I shudder whenever I see news stories suggesting that an individual accused of heinous crimes may have Tourette’s Disorder or some related diagnosis, as such stories may mislead the public into thinking that these conditions cause or increase the risk of bad or criminal behavior.
In Norway, Anders Breivik is on trial for actions that he has already confessed to: the bombing of government buildings in Oslo and then an attack on a youth camp in Utøya. All told, he left 77 dead. The only issue before the court at this time is whether Breivik was legally sane at the time of his terrorist actions or if he was insane.
Enter the psychiatric opinions, stage left. The Local reports:
Ulrik Fredrik Malt, a psychiatry professor at the University of Oslo, said the 33-year-old Breivik was suffering from Asperger’s syndrome, Tourette’s syndrome and narcissistic personality disorder, but was likely not psychotic.
The question of Breivik’s sanity is key to his ongoing trial. Though judges are certain to find him guilty, they must decide if he was criminally sane or not.
Their decision would affect whether he gets mental treatment in a secure psychiatric facility.
Asperger’s is a developmental disorder on the autistic spectrum that often is characterized by a lack of empathy. Tourette’s is a neurological disorder marked by tics and verbal outbursts.
Malt said Tourette’s could explain why Breivik has frequently smiled inappropriately throughout the trial.
The psychiatrist left open the possibility that Breivik was suffering from paranoid psychosis but said the chances of such a condition were less than 25 percent.
Breivik, who admitted killing 77 people in a July 22nd bomb attack and shooting rampage, wants to prove his sanity because he thinks more people would give credence to his extremist ideology — described as a crusade against multiculturalism and a pending “Muslim invasion” of Norway and Europe.
Malt’s opinion is based on his observations of Breivik during his trial, which started on April 16th, but he has not interviewed the defendant.
So what impression do such media reports create in the public’s mind? Is it any wonder that some parents are reluctant to have others know their children’s diagnoses?
We really need to do a better job of educating the public.
Colleen Kotke reports from Wisconsin:
Last fall, Mandy Rennhack was determined that her autistic son would never again be placed inside “the box.”
“The box,” a pressed plywood structure, was used to control her 9-year-old son, Ty, early in the school year after he had a “meltdown” at Rock River Intermediate School.
“I immediately called for a meeting with the special education team to update his IEP (individualized education plan) and tell them that Ty was never to go back in there, that they should call me and I would come immediately to pick him up,” said the Waupun mother.
Rennhack was stunned to learn from Ty that he had been placed inside the box again on March 27 — this time for a good portion of the morning.
“No one at school had contacted me. I had to hear it from my son,” she said.
Rennhack went to the school the next day and was told Ty — who has Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder — had refused to comply with a directive from his teacher. When he began pacing the room, he was told to either stand in the corner or he would be placed in the “quiet box” — a free-standing room measuring seven feet deep by five feet wide just under eight feet tall. The empty padded room stands on a bare, tile floor, has no ventilation system, and opens with a handle on the door that can be locked from the outside.
Interim district administrator Donald Childs says putting a child whose behavior has the potential to cause harm to himself or others into a secluded padded room until the episode subsides is a legal and accepted practice in the state.
Read more about this story on Green Bay Press Gazette.
This is yet another example of why we need a federal law prohibiting the use of seclusion except for instances of imminent danger to self or others.
Meghan Covert Russell writes:
This week the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia ruled in favor of the Murray County School District on their motion for summary judgment in the case of Long v. Murray County School District. The case has garnered national attention due to its focus on bullying. Seventeen-year-old Tyler Lee Long (“Long”), who was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, was the victim of severe, nearly constant bullying at his Georgia high school and eventually committed suicide. Long’s parents sued the Murray County School District alleging that their failure to intervene, investigate, correct, or train employees to adequately protect Tyler from bullying constituted deliberate indifference and was the cause of his decision to take his own life.
Read more about the case on JD Supra.
Rick Nauert, PhD writes:
New research from the UK suggests people with autism have a greater than normal capacity for processing information.
This aptitude is evident even when the presentation is presented rapidly. Autistic individuals are also better at detecting information defined as ‘critical.’
Investigators believe the findings may help to explain the apparently higher than average prevalence of people with autism spectrum disorders in the IT [information technology] industry.
Read more on PsychCentral.
If you are the parent of a high school student, you’ll want to know about this event sponsored by The Yale Child Study Center:
Moving On: Preparing Students with Autism, Asperger’s and Learning Differences for College
This full day seminar is designed to assist college-bound students on the autism spectrum (and their parents) cope with expectations and pressures, and understand their domestic and academic responsibilities. Topics include identifying the right program/institution, social and communication supports, and managing anxiety, among others.
Sunday, April 22, 2012, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Yale University, School of Medicine
333 Cedar Street, New Haven, CT