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Autism Speaks Canada’s statement about the Alek Minassian case and its misrepresentation of autism

TORONTO, Nov 24, 2020 – Autism Speaks Canada extends its deepest condolences to the victims of the North York van attack and their family members. It is an awful tragedy.  We know that speculation and misinformation about autism and other neurodevelopmental disabilities have hurtful and lasting consequences.

Alek Minassian’s defense lawyer has claimed “autism left him unable to know ‘wrongfulness’ of van attack”.  An autism diagnosis does not explain this horrific act of violence. Research has found no evidence that people on the autism spectrum are more violent than the general population. In fact, teens and adults with autism are more likely than average to be the victims of crime. A good source for a broad review of the literature on autism and violence is available here.

Autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges.  It refers to a board range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, restrictive and repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. However, it is not characterized (or diagnosed) by the lack of understanding right or wrong or difficulties with morality, or violent behaviour.

Misconception about autism or any other neurological disabilities can lead to increase stigmatization and prejudice toward peaceful and productive members of society. To this effect, we stay committed to increasing understanding and acceptance of autistic Canadians. It is time to come together to rely on evidence based and informed decision making especially when discussing heartbreaking loss of innocent lives.