Saturday, April 25, 2009

Clinic Notes: Autism as an Insanity Defense

According to a recent Schafer Report, a number of violent criminal cases around the country have employed an insanity defense claiming autism affected the person's ability to distinguish right from wrong. Most insanity defenses rely on schizophrenia or some mental impairment. Individuals with autism or Asperger's Syndrome do have problems with socialization and are often awkward and don't understand social norms. They can be aggressive at times, but rarely violent. Fortunately, "expert doctors" called to testify for the defense or prosecution can be sure to disagree, and juries are usually unwilling to accept the insanity defense anyway. I doubt that anyone will successfully be able to prove that "autism made me do it." At least I hope not. I don't want autism to get a bad name because it is used too often as an insanity defense.


Autism Reality NB said...

Personally I want such cases to be decided on the facts of each case not on whether "autism" gets a bad name.

I respect the work you do but as the father of a wonderful boy with Autistic Disorder, assessed with profound developmental delays I know that there are times when his physical actions do not seem to be within his conscious control.

He enjoys rubbing my beard but sometimes he suddenly pinches my face NOT with an intent to harm. It is almost like a seizure.

Sometimes he has pulled his mothers hair, again not with intent to harm but in frustration which can elicit aggressive actions.

I have worked as a lawyer with some parents of teen and adult children with autism and Aspergers who are trying to find the best situation for their children despite the parents, usually the mother, being physically harmed by the adult child they love. These parents do not blame their children for actions they do not control.

Again I like your site and your work but I believe you are off base on this one. The last thing "autism", or more properly speaking, autistic people, need, is the creation of a false, feel good, positive image of autism disorders which ignores some of the harsher realities that sometimes accompany the disorder.


Harold Doherty
Fredericotn NB Canada
Father of a 13 year old boy with Autistic Disorder, lawyer and autism advocate (Autism Socity New Brunswick)

Dr. Brown said...

Thanks for your reply. As you probably know I am familiar with the bad side of autism-the aggression, tantrums, self-injurious behavior etc. What I meant to say was I did not want autism to get a bad name because it was used frequently as an insanity defense. I will edit. Dr. Brown