A leading voice on autism awareness says it was “beyond appalling” and “gobsmacking” that Don Burke claimed his self-diagnosed Asperger’s syndrome was to blame for his alleged sexual misconduct.
Founding director and CEO of Autism Awareness Nicole Rogerson said she was furious when she read Burke’s comments and supposed justification during Burke’s bizarre A Current Affair interview on Monday night.
“What a ridiculous thing for him to say,” Ms Rogerson said. “Incredibly hurtful to those people on the autism spectrum and their families because anybody who knows anybody on the autism spectrum would know that there is nothing about having Asperger’s or autism that makes you more or less likely to be a sexual predator, anymore than having red hair makes you more likely.
“The only reason I can think of [for Burke’s Asperger’s justification] is he is trying to use the idea that people with Asperger’s sometimes don’t read social cues very well.
“I feel like he has just watched a couple of good episodes of The Good Doctor … the characters with Asperger’s in those kind of media shows often have difficulties reading social cues but he understands full well that his behaviour has been inappropriate over the years and he just can’t bring himself to say ‘I’m sorry’ to women.
“He is going to use Asperger’s as an example of ‘Hey, I didn’t know what I was doing; I don’t read social cues’.
“Well Don, we’re not buying it. Not only are you offending women but you are offending everybody on the autism spectrum and their families.”
Ms Rogerson’s scathing comments follow the interview on A Current Affair in which Burke claimed to have Asperger’s syndrome while denying allegations of sexual harassment.
Speaking after a Fairfax Media/ABC investigation that detailed allegations of indecent assault, sexual harassment and bullying perpetrated by Burke, the gardening guru described the story as a “witch hunt”.
In the ACA interview Burke also claimed for the first time that he had Asperger’s syndrome, although he admitted he had never been medically diagnosed with the condition.
“I can look at a lens but I have difficulty looking at people in the eye,” he said on Monday.
“I missed the body language and the subtle signs that people give you. I don’t see that. I suffer from a terrible problem with that. Not seeing. No one can understand how you can’t see it. But you don’t.”
“I’m an Asperger’s person and I have a lot of other failings that are genetic,” he said while denying the allegations against him.
A furious Ms Rogerson said those living with Asperger’s syndrome and their families should take no notice of Burke’s comments.
“To all the families [of people living with Asperger’s] gird your loins, let this just be water off a duck’s back … he is not describing anything we understand about our loved ones,” she said.
“He is trying to use his flimsy knowledge of Asperger’s to say ‘aren’t there those people with poor social skills? That was me, I just had poor social skills.’
“No, you didn’t Don. It is not poor social skills, you were sexually harassing women, there’s a big difference.”
If you find this report troubling, you can contact Lifeline: 131 114 or 1800 Respect: 1800 737 732.