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Autistic Disorder and Crime in the United States

Prevalence and incidence rates of autistic disorders are not high in the United States. According to Schug and Fradella (2015), prevalence rates are 5 cases per 10,000 people, which is only 0.0005% (p. 71). However, this rate is constantly increasing due to better awareness, an expansion of the diagnostic criteria, and different research methodologies. In the analyzed case study, a client possesses an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Although people with ASD are less likely to commit violent crimes than individuals with other mental disorders, my client poisoned his grandmother, who visited him and decided to make some changes in his apartment.

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A person with ASD may think and feel differently due to their disorder. My client, let call him David, is 24 years old, and he was diagnosed with autism when he was seven. The young man sits aloof and demonstrates repetitive motor movements, flipping magazines from one pile to another. Due to his diagnosis, David may feel stressed and uncomfortable in an unknown place and with strange people. He may get upset or anxious in an unfamiliar environment. Moreover, disrupting his daily routines may lead a client with ASD to become aggressive (King & Murphy, 2014, p. 2718). Such people may behave aggressively when they do not understand social situations due to poor communication skills (King & Murphy, 2014, p. 2718). They may commit a crime in the pursuit of an obsessive interest or if somebody violates their daily routine.

People with ASD rarely commit violent crimes, but if they do, they will not use cold steel or other weapons. According to Schug and Fradella (2015), individuals with ASD are more likely to use “blunt violence, strangulation, or poison” (p. 75). However, research showed that some persons with ASD organized mass shootings. For example, out of 22 cases in the Mother Jones database, one mass shooter was diagnosed with ASD, and 17 people had tentative suggestions consistent with ASD symptomology (Allely et al., 2016, p. 8). The main reasons for committing a crime are related to obsession, lack of understanding of other people’s emotions, fear of contamination, order disruption, as well as previous experience of bullying and different adverse childhood experience (Allely et al., 2016). In the analyzed case, David might have poisoned his grandmother because she interfered with his life and wanted to change his habitual routine. Probably, the man had a negative childhood experience with order disruption, and he became obsessed with it. When his grandmother violated his order, he felt offended and poisoned her, thus punishing her for interference.

ASD differs from other similar disorders in the following ways. ASD is a mental state that appears in early childhood and is characterized by difficulty communicating, reading, writing, and interacting with other people. In comparison, mental retardation is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects intellectual and adaptive functioning. Patients with mental retardation are more likely to attack people outside of their family, demonstrate aggression and self-injure.

Asperger’s disorder has less severe symptoms than ASD, and language delays are absent. People with Asperger’s disease are often clumsy and preoccupied with idiosyncratic interests (Schug & Fradella, 2015, p. 77). They may demonstrate antisocial, destructive, or socially deviant behavior, performing malicious acts without thinking about the consequences for others. Such individuals may also commit sexual crimes due to social ineptitude (Schug & Fradella, 2015, p. 95). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterized by difficulty focusing on doing the same thing, while people with ASD may repeat doing the things they like many times. Individuals with ADHD are likely to demonstrate maladaptive aggression and different forms of misconduct. ASD differs from conduct disorder since people with ASD do not disrupt someone’s order, while patients with conduct disorder disrupt the rights of others. The violation of social rules is the main type of crime associated with conduct disorder.

Six months later, David has entered the criminal justice again, but now he is using alcohol. This time, he sexually abused his classmate who was living in his neighborhood. Alcohol is the most extensively used intoxicating substance among mentally ill persons because it is easily available and does not require having social contacts (Schug & Fradella, 2015, p. 120). Research showed that people with ASD are less likely than people with other disorders to use illegal drugs or antidepressants, and this low substance abuse rate is caused by their “limited social contacts, which reduces the influence of peers” (Arnevick & Helverschou, 2016, p. 72). Such people use alcohol to forget their problems, clear minds, and get over the frustration, but it helps only for a short term, so they continue to use it again and again, becoming addicted (Arnevick & Helverschou, 2016, p. 72). Alcohol abuse would contribute to offending behavior and sexual crime, especially if a person with ASD had a negative childhood experience of abuse and bullying.

In conclusion, people with ASD are less likely to commit violent crimes and use substances than individuals with other disorders. However, David has perpetrated his crimes because of the violation of his order and negative memories about his classmate. It appeared that the young woman had bullied him at school. When he met her on the street and found out that she lived nearby, he became obsessed with the idea of revenge. Alcohol intoxication contributed to his aggression and helped him commit this crime.

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Allely, C. S., Wilson, P., Minnis, H., Thompson, L., Yaksic, E., & Gillberg, C. (2016). Violence is rare in autism: When it does occur, is it sometimes extreme? The Journal of Psychology, 151(1), 1-20. Web.

Arnevick, E. A., & Helverschou, S. B. (2016). Autism spectrum disorder and co-occurring substance use disorder – A systematic review. Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment, 10, 69-75. Web.

King, C., & Murphy, G. H. (2014). A systematic review of people with autism spectrum disorder and the criminal justice system. Journal of Autistic Developmental Disorders, 44(11), 2717-2773. Web.

Schug, R. A., & Fradella, H. F. (2015). Mental illness and crime. Sage.

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