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Tuesday, August 24, 2021


 In The Politics of Autism, I write:

There is no evidence linking autism to planned violence, but in recent years, mass shootings by young men have led commentators in the mainstream media and on the Internet to suggest such a connectionAfter the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, for instance, news reports said that the shooter was on the spectrum. The speculation made little sense to anyone who understood autism. Whereas autistic people have language delays and deficits, the killer had learned English as a second language — and learned it well enough to major in the subject in college. Later on, it turned out that he had an entirely different problem, a social anxiety disorder. Adam Lanza, who committed the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, may have had an Asperger’s diagnosis, but his father emphasized that his behavior stemmed from the psychiatric illnesses that he also had. Nevertheless, the media speculated about Lanza’s place on the spectrum, which worried autism parents. One mother of an autistic child wrote: “This is the first time I'm truly afraid for him. Afraid of what may happen to my son with autism at the hands of a stranger; a stranger who has chosen to buy into the media-fueled misinformation that individuals diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder are dangerous and capable of horrendous acts of terror and violence.” 
Or as Eric Michael Garcia has written: " As someone who is autistic — and having spent the last few years researching and writing a book about autism — I can say that these rationales are unequivocally (to quote the president) a bunch of malarkey."

Criminal defendants, however, are still trying to claim autism as a defense. Examples: a Canadian who used a rental van as a weapon, the Capital Gazette shooter  and a Capitol insurrectionist.  Now real estate heir Robert Durst, as Nancy Dillon reports at the New York Daily News:

Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney John Lewin suggested it was suspicious Durst didn’t check with Kathie’s family before he placed his first call to police.

The prosecutor alleged that was because Durst knew he’d already killed, dismembered and disposed of the 29-year-old medical student, so there was nothing to learn from her family.

“Wouldn’t the first thing you would do is you would call Kathie’s family, her mom, her sisters, her brother, and find out, ‘Hey listen, has anybody seen Kathie?’ Isn’t that what a normal person does?” Lewin asked during his cross-examination of the skyscraper scion.

“I’m not a normal person. I am told that I am somewhere on the autistic spectrum. I don’t know what a normal person does,” Durst testified.