A heartbreaking miscarriage of justice

In a humane world, John Odgren would have been institutionalized in a long-term psychiatric facility three years ago. The focus could then have turned toward how best to help the family of James Alenson, whom Odgren killed in a bathroom at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School.

Instead, Odgren, who was 16 at the time (Alenson was 15), is headed off to prison after having been convicted of first-degree murder. By most accounts, Odgren was a bullying victim who has Asperger’s syndrome and a variety of mental illnesses. Alenson was not among Odgren’s tormenters, which only compounds the tragedy.

Earlier this month, Odgren’s father, Paul, testified about the bullying to which his son had been subjected for years. The Boston Globe published a heartbreaking account [link now fixed], with the elder Odgren claiming that John had talked about committing suicide when he was only 9 years old.

My Northeastern colleague James Alan Fox, the noted criminologist, has a must-read commentary today in his Crime & Punishment blog for Boston.com. Fox writes:

Frankly, the thought of John Odgren, a boy who was bullied and ostracized repeatedly in high school, spending the remainder of his years in a prison setting is absolutely chilling. His well-documented fears and paranoid view of his world will undoubtedly become acute once he lives amongst a population of hardened criminals….

Life without parole makes sense for 25-year-old cold-blooded killers, but not for someone as immature and emotionally disturbed as John Odgren.

Finally, if folks at the Boston Herald have one shred of decency, they will delete the comments on their Odgren story as soon as someone inside the building reads this post. You can find the link on your own.

47 thoughts on “A heartbreaking miscarriage of justice

  1. BP Myers

    All of us suffer from one mental illness or another. We either seek help or deal with it in our own way.

    Many of us were also horrifically bullied as youths. Most of us never resorted to murder.

    My sympathy is with the Allenson family. I have none leftover for Mr. Ogdren.

  2. Neil Sagan

    What fact or factor compels you to argue that the Ogden boy was not responsible for his actions? His age, being subject to bullying or talking about suicide?

  3. Peter Sullivan

    So Dan,

    I’m confused; do you think nobody at the Herald has read the comments yet, or that they would be swayed to remove the offensive comments based upon your passionate argument?

  4. L.K. Collins

    Dan’s comment raises some fundamental questions about how our society treats troubled individuals, and most particularly, troubled individuals who commit crimes where the consequences for the victim are so great.

    I am not sure what Dan is arguing for, it would be nice if he could expand with some more definitive suggestions.

    It is clear that the Ogdren boy is at the center of a storm from which he will have difficulty recovering.

    But are we, as a society, under any obligation to treat his crimes any differently than any other who is responsible for the death of another for the simple reason that he wanted to take someone’s life?

    Where our justice and penal systems need some serious work is in how they can get these individuals to both understand the need for and accomplish something productive for society that does not put others at additional risk.

    I can understand Ogdren’s predicament. But I cannot, and will not bend from the commitment to James Alenson’s memory to assure that his killer does not have the opportunity to repeat his deeds.

    And neither should any of us.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @L.K.: There has got to be a way of ensuring that John Ogdren never has the opportunity to kill another person while still treating him humanely. Throwing him to the wolves does nothing for James Alenson’s memory, either. I would like to think that a judge and the two families could have worked out a rational solution without a trial and without a jury. I can’t know what the right answer is, but maybe something along the lines of a 20-years-to-life commitment to a secure psychiatric facility?

  5. Neil Sagan

    Surely the Ogdren boy’s counsel would have moved to get him evaluated psychologically so that the argument could be made in the court of law: He was not responsible for his actions. What say you Dan Kennedy?

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @Neil: I don’t think John Odgren meets the legal definition of insanity, which, unfortunately, has nothing to do with the reality of mental illness. Jurors inevitably are going to look at how intelligent he is and how calculating he was. Another problem is that he was 16 at the time of the killing, but is 19 now. It’s a normal human reaction to be more sympathetic toward a 16-year-old than a 19-year-old. But my overriding concern is that our adversarial system of justice was never designed to handle cases like these.

  6. Donna Morris

    I strongly agree with you, Dan. I question mainstreaming as a general (emphasis on general) practice, and suspect that in this case, it put John Odgren in an environment with which he was unequipped to cope. This is a tragedy on so many levels, and it illustrates just how much society still has to learn about mental illness.

  7. BP Myers

    @Dan Kennedy says: Throwing him to the wolves does nothing for James Alenson’s memory, either.

    If you believe our prison system is so horrific and inhumane that you describe it as “throwing him to the wolves” then perhaps your energies and talent might be better spent writing about that, not lamenting the fate of the murderers who are sent there.

    I’ve never been in the Alenson’s shoes (thank God) however I suspect the very last place in the world I’d want to be is sitting across from the parents of the person who killed my son “working out a rational solution.”

    In this case, as in most cases, I believe the jury got it right.

  8. Neil Sagan

    I’ll play along. Chalk up John Odgren’s victim to John’s mental illness. Put Odgren in psychiatric facility pre-trial. Then what?

    Was he able to determine right from wrong at the time of the murder?

    Did he know what he was doing when he killed James Alenson?

    What is it about Odgren’s condition that now makes him less of a threat to others, and/or less culpable for his actions?

    If this is what injustice looks like, tells us what justice looks like.

  9. JA Chiavelli

    OK, I’ll bite. I have no sympathy for Odgren, and if I were the Alenson family, I’d have tried to kill the little bastard myself, so they have not only my sympathy but my honest admiration for their restraint.

    I am, though, worried in principle. Leave aside the bullying and alleged mental illness, because an argument can be made that you see those in non-offenders as well as offenders, so they don’t necessarily drive criminal behavior.

    But this country does not treat 16-year-olds as adults. They can’t drink or buy alcohol. They can’t even buy a deck of weeds. They can’t vote. They can’t join the military. They can’t sign binding contracts. This is because we believe that, at 16, your body, your brain, your moral sense, your judgment are not yet fully formed. How do we argue that a boy who can’t tell right from wrong when faced with a pack of Lucky Strikes can be tried and sentenced as an adult in a serious criminal case?

  10. John Swift

    Ah, yes. The stoics are out in full force. *I’d* never be in that situation. *All* of us suffer from mental illness. So sure, throw him into prison. After all, if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime, as commenters on the story at the Globe and Herald oh so cleverly point out. It’s not that Ogdren gets life without parole, it’s that Ogdren gets life without parole and will apparently be put into the regular prison system, which, given his mental issues, has a high probability of a bad outcome, just like trying to mainstream him at his high school did. It’s interesting though, that people are focused on what will happen to Ogdren when it seems quite clear that other inmates would have something to fear from Ogdren himself.

    One can take view of the commentariat on the Herald’s website and pray for Ogdren to meet a violent end in prison to save taxpayer money because we don’t actually believe in rehabilitation, or we can look at this case and realize that we have a responsibility to those we incarcerate, however distasteful that responsibility may be. Ogdren, by virtue of his age and mental state, should be in a secure psychiatric ward, and yes, it’s a miscarriage of justice that this wasn’t fully explained to the jury. No one was clamoring for Ogdren to be found innocent, but first degree murder and regular prison? That’s not a just outcome either.

  11. I’m not sure that Odgren is any less of a threat to others now, except for his familiarity with consequences, perhaps. Dan was recommending 20 to life in a secure psychiatric facility (Bridgewater?), which would give him no more access to the public than jail, presumably.

    The law does not allow for Odgren’s delusional mindset, which is sane by some measures, but clearly less than sane by others. Putting this kid in the general prison population is throwing fresh meat to the wolves. BP Myers, I appreciate the slide show of James Alenson. He looks like a beautiful young guy and he was killed for no reason.

    I share your frustration, but don’t think that Odgren was or is able to fully reckon the choice he made that day.

    Personally, I think Odgren “knew what he was doing” in attacking Alenson, but only in the sense of knowing it like King’s Dark Tower series. His Asperger’s made him the exception to the rule that violent fiction does not cause violent behavior.

    His “what have I done?” at the scene suggests he was not expecting the real life result of his actions.

    Simon BaronCohen has written on the theory of “mind blindness” (the opposite of empathy) in people with Asperger’s: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind-blindness

  12. Bill Hanna

    John Odgren was a child when he committed the crime, and a deeply disturbed child at that. What good does it do for the memory of poor James Allenson, and what good does it do for society as a whole, to send young Odgren to prison forever? We Americans, who like to think of ourselves as a kind and beneficent people, should really look at some of the ways in which we deal with our young, and we can start with our unwillingness to distinguish between hardened killers and profoundly damaged children.

  13. BP Myers

    @John Doherty says: BP Myers . . . I share your frustration, but don’t think that Odgren was or is able to fully reckon the choice he made that day.

    He will be able to read Stephen King novels for the rest of his life, which apparently was all he wanted to do anyway.

    More than Mr. Alenson will be able to do.

  14. Mary DeChillo

    Both families have suffered a tragedy that will never be made right.

    The justice system, particularly the juvenile justice system, has not come to grips with the fact that few criminals are cold-blooded sociopaths or psychopaths. Adult prisons and juvenile lock-ups are replete with those suffering from serious mental illnesses and substance abuse which were never diagnosed nor treated prior to the committal of a crime. Others, like Odgren, act out despite being diagnosed and provided treatment by his family.

    If I believed that there was a shared understanding on the part of society about mental illness and substance I would trust jury decisions in these kind of cases. There is too little science about what constitutes volition–what people do on purpose and what they have no control over–that juries and the population at large are inclined to see the person standing trial as being in control it his actions
    I think it is easier for all of us to think about crimes being committed by choice than by some other force outside of our control.

    We are not good at distinguishing bad and sick nor is there any real interest in trying to find this out. Punishment is one size fits all.

  15. L.K. Collins

    I see that the Court did not concur with Dan Kennedy’s impassioned argument for the defense.

    Why am I not surprised?

  16. Laurence Glavin

    The opening sentence of the Herald’s story on Saturday, 05/01, seems to me to have been overly dramatic and to use a cliche, mean-spirited: “Convicted teen butcher John Olgren has to give up his stuffed bunny Nicholas when he is shunted to a single cell at maximum security lockup”. (Should have been written “a maximum security lockup”) No, this sentence was not penned by Howie Carr or Michael Graham, but by Laura Crimaldi. (The Globe’s story was also written by a woman.) One expects a trifle more compassion from a person unencumbered by the ‘y’ chromosome. The Globe did not open their coverage to comments…they apparently knew what would happen if they did.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @Laurence: Without checking, it’s hard to know whether Crimaldi wrote that or an editor. You’d be surprised at what goes into the sausage-making.

  17. Laurence’s post is a good explanation as to why the Herald’s only use is as birdcage liner. And Mary, unfortunately, your thoughtful and compassionate post will likely fall on the deaf ears of people who have no understanding of mental illness. Having a close friend who suffers from bipolar disorder and a wife who has worked in the “field” for many years (currently at a psych hospital), it’s given me maybe a little insight or knowledge. But many people don’t believe in rehabilitation or proper psychiatric care, just punishment.

  18. Mike Benedict

    The ruling and the comments here show a marked misunderstanding of what it means to have Asperger’s, as evidenced by the use of terms like “delusional” or “he knew what he was doing.”

    Asperger’s patients are characterized by a notable inflexibility. They get stuck on a mindset, and cannot be moved off it. So while the rest of us, when under duress, may briefly consider dramatic revenge or self-defense, our minds are geared toward more pragmatic response. Asperger’s patients’ are not.

    The criminal courts — or better said, the laws themselves — are not designed for these types of cases. Whether he knew what he was doing is not the consideration, although I can see why the kangaroo court wants to make it so.

    Dan’s assessment is correct. This ruling is a travesty.

  19. L.K. Collins

    So what’s your solution, Mr. Benedict, that will turn this “travesty” into something acceptable to society?

    What is sorely lacking in your commentary, and Dan Kennedy’s contrived outrage, is some sort of road map for a reasonable, balanced solution.

    May I suggest that you and Dan both share physical custody of the convicted individual and that you both share responsibilities for his future actions? (No fighting over the bunny, now!)

    Somehow, I don’t think you’re willing to accept that sort of consequence for your compassion.

    So, let’s hear some real thoughts about real solutions from you two…

    …if you have any.

  20. L.K. Collins

    One quiet afterthought.

    Aren’t these issues similar to those raised by the history that has been revealed in the Amy Bishop case and the shot-gun death of her brother?

    Would that these tragedies actually result in some sort of coherent social strategy to deal with the problem than to listen to all of those who keep bemoaning how tragic these situations really are.

    But that takes bold thought, good foresight, and hard decisions, three character traits missing in today’s political environment.

  21. Melissa Perreault

    “Alenson was not among Odgren’s tormenters, which only compounds the tragedy.”

    Dan, unlike many commenting here, I actually agree with your post — this was indeed a heartbreaking end to an already devastating story. However, I don’t think the fact that Alenson did not bully Odgren “compounds” the tragedy. I don’t condone bullying in any way, and schools and society should absolutely be making greater efforts to prevent it, but these bullies are children too, dealing with who-knows-what challenges that make them act out as they do. Bullying is terrible, but no reasonable person could argue that it is a capital offense, so this would be no less a tragedy had Odgren killed one of his tormentors.

  22. L.K. Collins

    And leave it to Mr. Benedict to duck the real issues.

    Bold thought, good foresight, and hard decisions.

    Difficult to see in Mr. Benedict’s comments.

  23. Donna Morris

    “A road map for a reasonable, balanced solution” is something I desperately sought for my child who was/is afflicted with mental illness, and in seeking help for him in his youth, my family travelled a road frought with bumps, potholes, detours, danger and even some dead ends. Psychiatry and psychology are highly specialized fields, and parents who acknowledge and seek help for their mentally disturbed children can find themselves suddenly adrift among professionals whose opinions differ, confuse and change.

    I have profound sympathy for the Alenson family. They have lost their beautiful boy, and that boy, his life. It’s a senseless, horrific tragedy.

    But I also have profound sympathy and understanding for the Odgren family. They’ve suffered a loss for years – the loss of not ever having a “normal” child, having instead, one who was no doubt always considered “a problem”, even though those words weren’t always spoken aloud. Trial evidence has shown that they sought help for him from numerous sources and followed professional advice. And despite all, a murderous tragedy has occurred, and the Odgren parents will live with this for the rest of their lives.

    Unless one has ever tried to navigate the child and adolescent mental health system, it’s impossible to comprehend how bewildering and condescending to parents it can be.

    Given the information in the public domain thus far, I have no doubt that John Odgren’s parents followed professional advice in placing their son in that school. Professional judgments were made, and they’ve resulted in tragedy. The justice system has now added another.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @Donna: Eloquently put. Thank you for sharing part of your personal situation with us. Even the parents of kids without mental illness know that adolescence is fraught with danger. Anyone able to make it to the other side intact is lucky. There are many things that can go wrong for even the best kids and the most well-intentioned parents.

  24. Mike Benedict

    Didn’t know it was up to me to decide, LK. That said, my thoughts on the matter are clear. You want to hang the kid. I think such a response shows you have absolutely no understanding of how the human brain is wired.

    If you want to belabor the point, that’s your albatross, not mine.

  25. L.K. Collins

    Dan, on his own initiative, deleted a cogent comment I made about due process.

    It now appears that due process has shown that there is something rational about the system..

    But our dear friend Mr. Benedict would rather insult than discuss. But, perhaps, that is what the reliance on feel-good discussion and affirmative action have brought us.

    Bold thought, good foresight, and hard decisions are subjects the Mr. Benedict elects to ignore.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @L.K.: I can’t remember the last time I deleted a comment of yours. I certainly have not deleted anything you’ve posted on this subject. Naturally, you would prefer to fling accusations rather than asking me what happened. My answer: I have no idea. Go ahead and post it again.

  26. L.K. Collins

    It was a comment, Dan, that pointed out that your earlier comments in this thread opted for pre-determined resolutions that went clearly against the presumption of innocence and due process features of our society’s legal system.

    Perhaps it was the comment that such positions had a totalitarian touch that struck the nerve that actuated he finger poised over the delete key.

    You’ve done that several times.

    One thing that presumption and due process brings to the table is that more minds than just one need to concur on an acceptable solution.

    And throughout this discussion, not one poster has felt the need to challenge the “mainstreaming” concept of student’s with behavioral problems, likely because they chose not to be accused of profiling or stereotyping or of admitting that mainstreaming was a poor, poor substitute for due process protections than any was willing to admit.

    The unfortunate part of the profiling and stereotyping is that in appropriate circumstances, they can be of great societal value if correctly applied.

    But here we would have to go into the arduous and contentious discussion of where appropriateness begins and ends, and for that, the liberal would need to give up some cherished ideological positions to achieve a practical and workable resolution that might actually have a chance of success.

    It is the lack of political will and the lack of willingness to assume that no solution is perfect that keeps the conversation as Mr. Benedict wishes it to be, one f invective and derision; sound and fury, but nothing, nothing, nothing.

    So, here’s a suggestion, Mr. Benedict, show us some of your self-endowed brilliance (which, I am sure you have) to join in a constructive discussion of the issues, the costs, the trade-offs, and the time-frames. Don’t foget the roles of the families of he victims and the perpetrators, the victim’s and he perpetrators peers, The Courts and state gencies, and laslty but by far he least unimportant, the civil society that chose to live in.

    My starting points are presumption of innocence, adherence to strict due process, comprehensive assessment of alternatives, the costs, and the mechanisms, including funding, to bring the plans to fruition.

    To get these things, we may be forced to give things up.
    I’d gladly give up a Nobel Peace Prize for the end of racism. religious conflicts,even fighting the occasional battle with Dan Kennedy.

    Care to join or sit on the sideline?

    Your choice.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @L.K.: I did not kill this comment previously, and I am not killing it now. I don’t know what happened the first time you posted it. No doubt you will accuse me of lying, because that’s your default position. But I have no problem letting you know that I have occasionally killed comments of yours. This was not one of them.

      Personally, I don’t think John Odgren should ever have been mainstreamed. One of the tragedies of this case is that his parents felt pressured into enrolling him in a public high school. I’m not a big fan of mainstreaming in general. Never have been.

  27. BP Myers

    @Dan Kennedy says: You have no idea what you’re talking about.

    I’m not surprised. I’ve noticed it is often the case that when someone disagrees with you, they have no idea what they’re talking about.

    But I do know the American Psychriatric Association recently reclassified Asperger’s, because even they don’t quite know exactly what “it” is.

    Being awkward in social situations is not a disease.

    And if the behavioral-based Asperger’s is a disease, then so is homosexuality.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @BP: If you think tax cuts will balance the budget, then you and I disagree. If you think Asperger’s doesn’t exist, then sorry, you have no idea what you’re talking about. I figured you were referring to the recent reclassification of Asperger’s. The APA now says it can’t be considered separate and apart from autism in general. How on earth does that bolster your case?

      What we are really talking about here is high-functioning autism, which is very much a mental disability. Do you know any high-functioning autistics? I do. They cannot interact normally with others, they can’t read social cues, and they can end up very unhappy and isolated as a direct result of their disability. When they are kids, it is not unusual for them to be bullied unmercifully because of their difference. Sometimes — rarely — that can lead to very bad things, as happened in the Odgren case.

      Referring to Odgren’s disability as autism rather than Asperger’s changes nothing.

  28. BP Myers

    @Dan: Appreciate the reasoned response. As I noted earlier, all of us suffer from some mental health issue or other. They’re not all diseases.

    I believe Asperger’s was cooked up to make mommies and daddies feel better about their awkward little Johnny’s. It’s not his fault he’s wierd, or different, you see. He has a disease!

    But fortunately, the psycho-narco industrial complex has pills that can help control it . . . and the drugging into a stupor of our children continues.

    But we can agree to disagree.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @BP: We can agree to disagree, except that you’re just flat-out wrong on this.

      Some years ago there was an experiment conducted comparing kids with Down syndrome and kids with high-functioning autism — Asperger’s, if you like. I wish I had a link. Maybe somebody can find one.

      There were three coconut shells, and an object under one of them. A person was shown which shell the object was hidden under, in full view of the kids, after which he left the room. The object was then moved underneath a different shell. The kids were asked which shell they thought the person would look under when he returned to the room.

      The Down’s kids answered, correctly, that the person would look under the shell where the object had originally been placed, since he had not been present when it was moved. The autistic kids answered that he would look in the new location. The researchers said that showed a radical inability to put yourself in another person’s position, which is characteristic of autism.

      I am not saying that Odgren’s disability was so severe that he would have gotten the coconut question wrong — I have no idea. But as to whether Asperger’s is real or not, it’s not a matter of opinion, and it’s not a matter of reasonable people coming to different conclusions. It’s real and it’s a serious disability.

  29. Mike Benedict

    @BP: You’re not just disagreeing with media critic Dan Kennedy. You’re disagreeing with the entire neurology/neuropsychology community. Congratulations!

    Asperger’s is scientific fact. Researchers, including several here in Boston, have used fMRI to show how the Asperger brain actually acts differently than “normal” in certain visual search and emotion recognition tasks (i.e., social cues). These tasks are normed for right-handness/left-handedness, gender, age and other obvious differences. (See Baron-Cohen, et al.) There really is no room for debate on this one: the science overwhelmingly wins.

  30. L.K. Collins

    Well, Dan, we’re left with this situation: I posted a comment about which I was sure you would disagree. The comment did not appear.

    I haven’t called you a liar, that is what you have tried to put in my mouth. (Sly little devil, you!)

    It is not for me to explain that a comment I posted on YOUR blog was not presented. That is up to you; I merely noted its absence.

    If you want to phrase it in terms of lying, it’s up to the reader to decide which is true and which isn’t.

    I know you don’t like some of the things I’ve posited. I was particularly amused a while ago at your unwillingness to post my suggestion that your home town, Danvers, might be a wonderful place to host a resort casino as opposed to one on the south shore. Am I free to conclude that NIMBY was the reason or that the chip gremlin ate the comment?

    I am pleased to see this thread turning to substantive matters, but as B.P. Meyers suggests, and I, too, have seen, “I’ve noticed it is often the case that when someone disagrees with you, they have no idea what they’re talking about.”

    I, for one, do not conclude that Asperger’s Syndrome is not not real. As Mr. Benedict states, there is ample scientific evidence that defines a condition that has been called “Asperger’s Syndrome,” I know, and have worked with several who could easily fit the diagnosis.

    But I do conclude that the techniques used to integrate the Asperger’s suffer into the community need a great deal of more serious thought and careful discussion, especially for juveniles — for the protection of the ones afflicted as well as for the public at-large.

    And in line with B.P.Meyer’s comments concerning people who disagree with you and your penchant for derision or dismissal, it appears that you are unwilling to entertain such serious thought and careful discussion.

    I find it even more strikingly odd given your professional position, one where serious thought and careful discussion are essential for the development of new, and yes, revolutionary ideas.

    Is it a matter of “my way or the the highway” in your professional and personal approaches?

    I’ll let the reader decide on how to resolve the contradictions implied.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @L.K.: Good grief, why do I bother? Surely not for your benefit. But just in case anyone cares …

      Last night, after you wrote that I had deleted one of your posts, I responded, “I can’t remember the last time I deleted a comment of yours. I certainly have not deleted anything you’ve posted on this subject.” Some time after that, you wrote, “Perhaps it was the comment that such positions had a totalitarian touch that struck the nerve that actuated he finger poised over the delete key.”

      In other words, you did not accept my explanation. In other words, you accused me of lying — or, if you would prefer, you said I might be lying, which I think is the same thing.

  31. L.K. Collins

    Why do you bother, Dan? Because you have backed yourself into corners where your snap judgments and your elitist views are on full and painful display.

    You are the one that painted yourself with the liar brush, not I. You had several good answers to the situation: a) Yea, I deleted the post, so what? And, b) Damned if I know what happened, sorry.

    But no. You projected upon me a view that you thought I held.

    I do not think you are a liar, never did. Until it is proven, I won’t.

    So what does that suggest about how you think of yourself and of others?

    I do think you spin stuff horribly at times, but that does not imply the deliberacy of outright lying.

    As for the matter of full and rational discussion, I stand on my critique of your methods of argument. You take elitist positions and reject the thought of challenging conventional wisdom, an effort well worth doing from time-to-time to assure that assumptions and judgments don’t require adjustment.

    A final few points regarding the rejection of posts.

    You have an absolute right to do so. And those of us whose posts are rejected, whatever your reason might be, have the absolute right to consider the reasons why you may have chosen to do so, and if we feel it important to a conversation, to make note of it in subsequent posts.

    Again, though, you have the right to reject the subsequent posts, but in doing so you invite conclusions that might not be so flattering.

  32. Theodora Trudorn (nickname)

    I am allowing this to be posted even though it does not conform to Media Nation’s real-names policy. — DK

    Ok, after all the comments I have read about this, I have had quite enough. It is obvious to me that no one TRULY understands Aspergers. I wrote a response after reading a article blaming this syndrome for the act committed. And as a person with Aspergers Syndrome, I feel like my words are more than relevant.

    “On April 30, 2010, the disability news site DisabilityScoop.com ran an article entitled “Advocates Worry About Public Associating Asperger’s with Violence”. Reading through the article, I found that due to the very public court case of John Odgren, who was convicted of stabbing a high school class mate in 2007, and a popular book speaking of a similar case called “House Rules”, Asperger’s Syndrome, which was just beginning to emerge from the shadows of being misunderstood, is being firmly pushed back into them.
    In spite of other factors playing a role in the case of John Odgren, such as Bi-Polar disorder, ADHD, and Anxiety disorders, the wording used in the case “meltdown” fixed into the public’s mind that it was Asperger’s Syndrome which caused him to commit such a violent act. And so, Asperger’s and violence is being connected in the minds of the public, and this has the potential to set people on this side of the spectrum back many years, something none of us can afford.
    Not entering the discussion is the fact that ANYONE, regardless of diagnoses, is capable of committing a violent act, given the right environment and circumstances. The truth is, we on the spectrum are not any more or less likely to commit such acts than a person who is not on the spectrum. Having the disorder does not make me any more or less likely commit such an act. The numbers are simply not there.
    But due to the nature of being on the Spectrum, we are susceptible to meltdowns under certain circumstances. Those who are not familiar with autism would immediately assume that this proves our violent nature, it does not. Meltdowns first of all, do not allow us to be able to commit murder as we are not in our right minds. We in that state have lost the ability to be able to plan and execute a murder. To do that requires thought, which is not possible during this state.
    In spite of these facts, due to years and years of representing autism as a scourge in the media and using meltdowns and exploiting a very few incidents of violence committed by those on the spectrum in order to get money to “find a cure for autism”, the public is associating us with violent behavior, and this could have dire consequences for people with Asperger’s Syndrome.
    Unfortunately, it is not a long jump from the former view of those with Asperger’s Syndrome to believe that we are capable of such acts. Plagued for years by those who regard us as sociopathic, with complete lack of emotion, and no ability to discern reality from fantasy, it seems only logical to the public to regard us as capable of such atrocities. Even though none of these things are true.
    In the case of John Odgren, it was brought up that due to his obsessive interests in dark novels by Steven King and violent films, and his inability to decipher fantasy from reality due to Asperger’s, he was able to commit such a heinous murder. But as someone on the Spectrum, I can tell you that obsessive interest does not equal violence, murder, or separation from reality.
    I love the world of Middle-Earth created by JRR Tolkien. I own 11 books, including all the myths and tales he created about this world. I read these books many times over. I however know that there is no such thing as Middle-Earth, that what I am reading is simply a very imaginative and well put together story and a make –believe world. I am not going to be carrying around a Claymore anytime soon!! I also like some violent films, for their complicated plot. This does not mean I am going to commit violent acts. This defense is ludicrous and can not at all be attached to the Syndrome!
    The belief of those of us with ASDs being sociopathic, void of emotion goes back to a part of the syndrome that makes it nearly impossible for inner emotions to be displayed outwardly on their own. I could be incredibly happy, but my face would be a blank slate, and don’t even get started on body language.
    Some of us, with great difficulty, were able to teach ourselves to act out the emotions we are feeling on the inside. If we are happy, we have to think about what that looks like and then we display it. Those who do not do this look utterly blank, giving others ideas that we aren’t feeling at all. Just because we don’t display our emotions as you do does not mean we don’t have them at all! And just because we are more likely to act on logic than off emotions does not mean we lack emotion.
    The problem lies in a complete lack of knowledge of what Asperger’s Syndrome actually is amongst the general populace. All they see is that which is sensationalized by the media, which paints a very dark and inaccurate view of us. And this lack of knowledge coupled with this portrayal of violence being prevalent among us when it is not is what is so dangerous to us!
    If people around you believe you are capable of such a level of violence at anytime, do you believe they would try to be your friend? How many teachers in main stream classrooms do you believe would want to teach someone who is thought to be a ticking bomb? How many employers would seek to hire someone they believe could attack them, other staff, or the customers?
    This has the possibility of affecting every area of an aspies life negatively. It takes away the chances that we have worked so hard to earn, and just recently had finally begun to receive. No matter what programs are put in place, and no matter what skills are acquired, if the public views you as a threat, they are not going to allow you to integrate into their society.
    So what is the solution? The community of those with AS need to stand up and start informing the public of what Asperger’s REALLY is, and how it affects those who have it. To show them those with AS, like myself, who are productive, intelligent citizens, no more likely to commit violence than you are! And for professionals to stand by the community and help us educate the public. If we do not do these things, then the damage done could set us back many years, and who knows how long it will take to get back to where we are now?
    This misinformation has got to be countered and countered QUICKLY!! Advocates, parents, friends, and family have got to start coming forward and speak out against this nonsense! We must use all we have at our disposal, newspapers, local media outlets, talking to local schools, and reveal the reality of what Asperger’s Syndrome is.
    Perhaps if we use this opportunity to educate others, something good can come from all of this.”

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