Autism seems like a hot potato in the news at the moment...or maybe it isn't and I'm just noticing it more because I'm looking for it more. Mainly we have the case of Gary McKinnon...a "computer geek" with Asperger's Syndrome (AS) who got caught hacking the computers of the American government and, upon realising the crime carries 70 years in jail, is grasping at any straw that is floating by; grabbing at the doorframe in a last desperate attempt to extend his time by any moments he can muster. If I'm honest I'd do the same, and so would you. If I was facing 70 years in an American jail I'd put underpants on my head and pencils up my nose if I thought it would save me.
Now don't get me wrong, the intended punishment far outstrips the crime and it does seem like the Americans want to make an example. Even ignoring the AS angle, I'd still support any effort to see him tried and punished in the UK. As much as I think the Americans are looking to make an example, I also think Team McKinnon is deliberately misrepresenting the AS side of this story to make him more a victim than he actually is as an attempt to get an eleventh hour pardon.
Trans-Atlantic chess aside, the main issue here is to what extent should people with AS be excused from their actions? Or shielded from the consequences? To what extent does having AS mitigate the seriousness of your behaviour? Ok…Gary might have had an obsession…a compulsion…to investigate UFO activity - but he still knows right from wrong. He's autistic, not psychotic.
Whatever way you look at it and whatever side of the fence you're on it's an interesting case. This one is slightly more worrying though;
Men guilty of parents murder plot
"They said Monks [who sought to have his parents killed] suffered from an autism spectrum disorder and had difficulty in separating fantasy from reality."
"Professor Digby Tantam, a consultant psychiatrist and autism expert, said he believed the defendant had an autistic spectrum disorder which could impair his understanding on the outcome of actions and the feelings of others."
I'll say it again…autistic, not psychotic.
As these stories come out and people look to their autism to excuse their behaviour is the tide of human opinion going to ebb further out from us? Are we going to end up being seen in the same light as un-treated schizophrenics, turfed out to kill in the community in the name of care in the community? Are we slowly being turned into the new bogeymen? Will mothers hurry their children inside and slam the window shutters when they see us coming? How long before we've overtaken the paedophiles? How long until Jonathan King is blogging about how vile we are?
If people keep misrepresenting autism as a defence against criminal behaviour then that's a two-way street; the public will start to believe it. So is the autistic community digging its own mass grave? By siding with the likes of Gary McKinnon instead of saying "I have sympathy for Gary, but autism is no excuse, if you break the law you should be punished" we're all jumping in the handcart and it's slowly rolling down the hill, but fast gathering momentum.