Well Being

Very odd ‘bedfellows’: Autism and Psychopathy

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A post in today's BoingBoing pairs autism and psychopathy together based on the premise that both are not so much “‘disorders' in human behavior” as they are “speciation — a different kind of human.”

  • Psychopaths: According to research done by Dr. Marnie Rice, a psychologist with the Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene, in Penetanguishene, Ontario, psychopathic behavior is an “evolved survival strategy”; “psychopaths have evolved to capitalize in a particular environmental niche — namely preying on the rest of society.”
  • Autism: According to research done by Michelle Dawson, an autistic researcher, and Dr. Laurent Mottron, psychiatrist and cognitive neuroscientist at the Riviere-des-Prairies Hospital, autism makes a person a “different kind of human:” “They say that arguing that autism makes you ‘good at numbers' but ‘bad at socializing' is like taking a dog and saying that it's a special kind of cat that's ‘bad at climbing' but good at fetching slippers.'”

Psychopathy and autism are, as the BoingBoing post notes, “uneasy bedfellows”; it is emphasized that “autism isn't psychopathy.” And the BoingBoing post raises an important point, namely the need to redefine the DSM's classifications of what is a “disorder” or a “disease.”

Nonetheless, due to the history of autism as a “devastating disorder” that was once diagnosed as childhood schizophrenia, it seems to me that BoingBoing ought to emphasize more what very odd “bedfellows” psychopathy and autism are. Autistic persons like my son Charlie may do things that seem “bizarre” and dangerous and that unknowing bystanders can interpret as something very different from what they are. Representations of autism in the media still tend to be negative and to emphasize that to live with autism is a “nightmare” and that to be autistic is a “tragedy.” Words do matter, words have associations that far surpass their assigned definitions, and psychopathy, and autism, are not words to be casually cast around and paired together.