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.