There Is No “Autism Defense” for Crime

I hate to have to write about the school shooting in Florida, but when one of the attorneys for Nikolas Cruz says that “the defense team would be exploring mental health issues and “the possibility of autism.” ” then I have to say something. Especially in light of the comments made by Nancy MacLean.

If Cruz’s attorneys make the “autism defense,” there is nothing good that can come of that. Autism is not a defense for such an action, because autistic people are not any more prone to perpetuating this kind of violence than are neurotypicals. The problem is that because people believe that we do not have empathy (a notion Nancy MacLean perpetuated with her comments), it will be easy to get people to believe that we will therefore be more prone to doing things like shooting up schools. I would actually suggest that because we have a very strong moral core, we may in fact be less included to do so. In fact, if you consider how ill-treated we are by practically everyone and how confusing most people’s actions are, I would argue that we probably engage in far, far less violent behavior relative to neurotypicals who have been similarly treated their entire lives.

The fact of the matter is that autistic people can control their conscious actions just as much as any typical person. True, there are those who have meltdowns, particularly young autistics, but they are triggered, sudden, and suddenly over. They do not involve planning. In other words, while it may be possible that an autistic person could commit such an atrocity, they did not commit such an atrocity because they are autistic. We are responsible for these kinds of conscious actions.

None of this precludes other issues with Cruz. He may have other mental illnesses. But quite frankly, unless he was hallucinating, he would still be completely responsible for his actions with the overwhelming majority of mental illnesses. Even psychopaths who literally have no moral core to guide their actions are nevertheless responsible for those actions.  No one would dream of using psychopathy as a defense, and rightly so.

There are all sorts of issues that need to be raised with school shootings, not the least of which is why schools are not dealing with mental health issues in the schools, other than putting the “worst” ones in the behavior units. Also, why is it that people are being made to feel the need to violently lash out, with the schools as their targets? What is going on in our education system that is making people feel so powerless that they feel the need to wield the ultimate kind of power: deadly force? What is happening in our schools to make our children feel this way?

We need to raise a voice of protest against the use of the “autism defense.” Yes, we need to insist that, if an autistic person commits a crime, neither they nor their attorneys can use autism as an excuse. If we want people to accept the fact that we are merely neurologically different, but that different in no way means “worse,” then we have to stand up against every slur, every instant of prejudiced language, every attempt to argue that it’s an excuse for truly criminal behavior. Yes, there are a variety of behaviors we on the spectrum cannot help, but those involve saying the wrong things or stimming, not criminal plots.


3 thoughts on “There Is No “Autism Defense” for Crime

  1. Powerful post. Not being a criminal lawyer, i dont know how they intend to use this potential autism diagnosis, that is, as proof of what. The term “insanity defense” sounds harsh and anachronistic in this modern world, where so many diagnoses seem to be viewed as extensions or intensifications of “normal” character traits or predispositions. But i do know that each time the word autism is associated with an act of carnage like this, it makes it that much more difficult for people on the spectrum to blend into and contribute to society in a meaningful way. We do not welcome the one we fear.

    As a Floridian, I too felt compelled to give my two cents worth. Heres the link if you’re interested.

    Liked by 1 person

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