1/10/2010

When We Use Autistic People To Prove Our Ideological Points

"Well, I continued to be baffled by the logic of neurodiversitites." -- Mitchell
"The strange silence of the ND crowd on this case speaks volumes about the irrational ND ideology." --Doherty

Covering autistic individuals when they make the news, for whatever the reason, raises some interesting questions. How do we cover things like autistic children who get lost in the woods? Do we use our blogs and our readership to get information disseminated quickly and to raise support? Or do we use it to argue that those awful neurodiversity types just don't get that autism kills?

Doherty is irritated that the neurodiversity crowd has been oddly silent on the story of Christopher Monks, a young man with Asperger's who apparently conspired with another young man to murder Christopher's parents. How much coverage did Christopher Monk's story get in the autism community at large?


Doherty is the only autism-related blogger who I can find who has covered this story at all. Doherty covered it on the 9th, wanting to know where the "ND crowd" was in covering it. He covered it on the 7th, with the focus on the parents, not on the young man:
 "The article illustrates just how much many parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders love their children no matter how severe the challenges they present."

So, one blogger in the autism community writes twice on the story, once to focus on how heroic parents of autistic people are (so, again, not about the autistic person himself) and once to bitch that the "irrational NDs" have been silent on it.

Well, let's look at the coverage overall on this story, see if there's a reason NO ONE in the autism community but Doherty covered this story.

In December, one blog did cover it, from the angle of furries, referring back to this news article from November. Moving further back in time, I found Sodahead covering it in July under its entertainment heading: "Christopher Monks, 24, met Shaun Skarnes, 19, on an internet chatroom for Furries - people who enjoy dressing up as animal characters for sexual fantasies. Christopher Monks allegedly told Shaun Skarnes that if he killed Monks' parents, he could bite off...." (article provides details). Another news story covered it on the same day as Sodahead. These two initial news stories do not mention Monks' diagnosis of Asperger's. The BBC story doesn't mention Monks' Asperger's, either. It is only starting with the January 7th articles that Asperger's is brought up. This article on the 8th doesn't mention Monks' Asperger's. This one does.

How Doherty found out about this, I don't presume to know. It seems to have only hit the blogosphere in blogs relating to furries. No mention is made of Asperger's until January 7th. There is no way prior to the 7th of January that anyone in the autism community could have known of it. And by the 7th, most of us bloggers related in anyway to neurodiversity were already deeply invested in advocating for Zakh Price. Indeed, even if we hadn't been, the likelihood that Monks' story would have come to anyone's attention, short of them living in the region and following the news and happening on it, is slim. That it did come to Doherty's attention on the day that Monks' name in conjunction with his diagnosis was released in a news story suggests that Doherty has a google alerts set up to alert him of stories dealing with Asperger's and something related to criminal charges. Doherty would have to reveal how the story came to his attention, though.

Instead of arguing anything regarding the young man's fate, which to be fair, if you read the links, especially the two July stories, and the accompanying information from January after the sentencing, I'm not sure one could argue it was an unreasonable sentence, Doherty used this young man's story to argue that autism parents are heroic in their love and that NDs are irrational and should have covered this. To what angle, I have no idea. So, Doherty left the unsavory bits hidden away and used the young man as a bludgeon to swing Doherty's ideology about, to bash those who support acceptance and equal rights.

So, what do I think of the Christopher Monks' story? He conspired to have his parents murdered. There is no doubt of that. The young man he conspired with attempted that murder but was foiled in it.

According to the news story, "The pair meticulously prepared the killings via messages after meeting online in November 2008, the court heard." Monks was "given an indefinite hospital order."

The parents were steadfast, if perhaps misguided, in their devotion to their son. You can love someone and support them, but after he's deliberately and intentionally conspired to kill you, you really probably ought to be smart enough not to want to have him under your roof:
"They argued he suffered from Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, and was was unable to separate fantasy from reality.
The court heard that in a series of online exchanges, Monks told Skarnes he wanted his parents dead because he said they were over-protective and treated him like a child."
Whether Monks could determine fantasy from reality, I don't know, but that in and of itself, has nothing to do with autism. Interesting here, though, is Doherty's focus on this story. Doherty rails against Asperger's. He spends a lot of his blog posts and commenting bashing people with Asperger's. He doesn't consider it to be autism, but in his two blog posts regarding Monks, he conveniently ignores his long-held position. He certainly doesn't consider Ari Ne'eman qualified to speak for autistics, and yet, here, for this purpose, this young man, whatever his mental health issues, can stand for autism and represent the irrationality of the ND crowd.

Perhaps Doherty will deign to explain his reasoning here.

Doherty and Mitchell both like to go on and on about how irrational and illogical the people who ascribe to the ideals of neurodiversity are. Doherty hates the social model of disability. The sad truth is that the social model does explain a great deal of the discrimination and lack of equal access, resulting in dis-ability that many face. Choosing to view people as inherently dis-abled, with the accompanying negative social pressures that accompany disability, creates part of the problem. Seeing someone as dis-abled often connotes to seeing them as less than.

Accepting that society contributes to this lesser-than status allows societal change, allows a shift in language and a shift in focus. If we accept the premise that different from the fictional norm is not an innately bad thing and simply represents the reality of nature: we are all different, with differing levels of challenges and abilities, then we are far more likely to work towards changing society to be truly accepting and accomodating of these differing levels of ability.

Acceptance doesn't mean a lack of consequences for behavior, though. What Christopher Monks did was illegal. He wanted his parents dead. He acted to make that happen. And he promised an odd, but obviously desirable enticement for the young man who accepted his offer. Until such a time as can be shown that Monks is not a danger to others, his placement is appropriate. This wasn't a meltdown. This was a deliberate, intellectual, and prolonged effort to see his parents killed. This has nothing to do with having Asperger's.


Doherty's coverage of it had nothing to do with Asperger's and everything to do with Doherty's agenda.

12 comments:

Socrates said...

I've been mentally flip-flopping on this one since his post...

I do remember reading all about this case months and months ago. But it was reported from the Furry angle. The man was involved with an animal (of the Disney cartoon type)role play site.

This struck me at the time as very strange and very sinister. And you're right - Asperger's wasn't mentioned.

My own perspective on Asperger's/Autism and crime is a little skewed by knowing someone who deals daily with Forensic Presentations.

Some of the crimes are really quite serious and I'm afraid to say some of them are directly related to and caused by Autism.

There's no getting around it.

However, that isn't to say Autism is fundamentally a cause of crime, any more than schizophrenia or bi polar disorder is.

However, the chances of having a sensible and wide ranging debate on the issue are practically zero; the professionals involved certainly wouldn't throw themselves into this digital bear-pit.

Some facts from the Royal College of Psychiatrists here.

But even more important than this issue is Harold's behaviour. Apparently according to David Andrews he is, quite remarkably a Lawyer. If this is so, then I've a feeling his online activities and propaganda may well get him in trouble.

Differences in opinions I can handle, even pointless hissy-fits and consequent mudslinging.

But his modus operandi is cool, calculated, baseless slights.

He appears to have a particularly nasty streak.

KWombles said...

Thank you for sharing the link; I will read the report this afternoon.

The relationship between crime and autism sounds like an interesting angle to dig into and examine. I had looked into crime and autism briefly a few years back. Time to get up to date on the literature.

Yes, it does appear that in some cases, the individual's autism is what causes the behavior that is labeled criminal (Sky Walker), but I don't know the degree to which the criminality is intentional. Sky didn't mean to hurt his mother. Monks was intentional and deliberate. The two are vastly different things and as such should carry different consequences (although they may not, as Monks is institutionalized, and as Sky may be as well). Still, the matter of intent counts, and I don't know to what degree that has been examined in relation to autism.

Give me a week or so, and I will, though. :-)

Nightstorm said...

Funny I ghost around the Furry community often and this is the first time I heard of this.

Socrates said...

It's the UK Furries.

I read it on the BBC's website here.

The story's dated Nov 9 - but I'm sure I read this months and months ago, so maybe this is an updated version.

Socrates said...

Harold would've really got his I-Wish-I-Was-American knickers in a twist about this.

And if like I've done, you search long and hard for Autistic criminals, you will find them. It won't however do anything to contextualise the crimes.

There's around 800 murders a year in the UK.

And about 1 in 100 people are on the Spectrum.

There's going to be some overlap between these two statistics.

I can actually only find a few cases that have Autism mentioned in the court papers.

And in the only case I could find where Asperger's was mentioned other than in passing - the point was made and as far as I recall accepted by the prosecution, that Asperger's had made the young man vulnerable to manipulation by his fellow conspirators.

davidbrown said...

"They argued he suffered from Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, and was was unable to separate fantasy from reality"

This is definitely not a recognized characteristic of AS, though I suspect it may describe a subset well enough. Even if true, from what I know of the law this claim is immaterial. I understand the main test is not whether a person is able to perceive reality, but whether they are able to understand the morality and legality of their actions.

Socrates said...

A tweet I just posted:

"New Avatar in Support of Gary McKinnon growing up and taking responsibility for his actions #freegary #hangTheComputerVandal #stoned #bubba"

Satire says so much, so eloquently.

Clay said...

This is the first I've heard of this case. It seems to have been resolved fairly, I would say.

Anne said...

Two men were convicted of conspiring together to commit murder. One of these men was autistic. Apparently Harold's view is that autism caused this conspiracy, but I can't see how one person's autism causes another non-autistic person to conspire with him.

I think that autism can be relevant to crimes that have an intent element. The case of the 11 year old boy in Arkansas is a good example - he is alleged to have battered school personnel, and the intent to inflict physical injury is an element of that crime. If the child were simply flailing around in panic during an attempted restraint, that wouldn't satisfy the intent element IMO. Autism could be a factor in this. (And btw, I don't think this child is formally charged with a felony, but with juveline delinquency based on alleged conduct that would be a felony if an adult did it, but the elements of the "crime" are still in play.)

Same with the case of the piano teacher who was convicted of a sex crime because he allowed one of his students to sit on his lap, which the prosecutor argued was the "grooming" behavior of a sexual predator. The NJ Supreme Court reversed his conviction because he should have been allowed to present evidence that, because of his autism, he didn't realize the social consequences of his actions, and to explain why he looked "weird" in the courtroom.

As far as the Monks case goes, Monks' state of mind would be an issue if he thought he was just involved in a role playing game. I think that's what he argued at trial, but obviously it wasn't believed.

So yes, it's complicated. Autism could be the reason for some conduct, or not. And whether it is or isn't, autism could be relevant to whether the person had the required state of mind for an intent crime.

I do find it odd that Harold, a lawyer, isn't interested in the actual legal issues of autistic defendants, which are an "autism reality," but instead prefers to use them as fodder to propagandize against his mythical version of "neurodiversity." I can't explain it.

Corina Becker said...

Well, I've heard mentions of this around the net, and only today learn that Monk is autistic.
Now, I'm not totally ready to make a post about this, as I haven't been following or looking into the story, but should I cover it, it would probably from the opinion that this highlights a need for supports and personal freedoms.
If Monk was not just acting through the role play, and seriously wants to kill his parents for the reasons expressed, then he needs supports that he's not getting. Most likely, he needs the personal freedom to make his own decisions and live away from his parents, even with supports.

That would be the angle I would take this.

Also, I am also perplexed that Doherty is so selective with his definition of who and what autism is. It's not very consistent at all, and very much, it seems, to be self-serving.

Nightstorm said...

Well, I've heard mentions of this around the net, and only today learn that Monk is autistic.

o.o Adrian Monk the character? He is severally OCD and suffers from phobias and anxiety issues.

I know some of my autistic friends like the show because they finally have a prime time character to connect to. But the character isn't autistic. Check Wiki.

Clay said...

"Well, I continued to be baffled by the logic of neurodiversitites." -- Mitchell

That may be, but then, Mitchell continues to be baffled at the complexities of tying his own shoes, and opening child-guard caps on aspirin. Is there anything that doesn't baffle him? ;-)