Hi! Last week at around this time I started a new feature in which I would find a few stories involving autism, ADHD, or other special needs, in the news, that were interesting to me. Please let me know what you think of this feature... should I keep it, or ditch it?
Here are this week's stories.
When I hear stories of people going on murder rampages, and then others proclaim that it happened because the person was autistic, I get irritated. It is really rare for an autistic person to premeditate and carry out violence. However, it is possible for an autistic person to get pushed to the point where they are no longer in control of their actions. I've seen it hundreds of times before when working with children. They get frustrated, sad or anxious, and they get to the point where they have to have a "meltdown", just to get all that tension out of their system. They rarely can control that.
I feel like this is what may have happened in a recent incident where a 24-year-old autistic man. And I know people are going to be saying, "There is no excuse for murder!" Obviously there is no excuse. But I just can't help looking at this story and seeing one of the little children with autism I've worked with over the years, a little older and a lot bigger, but still capable of being pushed over the edge.
Anthony Henry, who has autism, had just gotten off the city bus outside a Walgreens store. A 58-year-old Vietnam veteran, Robert Boulay, began taunting him, yelling at him, swearing him, and calling him names. Henry walked into the Walgreens, and Boulay followed him in. Henry asked him several times to leave him alone, but Boulay continued to taunt him. Boulay had schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which probably contributed to his behavior.
Henry began to get visibly upset. He was swaying and punching his palms. He told Boulay that he had five seconds to get out of the store. He then began counting backwards from five. When he got to zero, he rushed at Boulay, punched him, knocked him down, and stomped on him. Henry then left the store, and went home. He apparently told his mother about what had happened, and she brought him back to the Walgreens. Boulay died a few days later.
Henry receives services from the Department of Developmental Services. Case workers there said that he has been bullied all of his life, and has even been stabbed before. They said that he was not violent in general, but would defend himself if he was provoked, and did not know how to just "walk away" from a situation.
Henry was charged with first degree manslaughter, but was found not guilty by reason of mental defect.
I am not sure what I think. I think that anyone, especially someone with autism who already has a high level of anxiety, could have flipped out in this situation. I can imagine myself flipping out if someone started following me around, calling me names, swearing at me, and yelling at me! I could easily have a "meltdown!" But my reaction would probably be to run away and hide in a closet somewhere crying, rather than attack the person. That's just what my automatic reaction would be. I can see how another person's automatic reaction might be to fight. Unfortunately, Henry weighed twice as much as Boulay and was much stronger, so he was capable of killing him. I'd be interested in hearing what people think of this story, and
whether you think the outcome of the court case was the right one.
In other news... I posted before about this being Mental Health Wellness Week, and how everyone, regardless of whether you are diagnosed with a mental illness, should pay attention to their mental health. Now here is something specific that we can all pay attention to. A study of 406 people found that people who watch two or more hours of TV or streaming shows per night are more likely to feel depressed, anxious and lonely. The researchers were not sure whether the chicken came before the egg. Does watching two hours of TV per night make people start to get depressed, anxious and lonely? Or do people dealing with these feelings spend more time watching TV as a way of coping? Some research indicates that frequent TV watching might be similar to addictions such as substances, gambling, or eating... it stimulates the brain's dopamine receptors, or "reward center." People who watch a lot of TV may feel good while they are watching it... and then later, when they are away from the TV, feel sad and more anxious. So, they go back to get their TV "fix" to feel better again.
Either way, if you watch two hours or more of TV each night, you might want to think about how you're feeling lately. (I don't watch a lot of TV myself, but if you replace "TV" with "Internet," I'll be in big trouble!)
I also found an update on a story I wrote about last week. The news had reported that a 6-year-old boy, who was a passenger in his dad's truck while his dad was running from the police, was shot and killed by the police when they open-fired. More recent news stories have added some sadder information. The earlier reports said that the police were attempting to serve Jeremy Mardis's father with a warrant, and that when the father reached a dead-end street he backed the truck up into the police cars, which led them to open fire. But newer reports say that there were no warrants out on Jeremy's father, there was no gun or weapon in the truck they were in, the father was not attempting to back into the police cars with his truck, and that, at the time that the shots were fired, Jeremy's father had his hands up. It turns out that this is pretty much a case of police violence, with a little boy being the victim. The officers are being charged with murder, not manslaughter (which is usually what people are charged with when they "accidentally" kill someone) so that suggests that there might be more to the story. Very sad.
That's all I have for tonight. I think we all feel just a little bit smarter now!