Inappropriate Facial Expressions Don’t Make Someone a Killer


Autistics (I use Identity first language as most Autistics do) are often misunderstood because of inappropriate facial expressions or a flat aspect. We are accused of lacking emotion when we fail to show it in our expressions. If we show inappropriate emotion, we are accused of being cruel or sociopathic. It makes me think of the Barenaked Ladies song, One Week.

…Tryin’ hard not to smile though I feel bad

I’m the kind of guy who laughs at a funeral…

The Barenaked Ladies probably didn’t have to worry about this behaviour being pathologised.

People readily notice what they consider an inappropriate reaction when it suits their needs. After a recent program that reexamined the Jon Benet Ramsey murder, I saw a lot of Twitter comments about how Burke’s reactions were inappropriate. These same people speculated Burke that Burke may be neurodivergent, specifically being Autistic. Using this armchair diagnosis, they acted as if that’s all that needed to be said to conclude Burke had killed his sister.

Public Service Announcement: Autistic DOES NOT equal murderer.

Autistics are far more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators. If you broke down cases of children murdered by their parents, for example, you will find a huge percentage of these children were Autistic.

Public Service Announcement #2: Children can accidentally kill other children without being Autistic. It happens often enough.

The program pointed to some of Burke’s behaviours as inappropriate—specifically his smiling during interviews with a psychologist.

My sister better hope she never gets questioned in a murder. Her commanding officer tried to write her up once. He felt she was mocking him with her smiles. Other officers defended her by pointing out she always smiles. She smiles more when uncomfortable than she does when she’s happy.

PSA #3: People react to stress and grief in different ways.

The program never suggested Burke meant to kill his sister. Their conclusion was that he lost his temper when she ate something he wanted, and he hit her over the head with a flashlight. The program did everything short of proclaiming Burke to be Autistic, and everything short of saying he was in the midst of a meltdown when he accidentally killed his sister. They lead people right to the edge of this conclusion and let their own biases and bigotry do the rest.

There was a brief window after I watched the program where I felt like they made a convincing case. That was before I considered the ideas underlying their theory: Burke’s reactions are signs of guilt. His reactions are a sign of autism. Autism would make him more likely to kill.

If I had that window where I was a little bit convinced, until I connected the dots, what will people who have firmly entrenched misconceptions of autism believe?

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