Autism Does Not Cause Killer Kids

by Brenda Rothman

Gevin Prince was fourteen years old.  Brown-haired and big for his age, Gevin lived with his great-grandmother and grandmother in Douglas County, Georgia, a suburban area just west of Atlanta.  His grandmother said that when she told Gevin he couldn’t use the computer, Gevin grabbed a knife and stabbed his great-grandmother thirty times.  When police arrived, Gevin was outside the house holding a samurai sword and a BB gun.  After a standoff, police subdued Gevin with a Taser.  Inside the house, they discovered that the great-grandmother had also been stabbed with the samurai sword and the grandmother, seriously injured, had locked herself in a bathroom.

Grandmother Laura Prince told a newspaper reporter that Gevin has Asperger’s.  The Atlanta paper reported:

Laura Prince previously told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution she had reared Gevin and tried to get him help for mental problems.  She said Gevin has Asperger’s syndrome, which is similar to autism, and the older he got the more he “acted out” physically, eventually prompting 911 calls to authorities.

Gevin’s great-grandmother Mary Joan Gibbs, 77 years old, died.  His grandmother, 55, is seriously injured.  Gevin, now 15, is in the Douglas County jail facing murder and aggravated assault charges as an adult.  The District Attorney is sending the case to a grand jury for indictment.

This is a tragedy.  This family is suffering terrible pain.  Clearly, they needed help.  Maybe Gevin didn’t have the right supports for his needs.  Maybe he had other mental health issues.  Maybe he had no medication, wrong medication, or too much medication.  Maybe he had a troubled family, a troubled past.  Maybe he was just a troubled teen.  I don’t know.

BUT.  Autism does not cause children to murder.

If families think that, if reporters think that, if the public thinks that, we are treading a dangerous path for our children, individuals, and families affected by autism.

People don’t need to be scared of autism.  Parents shouldn’t believe that a diagnosis of autism means a tragedy awaits them.  They don’t need to be frightened into thinking that their child is a cold, hard-hearted villain who will snap at the next “no.”  They don’t need to lie in their bed awake wondering when their child will murder them.  Teachers shouldn’t be scared to teach our kids.  The government doesn’t need to get the idea that people diagnosed with autism should be institutionalized for public safety.  Our neighbors don’t need to worry when our children play with theirs.

Persons diagnosed with autism have problems with social interaction, communication, and repetitive or restricted behavior and interests.  That’s it.  They don’t lack empathy.  They aren’t robotic.  They don’t reject people.  They aren’t emotionless.  They don’t have an inability to relate to people.  They don’t have a tendency to be violent.  None of  that.  They may find it difficult to follow conversations.  They may have challenges with nonverbal language.  They may not like crowds.  But persons diagnosed with autism are PEOPLE, not natural born killers.

I’m not saying all persons with autism are angels.  Just as some people are ornery, so some people with autism are ornery.  Just as some people resort to violence, so some people with autism may resort to violence.  But it ain’t the autism that makes it so.

Autism does not cause a person to kill.

Its corollary is true as well.  Autism does not cause a parent to kill his child with autism.

Yes, this family suffered a devastating event.  They needed help.  They needed psychological counseling.  They needed therapy, medication, respite, and family supports.  They needed a support group.  They needed ideas and alternatives.  They needed to be weapon-free, or have an extra computer, or management for dealing with limits, or information about how to transition kids with autism, or how to help a troubled child.  But autism did not cause Gevin to kill his great-grandmother and assault his grandmother.

The autism community needs to do a better job getting information about autism supports out to families.  Not just information on websites, but also straight in the hands of pediatricians and families.  We need to do proactive outreach to families dealing with an autism diagnosis, finding out what issues they’re having and why.  We need to focus on affordable therapies, respite care, and parenting practices, not just on research about causes.  We need families to know that 911 is not the number to call when your child has autism. It’s the number you call for public safety, not for mental health support.  Police do not have the role of figuring out how to best help your child and your family.  They have one decision: do I arrest your child or not?  Families need to know WHO to call when they need help.  We need to do a better job supporting persons with autism and their families in daily living, in stress management, in family dynamics, and in problem resolution.

And people need to know: Autism does not turn kids into killers.

About the Author: Brenda Rothman, the mother of an autistic son, writes about autism, parenting, and shoes on her blog Mama Be Good http://mamabegood.blogspot.com/. Brenda is also on Twitter @mamabegood, where she enjoys margatweetas, and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/mamabegood, where she spills coffee creamer.

All images are the exclusive property of Brenda Rothman and Mama Be Good and are protected under the United States and International Copyright laws. The images may not be reproduced, copied, transmitted or manipulated without the written permission of Brenda Rothman at Mama Be Good. © 2009 – 2012 Mama Be Good.

Autism Does Not Cause Killer Kids first appeared on Brenda’s blog and is reprinted here with permission.

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6 thoughts on “Autism Does Not Cause Killer Kids

  1. Sarah says:

    Very scary topic! Thank you for taking this one on. People need a chance to understand our kids. Yes, tragic ending to a likely simple problem but our justice system isn’t set up for situations like this one. Not sure what the best solution is but education is a start.

  2. Patty says:

    Thank you for this post. You are so right.

  3. Can we just look at the report for a second….

    “When police arrived, Gevin was outside the house holding a samurai sword and a BB gun.”

    Oh ok. I have a Samurai sword and BB Gun which I keep on the wall at my Great-Grandmother’s house next to my axe and thermonuclear weapon.

    Seriously… The presence of some of these things suggests that there were already some violent influences in the house. How many people have watched horror films and said “oh, that’s not a good idea having weaponry on the walls” only to see the characters use them later in the film.

    Sure, I know that some people have these things for “coolness” (samurai sword maybe) but not a BB gun too. Also, this boy has only just turned 15, so he obviously couldn’t afford to sword.

    Gifting weapons to your children always carries a risk.

  4. Pam Mace says:

    Important! The general public needs to be informed about autism. This child obviously had more going on than just autism and probably needs help more than he needs prison.
    Same goes for schizophrenia – these conditions alone do not create killers.
    Also, where are the headlines saying “Neurotypical person commits awful crime”? Leave the fearmongering out!

  5. JJ says:

    Thanks for this great post. It’s sad when the media overgeneralize about an incident or forget to put other important details in there. I’m sure Gevin had other mental problems but most likely the news cycle meant that whoever wrote the reporter had to finish the story before further findings came out. As someone who used to write for a newspaper, I can sympathize with the situation but this doesn’t excuse how the article associates autism with the violent act.

  6. sanni says:

    we with autism dont kill we arnt undrstood bi many an we hav melt downs -its society tht kills us by killing our sdpirit an value as people

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