There are some additional aspects of the Amy Bishop case I'd like to discuss, subjects of great personal relevance. I'm going to start by talking about Asperger Syndrome/autism spectrum disorders and Amy Bishop. My son was recently diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, and understandably, I have been reading and talking about it a lot lately.
I am aware that diagnosis via newspaper article/Internet is wrong. But the descriptions of Amy Bishop from just about everyone who knew her strongly suggest someone who has an autism spectrum disorder.
Please note: this is not going to turn into an apology or excuse for Bishop's crime in Alabama (or her possible crime in Massachusetts).
Here are some of the things people have said about her:
"She didn’t know how to make small talk," she said. "It’s like she didn’t have that gene." Source. (Added on 2/21/10)
In meetings, Mr. Setzer remembered, she would go off on "bizarre" rambles about topics not related to tasks at hand — "left-field kind of stuff," he said. Source.
"She was kind of weird," he said. "I mean, all scientists are weird, right? But she was just kind of weird. She didn't strike me as psychotic." Source.
There was no doubt, however, about her intelligence or pedigree. "She's pretty smart," said Mr. Setzer. "That was not a question. There might have been some question about how good of a [principal investigator] and mentor she was. Yeah, she knows her stuff, and she's a good technical person, but as far as being the boss and running the lab, that was kind of the question." Source.
Shortly after the attempted bombing, Fluckiger said, Bishop told her she had been questioned by police. According to Fluckiger, Bishop said police asked her if she had ever taken stamps off an envelope that had been mailed to her and put them on something else.
"She said it with a smirk on her face,'' said Fluckiger. Source.
Nursing students repeatedly complained to Dr. Podila, the department chairman, as well as to the dean, and even sent a petition, said Caitlin Phillips, a junior in the nursing program, who took two courses with Dr. Bishop in her sophomore year
She was “very socially awkward with students” and never made eye contact during personal conversations, Ms. Phillips said. “We all had kind of a problem with her. She never really taught much. She just read straight from the book.” Source.
The Boston Herald has an entire article identifying her as an "oddball":
“She was an oddball - just not very sociable,” said Sylvia Fluckiger, a former lab technician who worked with Bishop in 1993.
“She was quite cavalier about it,” Fluckiger said of Bishop’s description of her interview with police. She said Bishop “grinned” as she described being asked by cops whether she’d ever taken stamps off an envelope and fastened them onto something else. “I cannot tell you what the grin meant,” Fluckiger said.
A classmate of Seth Bishop’s recalled yesterday that the boy, who was “painfully shy,” never talked about his older, only sibling.
“It was as if he was a complete stranger in her life. It seemed like a dysfunctional family. We just accepted them as being odd,” said the classmate, who spoke to the Herald on condition of anonymity.
Amy Bishop, he said, “wasn’t mean because she wasn’t someone you could get close to. She wasn’t an attractive girl, she didn’t have friends. She didn’t work at having friends. I think people probably, over time, learned to leave her alone.”
The Bishop household, he said, “was anything but a home . . . It was just a really dreary, dark place where there wasn’t a lot of love.”
Sounds kind of like some sort of autism spectrum disorder, no? And that Seth had it, too. This was 1986, when people weren't knowledgeable about autism.
So let's back up a little. Nothing changes the fact that she murdered three people. But can other aspects of her life be explained by an ASD?
Amy graduated high school at age 16, apparently. This would be a sign not only of great intelligence but also perhaps of social awkwardness.
Her brother was shy and didn't mention their family very much. They seemed "dysfunctional."
Amy seems to have married one of her first boyfriends, as she was dating Jim Anderson when she shot her brother. Their marriage has lasted through that tragedy, through graduate school, through working together, through four children. That doesn't sound to me like someone who lacks love. It may be someone who can't *show* love very easily.
As the mother of a child with Asperger's, I know all too well that failure to act in a socially appropriate manner. I know how it appears he is uninterested or uncaring when he doesn't look someone in the eye. I know he often seems uncaring if he doesn't respond to others' pain (the example I use is when I broke my ankle right in front of him).
Is my son going be looked at with suspicion and distrust his entire life? What if crimes or accidents occur around him? Will he be railroaded into investigations because he smirks at the wrong time? Will these investigations be held against him for the rest of his life (as apparently the investigation of Bishop in the pipe bombing case is being held against her even though she was cleared)?
As a parent, these issues concern me. They petrify me. They make me feel protective of my son. I can only imagine that Judy Bishop felt the same way.
In the end, even though I am, like Bishop, an Ivy-League-trained academic without tenure, the person I really relate to in this whole matter is her mother.
(Edited for grammar.)