The Spectrum of Violence

Violence is rare in autism. When it does occur, what does it look like?

Research has shown that, rather than being more likely to engage in offending behaviour or violent behaviour, individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are actually more at risk of being the victim than the perpetrator. Research indicates there is a very small subgroup of individuals with ASD who exhibit violent offending behaviours. School shootings and mass killings are not uncommonly carried by individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders with frequent evidence of warning indicators.

In her talk, Dr Clare Allely will be considering the link between neurodevelopment disorders and the actions of killers such as Anders Breivik. Is the link significant? Serial killings and mass shootings are relatively rare events that have a very profound societal impact. But the research into serial murders and mass shooters is in its infancy: there is a lack of rigorous studies and most of the literature is anecdotal and speculative. Specifically, future study of the potential role of neurodevelopmental disorders in serial murder and mass shooting is warranted and, due to the rarity of these events, innovative research techniques may be required.

Dr Clare Allely is a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Salford and an affiliate member of the Gillberg Neuropsychiatry Centre (GNC) at Gothenburg University, Sweden. She holds an Honorary Research Fellow position in the College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences affiliated to the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow as well as a PhD in psychology from the University of Manchester, having previously graduated with an MA (hons.) in Psychology from the University of Glasgow, an MRes in Psychological Research Methods from the University of Strathclyde and an MSc degree in Forensic Psychology from Glasgow Caledonian University. Between June 2011 and June 2014 she worked at the University of Glasgow as a postdoctoral researcher.

She is currently collaborating with colleagues at the GNC on a number of papers and projects including one looking at cholesterol metabolism and steroid abnormalities of various kinds (cortisol, testosterone, estrogen, vitamin D) in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). She is also working on projects with colleagues in the UK looking at ASD in the criminal justice system. Specifically, one looking at the experience of individuals with ASD in the prison environment and another looking at the experience of defendants with ASD as well as how they are perceived by judges and juries (e.g., whether a diagnosis of ASD is considered to be a mitigating and aggravating factor in sentencing, to what extent an ASD diagnosis impacts on criminal responsibility, criminal intent, etc.).