Michael Fitzgerald, a scientist in the field of autism, has a new book published: Young, Violent, and Dangerous to Know. I haven’t read the book, but, according to the description, Fitzgerald proposes a new subdiagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome that is typical of serial killers.
Now serial killers are a small group of criminals. It is rather intuitive to consider most of them as having at least some serious psychopathic disorder, if you can call a flaw of moral development a mental disorder at all. If the majority of serial killers have an empathy deficit, and if we decide that empathy deficit is a mental disorder, then it is all fine with me to diagnose that majority of serial killers (but not serial killers by definition!) with that disorder.
It is also fine with me, if there is any evidence to support it, that what I shall call empathy deficit disorder will be classified as a subdiagnosis of Asperger’s. I can’t see the evidence here, given how Asperger’s Syndrome as it is conceptualized today is a developmental disability rather than a psychopathic disorder. If we want to go back to the original, psychopathic definition of Hans Asperger, that’s fine with me, too, but then we are using a theoretical framework that is different from the one surrounding modern Asperger’s, and we’re essentially talking about two different concepts of a disorder that may or may not have similar characteristics. (I don’t know enough about Hans Asperger’s cases to compare them in terms of characteristics to modern Asperger’s.) One may even question whether we’re talking about the same disorder.
Now I don’t actually even have a problem if my disorder were associated with serial killing. It already is associated with famous murder cases in the Netherlands, even though none of the murderers in these cases have actually been diagnosed. As long as criminal justice and psychiatry are kept separate, a mental diagnosis, even if that one is factually associated with an increased risk of committing crimes like murder, should not affect how we as people are being perceived. But the problem is that psychiatry and criminal justice are not kept separate.
The very creation of crime-based disorders, as in Fitzgerald’s “criminal autistic psychopathy”, connects psychiatry and criminal justice on a level they shouldn’t be connected on: if you have been diagnosed with a “criminal” disorder, you must be a criminal, and if you committed a crime, say, serial murder, you must have said disorder. This is troubling on more levels than ableism, because you can be convicted by a psychiatrist and found mentally disordered by a judge. That is not how the system, with all its risk of false convictions even in the case of serial murder and incorrect assessments of mental state, should work.