According to Dr. Clare Allely, a psychology professor at the University of Salford in Manchester, England, individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder may be at an increased risk of becoming radicalized by terror organizations and carrying out attacks. However, there is little evidence to support Dr. Allely’s claims. Researchers from the Kennedy Krieger Institute, a Johns Hopkins University affiliate, conducted a study in North Carolina and found that only 5% of teens charged in the state juvenile justice system had ASD. Moreover, the crimes committed by teens with ASD “were very mild” and nonviolent compared to neurotypical teens, as noted by the study’s lead researcher. The misleading comments from the U.K. instructor have caused frustration for many, as the professor refused to name radical Islamic ideology as one of the motives for terrorism.
According to The Science of Evil, by Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the University of Cambridge Autism Research Centre, areas of the brain associated with empathy show reduced activity in individuals on the autism spectrum. In his book, however, Dr. Baron-Cohen notes that although patients with Asperger’s Syndrome struggle to recognize the emotional states and pain of others, they do not differ from typical individuals in their level of sympathy for those they identify as suffering.
Despite the evidence, Dr. Allely argues that two case studies on Nick Reilly and Peyton Pruitt, both on the autism spectrum and former affiliates of terror organizations, provide evidence that ASD could increase the risk of carrying out a terror attack.
Nick Reilly was a young British man with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high functioning autism. In 2008, Reilly was arrested for a failed suicide bombing attempt. However, this was after he converted to Islam, associated with radicalized individuals, and referred to his family as “infidels,” according to The Telegraph UK. The Telegraph also notes that Reilly was raised in poverty and had a family history of crime and drug addiction. The environment in which Reilly grew up likely contributed to feelings of considerable stress, which his multiple suicide attempts displayed. As noted previously on Liberty Nation, while chronic stress is linked to increasing criminal behaviors, autism is not.
Peyton Pruitt, a teen with ASD, was convicted of sending bomb making instructions to a member of the Islamic State terror organization online. Dr. Allely states that Pruitt was “sympathetic to the IS cause” and that his ASD illustrates:
How some of the symptoms of ASD can “help” make a pathway towards being inspired to act on behalf of a terrorist cause, join a terrorist organisation, engage in directed attacks – or indeed carry out lone wolf terrorism.
In addition to ASD, Pruitt struggled with mental retardation and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. There is no clear indication that autism was the cause of Pruitt’s involvement with the terror organization. According to a CBS news affiliate, Pruitt was released from prison after the court ruled that he was mentally incapable of acknowledging the potential consequences of his actions. If true, this means he was far from Dr. Allely’s accusation of being “sympathetic” to the Islamic State.
Dr. Allely committed surprising oversights for an accomplished psychology professor – drawing correlations without considering further variables. Unfortunately, Dr. Allely may indoctrinate her students to believe fallacies and build fear towards individuals with ASD, rather than recognizing radical Islamic ideology as the chief purveyor of terrorism.
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