Autism As Criminal Defense
A story in the Washington Post has raised several questions about autism and violence on several online forums.
In Va. assault case, anxious parents recognize 'dark side of autism'Is there research to support a connection between autism and violence? Maybe. Or maybe not.
By Theresa Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 13, 2011; 12:30 AM
When a Stafford County jury this month found an autistic teenager guilty of assaulting a law enforcement officer and recommended that he spend 10.5 years in prison, a woman in the second row sobbed.
It wasn't the defendant's mother. She wouldn't cry until she reached her car. It was Teresa Champion.
Champion had sat through the trial for days and couldn't help drawing parallels between the defendant, Reginald "Neli" Latson, 19, and her son James, a 17-year-old with autism.
Champion said parents are just beginning to acknowledge what she calls the "dark side of autism," their children's capacity for aggression when they are frustrated, angry or overstimulated. Her son recently hit his attendant and attacked his father in front of a movie theater. Other parents describe scary episodes of biting, kicking and hitting.
It's not easy to talk about children lashing out, Champion said. But it's necessary because many are getting older and bigger and yearn for more independence, which leads to private struggles becoming public.
One reason Asperger's Syndrome was classified as "autistic psychopathy" was the tendency to diagnose AS at an unusually high rate among young men charged with violent crimes. In recent years, AS diagnoses played a role in several murder cases -- from Hans Reiser to "Craigslist Killer" Michael Anderson. I count at least two dozen instances in the news database of using AS/autism as a defense in murder cases.
- Asperger's disorder and murder. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law. 2005;33(3):390-3.
- Autistic psychopathy or pervasive developmental disorder: how has Asperger's syndrome changed in the past sixty years? Nippon Rinsho. 2007 Mar;65(3):409-18.
- Criminal responsibility in Asperger's syndrome. Isr J Psychiatry Relat Sci. 2006;43(3):166-73.
- Violent crime in Asperger syndrome: the role of psychiatric comorbidity. J Autism Dev Disord. 2008 Nov;38(10):1848-52. Epub 2008 May 1.
Michael John Anderson's Asperger's Syndrome was responsible for his decision to shoot Katherine Ann Olson in October 2007. A jury should know that mild autism is responsible for a murder suspect's apparent lack of remorse for killing a woman who responded to his online ad for a babysitter, his lawyer argued Thursday in Scott County court.I've met with or been contacted by at least six autistic students accused of violence or threats of violence. I cannot comment on those individuals'' stories, but each told me that the health care professionals involved did cite AS as a contributing factor to either an actual action or the perception of potential violence. Being perceived as a threat is not the same as being a threat.
I really hate these stories, reflexively. I don't believe individuals with ASDs are any more or less violent than the general public. In fact, there are studies suggesting students with ASDs actually get into less trouble during their lives, as they prefer to follow rules rigidly. I'm not sure that's true, either. People are people, so I assume "good" and "evil" exist in every community.