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Kathy Marshack News

Should Asperger Syndrome be used as a defense?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


There are those in the Asperger Community who suggest that Asperger Syndrome should not be considered a psychiatric diagnosis at all.  Using the term “neurodiversity” they assert that Asperger Syndrome, although atypical, is a normal human difference.  Individuals with Asperger Syndrome should be respected for their differences according to these advocates. So where does that leave Gary McKinnon and his obsession?  I wrote about McKinnon who has Asperger Syndrome in an earlier post – he was indicted in a U.S. District Court in Virginia for hacking into NASA and US Military computer systems in search of information on extraterrestrials. According to the neurodiversity model, Mr. McKinnon should be treated as any other cyber-terrorist. (I presume the other side of being respected for being different, is also being responsible for one’s actions.) Under the extradition treaty between the US and the UK, he should be extradited to the US and stand trial for the crimes he committed.  And if found guilty, I presume the judge and jury would determine a punishment that suits the severity of the crime, even prison. However, even if Asperger Syndrome is used as a mitigating factor, what are those mitigating circumstances.  If he was obsessed and didn’t fully comprehend the social consequences of his actions, didn’t he still commit a crime?  Didn’t he still harm people? Another question that comes to mind is whether or not prison will rehabilitate Mr. McKinnon.  Whether he has a developmental disorder or is just a little different than the norm group, won’t he be the same computer hacker he was before he went to prison, still unable to fathom the social world? The tragedy of allowing the justice system to make judgments about a mental disorder really came home to me when I recently treated a young man with Asperger Syndrome for a brief time, before he was arrested, tried and imprisoned. His life has been a series of unimaginable bad luck as a result of living on the edge of society.  He has never been able to secure fulltime employment because of his poor interpersonal skills and “mind blindness.”  He was alienated from his family years before he was arrested.  He lived alone in a small dingy apartment, friendless and trying to survive on a very limited income.  His only crime was befriending a young teenage boy who complained of abuse by his parents. The teen’s parents retaliated by accusing the man of molesting the boy.  Although this man passed the polygraph and tests for pedophilia, he was convicted and sent to prison anyway because the Court psychologist reported he had “no remorse.”  First of all it is hard to have remorse for a crime you didn’t commit.  Secondly, a classic characteristic of Asperger Syndrome is the inability to convey one’s feelings to others.  No doubt this man was depressed and frightened, but all he could do was sit motionless in the examining psychologist’s office.  Now he sits in prison. Does McKinnon need a doctor or prison? I wish I could tell you that I had the answers to this dilemma. I do believe that Asperger Syndrome is a developmental disorder, worthy of diagnosis and treatment.  There is a lot of suffering among those in this population, including their loved ones.  And there are psychological treatments that alleviate some of this suffering, with inspiring new research breaking ground daily.  So I would hate to see people continue to suffer simply because this diagnosis is part of a political debate. Likewise it is just too simple to turn over to the justice system an individual who is disabled by the peculiarities of Asperger Syndrome. Gary McKinnon did commit a crime.  He has publicly admitted to everything, though he didn’t come forward until he was caught. He engaged in subterfuge to hide his identity, so he was capable of comprehending that what he was doing was wrong, or at the very least could get him caught.  Yet he persisted to engage in those actions because he was obsessed beyond common sense . . .  a classic characteristic of Asperger Syndrome.  Like Howard Hughes (who some suggest had Asperger Syndrome) in his obsessive search for ever more efficient airplanes, McKinnon was determined to uncover the truth . . . that the US military is holding out evidence of anti-gravity propulsion systems.  Would an ordinary person risk going to prison over UFOs? The bottom line is intention.  If the news stories are accurate McKinnon did not set out to harm anyone.  Neither did my unfortunate client, and he is hardly a threat to anyone.  So the legal experts need to determine how to protect the citizenry from people who commit crimes, whether intended or not, and whether people like Gary McKinnon are really a threat to society.  And the mental health experts need to determine how to successfully treat those with Asperger Syndrome.  But what do you do when these two worlds collide? Thomas Szasz, a psychiatrist in the “antipsychiatry” movement, wrote an article in 1960 entitled, “The Myth of Mental Illness,” wherein he proposes that it is dangerous to make mental health care a political issue.  You can only imagine the ramifications if the government controls who is mentally fit.  According to Szasz’ controversial view, Gary McKinnon needs a doctor and he should be held accountable for his actions, regardless of whether he fully understood the outcome or was obsessed with his mission. And at the other end of this continuum, if mental health care and the justice system were separate as they should be, my young client would not be in prison for the non-crime of having poor interpersonal skills. You can read more about McKinnon’s story at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1189651/Can-harmless-UFO-obsessive-stricken-autism-saved-70-years-brutal-American-jail.html.

An Asperger Relationship Success Story

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Communicating, connecting, and loving is an integral part to any relationship. What happens, though, to the relationship if one member suffers from Asperger Syndrome? If the person with AS cannot comprehend the interior life of their Neuro-typical partner, then connection is very difficult. Especially since the interior life of an NT consists of how he or she views him or herself in relationship to another. An individual with Asperger Syndrome has a much more difficult time knowing him or herself in relationship to another. Thus the Aspie partner does not realize that a loving relationship requires more than just facts. It requires connecting to the interior life of their loved one and sharing their interior life too. This is what is meant by a reciprocal relationship. An Aspie/Neuro-typical (NT) couple are often described as like two insulated wires wrapped around each other, touching but not connecting. Is that it then? Does the relationship have to end based on the fact that the connection will be extremely difficult? The answer is NO. I recently read a fantastic article entitled, Modern Love - Somewhere Inside - a Path to Empathy, that gives hope to anyone in an AS/NT relationship. The article is written by David Finch, a marketing engineer for a semiconductor manufacturer. David has Asperger Syndrome. David went undiagnosed until his wife, Kristen, made the discovery. Kristen is a speech pathologist who works with autistic children. Through her work, she became more familiar with the milder forms of autism and began to recognize that David has the symptoms. She chose the right time and administered an online Asperger questionnaire to David and the answer was immediately clear to them both. David writes about their struggles and learning to cope with their newfound discovery. In the midst of trials, they have found one another and have reached a gigantic milestone. Not to say that their relationship is perfect now, but it is a work in progress. In my new book, Life with a Partner or Spouse with Asperger Syndrome: Going Over the Edge?, I seek to help NT individuals learn how to arrive at a new understanding of themselves and their significant other. It is my hope that many more will reach out and educate themselves, like David and Kristen, and take the steps to repair a relationship hurt by Asperger Syndrome. It would be a joy to read more success stories like this one.

Whether You Have Asperger Syndrome or Not – Trust Your Instincts When Finding a Therapist

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Why are some Aspies so hostile to psychologists and psychotherapy?  Among those adults with Asperger Syndrome, there is a growing movement toward acceptance instead of diagnosis.  These folks say they don’t want to be “fixed” but accepted for the unique human beings they are.  The problem is there are times when they could really benefit from professional help for anxiety or severe depression that comes from struggling with interpersonal problems, but they resist treatment. Is there an underlying reason for this resistance? Yes, unfortunately too many mental health professionals are woefully unprepared to treat the symptoms of Asperger Syndrome. I should know since I sought professional guidance for my daughter.  I went from professional to professional for years seeking help for my daughter’s suicidal depression and severe anxiety.  It was a school psychologist who finally turned me in the right direction and I will be forever grateful for her help.  As a result of my trials and tribulations, I was able to write my book on the subject, “Life with a Partner or Spouse with Asperger Syndrome: GOING OVER THE EDGE? The majority of therapists are well-intentioned; they’re not the biggest part of this problem. At least they are open to learning.  You can hand them a book and ask them to consider another possibility, and they will learn.  It is the clueless and narcissistic ones that do the most damage.  Unfortunately I was annihilated by one of these clueless and self-righteous therapists not long ago and I’m still recovering from her unkind and ignorant words. Karin is an interior decorator, turned psychotherapist, without much in the way of credentials, but a gift for marketing.  She is attractive and personable, but absolutely clueless about Asperger Syndrome.  One day she witnessed one of my daughter’s meltdowns and was stunned.  Later she criticized me for not handling the situation well. Furthermore, she told me that she would never have the problems I do because she is so much more balanced when it comes to handling these situations. Coming from a therapist, these words hurt. But I needed to consider the source. Karin has never parented any children of her own, much less a child with special needs. How on Earth could I possibly consider her opinion seriously, when she is clueless?  When someone with Asperger Syndrome (or their family)  is seeking professional help, they are apt to run into a therapist or two or three like Karin.  No wonder they’re angry or depressed by the therapy experience. So how does one choose a therapist when the odds are great that you will run into more than one Karin?  Whether you have Asperger Syndrome or want help with any other of the myriad problems that plague humanity, always trust your instinct.  Never give up but do trust your instinct.  Don’t waste your time and your heart with a therapist you cannot trust.  I love this quote from Buddha, because he sums up the situation in that inscrutable way that only the Buddha can. “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason, and your own common sense.”

New Support Group in Portland Focuses on Helping Partners and Spouses of Adults with Asperger Syndrome

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


I'm excited to announce that I'm launching a new support group, "Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with ASD," in Portland, Oregon. This is not a therapy group, rather a place for people to learn from others and to share their story about the often frustrating and isolating life of loving an adult with Asperger Syndrome Disorder (ASD). I was motivated to start the support group after posting the first chapter of my new book on my website. I was completely overwhelmed by the huge response from people around the world looking for guidance and support on how to navigate a relationship with a partner with Asperger Syndrome. In addition to providing a safe, supportive place to share their experiences, I see this group as a forum to learn more, through books, films and guest speakers. For example, films such as "Mozart and the Whale" will stimulate important discussions about life as a partner of an ASD adult. I'll also invite experts in the field of Asperger Syndrome to speak, thereby creating a counterpoint to personal experience. The group is being organized through Meetup.com. Those interested in joining the group in Portland, Oregon can go to www.meetup.com/Asperger-Syndrome-Partners-Family-of-Adults-with-ASD/. There is no charge for participating in this group. This group is exclusively for Neuro-typicals, for those who love and care for adults with Asperger Syndrome. The first meeting will be held on Saturday, May 23rd at 1:00 p.m. The location is found at the group web page. We will be discussing my new book, "Going over the Edge?" Please sign up at www.meetup.com/Asperger-Syndrome-Partners-Family-of-Adults-with-ASD/. I look forward to meeting you and hearing your stories.

Turn Worries into Solution Incentives

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


I worry. I worry about all kinds of things. Not that all of this worrying has accomplished much in and of itself. However worrying can serve a useful purpose if it directs your attention to problem solving. I think worriers, more than most take a hard cold look at reality. The problem is we can scare ourselves to death with this worry...worry over the economy...worry over the political scene...worry over our health...worry over environmental degradation...worry over the problems our children will inherit. Or…we can take our worries as incentive to search for solutions. I can’t tell you everything is going to be OK. I am just a psychologist, not a fortune teller. But what I do know is that solutions do not come from worry or fear or other forms of negativity. Solutions come from putting our attention on what is right and good and pure and loving and compassionate. Solutions come when we give ourselves to others to make the world a better place. Solutions come when we tear ourselves away from our negativity and we are grateful for all of the small, wonderful things that bring us happiness. Believe it or not, solutions often materialize out of thin air when we believe that the challenges we are facing are a gift, not a burden. If you have faith and hope you will not only come through hardship but you will be better for it. Like me you may still worry, but let those worries guide you to the kind of solutions that can only come from your indomitable human spirit.

Should a computer hacker with Asperger Syndrome go to prison?

Friday, May 08, 2009


Gary McKinnon, a UK citizen, was indicted in a U.S. District Court in Virginia for hacking into NASA and US Military computer systems in search of information on extraterrestrials. McKinnon believed that information on UFO technology was being suppressed by the US government.  Furthermore he claims to have found proof. What makes this case so interesting is that he suffers from the development disorder, Asperger Syndrome. Recently rights activist Terry Waite spoke in support of Gary McKinnon. Waite told the press that the US should thank McKinnon for “exposing the fragility” of the Pentagon’s computer system. While Waite does not condone McKinnon's illegal activity, he does believe that McKinnon should not be held to the same standards as other international criminals because he suffers from Asperger Syndrome. Other celebrities and legal experts have also announced their backing of McKinnon. McKinnon was diagnosed by Cambridge Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, a well known expert on adult Asperger Syndrome.  Along with Terry Waite, Baron-Cohen believes that McKinnon should not be treated as an ordinary criminal but as someone with a disability. According to Professor Baron-Cohen, McKinnon is obsessed with finding the truth. This obsession with the truth is taken to an extreme by those with Asperger Syndrome because they have a characteristic called “mind blindness” according to Baron-Cohen. “Mind blindness” is a complex theory, but in a nutshell McKinnon’s “mind blindness” prevented him from fully understanding the social consequences of his actions, in spite of his obvious intellectual giftedness. This leads me to ask, should McKinnon be extradited to the US to stand trial for his crimes against the American government? If so, should the US government consider his diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome a mitigating factor? I do believe that the fate of Gary McKinnon could change the way Asperger Syndrome is treated all over the world. I for one am not sure anyone fully grasps the depth of the problems, when a mental disorder becomes a political issue. Gary McKinnon is just one man fighting for his freedom, but in the process thousands of people with Asperger Syndrome and their families will be judged. I will continue to write more on this story and discuss the topic of "Should Asperger Syndrome be used as a defense?"

Why do women with Asperger Syndrome go undiagnosed?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


Like so many other examples of the double standard, research on the health issues of women lags behind the health discoveries for men.  Autism Spectrum Disorders are no different.  Many more boys are diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, than are girls.  Does this mean the disorder is more prevalent in males?  Or is it once again an example of the typical research error so common in university labs. For example, not long ago women unnecessarily suffered fatal heart attacks because physicians did not recognize the medical symptoms of heart disease in women.  They studied male symptomatology in medical school, not how heart disease affects women.  As a result more men are diagnosed sooner, and often survive their first heart attack as a result, while women go undiagnosed.  When women have their "first" heart attack it is frequently a killer since no one noticed early enough  the unique way that heart disease is expressed in women. Research is tricky with human subjects so universities typically don't address gender issues at first.  It is a "confounding" variable.  Instead they study a group of males and post their conclusions after the study. Physicians then take this research and apply it to women, often with disastrous results.  If you want to know more about how one woman has dealt with her undiagnosed Asperger Syndrome, read her story at http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2009/04/soaking-in-normalcy-fetishism-or.html Luckily she found a therapist who diagnosed her as having Asperger Syndrome when she was in her early forties, but that was years after a heartbreaking struggle to do a life.  The fact that this one blog post garnered 173 responses from NTs and Aspies alike, demonstrates how important is the subject  of Women and Asperger Syndrome. Since the release of my book Life with a Partner or Spouse with Asperger Syndrome: GOING OVER THE EDGE? - Practical Steps to Saving You and Your Relationship, I have received emails from mothers and husbands asking for help with their daughters and wives.  I have addressed the issue of AS in girls in women in my book, but it is only a cursory look.  Clearly we desperately need more research and services for women and girls with AS.

Creative Family Fun on a Tight Budget

Saturday, May 02, 2009


With the recent dive in our economy, families are increasingly stressed about the future. Whether it be lay-offs, budget cuts or rising prices, many families are making drastic adjustments to their lifestyle just to survive. Is there time or money left for recreation? Should that be a priority? Without a balance between work and pleasure, the family will become stressed out and anxious which ultimately creates an unstable home environment. The key to this balancing act is to be creative! There are many alternatives to fun family time that won't break the budget. A little extra time and research may be required, but it will be well worth the effort. Here are a few ideas for fun and inexpensive alternatives: 1. Go to the library. The library has a large variety of books, DVDs, videos, and audio books and the best part is they’re FREE. Make it a family trip and everyone can pick out something that will entertain them. 2. Entertain at home. Instead of going out to dinner with friends, invite them over for a potluck. Everyone can pitch in by providing a portion of the meal which lowers the cost drastically and gives you the opportunity to try new recipes. After dinner, play cards, charades, board games, or just enjoy some good conversation. It will be a relaxing evening and the whole family can get involved. 3. Enjoy nature. With spring in the air and summer just around the corner, it's a perfect time to enjoy the outdoors. Get online and research trails and hikes in your local area. Most parks and hiking trails have free access. While you are out and about, start a new hobby like bird watching, fossil collecting, or photography. All of these require little expense and you can get the whole family to participate. With a positive and creative attitude your family can come up with their own list of exciting and low budget ways to have fun. I guarantee you will have some good family fun that everyone can enjoy.

Fascinating New Research Highlights Genetic Link to Autism

Friday, May 01, 2009


From Turkey to Ireland, the news of the genetic link to Asperger Syndrome and other Autism Spectrum Disorders took the world by storm.  Within a few hours news agencies all over the world were announcing the discovery first published in Nature – an international weekly journal of science. Scientists have identified a new gene variant (CDH10) that is highly common in autistic children. When researchers scrutinized the activity of the gene in the fetal brain, they discovered that it is most active in key regions that support language, speech and interpreting social behavior. These findings were published April 28 in the advance online edition of the journal Nature. Previously, scientists believed that autism was a developmental disorder resulting from abnormal connections in the brain. However, this new research suggests that CDH10 plays a critical role in shaping the developing brain and may therefore contribute to a prenatal risk of autism. Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) range from severe autism to mild Asperger’s syndrome.  In one of these new studies, of more than 10,000 people including those with ASD and their families, researchers found that genetic factors play a strong role in ASD. I found this research fascinating because it confirms what I’ve observed in families that come to me for therapy. I find that frequently a child who is diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome has an undiagnosed parent with the same disorder. Click here to learn more about adults with Asperger Syndrome.

Journey for Asperger Syndrome Adolescents

Friday, April 24, 2009


The opportunity to travel and explore another culture is a once in a lifetime adventure for many young adults, but it is often off limits for Asperger youth.  Thankfully, more and more universities are establishing programs for Asperger teens. I recently learned that USC University Center For Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at Children's Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) professionals have put together an adventure for students with Asperger Syndrome (AS). Thirteen days will be spent throughout England and Scotland with professionals from CHLA as well as graduate students who are experienced with students with AS. If you have AS and are between the ages of 16-20, this might be something to look into. Apparently the goal of this trip is to boost independence and self-sufficiency. With many group activities, it will provide an opportunity to grow in a group environment as well as receive specific mentoring from staff members. There also lies the potential for making life-long friends with those who understand the personal struggles of Asperger Syndrome. Please contact Beverly Daley, Ph.D. at bdaley@chla.usc.edu or (323) 361-2490 for more information.


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