-term effects of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), tic disorders (TDs), and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) on criminality have been scarcely studied. Using population-based registers of all child and adolescent mental health services in Stockholm, we identified 3,391 children, born 1984-1994, with neurodevelopmental disorders, and compared their risk for subsequent violent criminality with matched controls. Individuals with ADHD or TDs were at elevated risk of committing violent crimes, no such association could be seen for ASDs or OCD. ADHD and TDs are risk factors for subsequent violent criminality, while ASDs and OCD are not associated with violent criminality.

The next time such a news story comes out (and, sadly, we can expect that there will be more such events) there will almost certainly be speculation again as to whether the perpetrator is autistic and whether autism was involved in the events. With luck, some journalists will search for evidence on whether violent/criminal behavior before they file their stories.

By Matt Carey

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