Sunday, February 14, 2010

Amy Bishop Part 2

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.)


Amy P said...

In his book "the Asperger Parent" Jeffrey Cohen has a chapter called "Fear Factor" talking about the fact that Asperger young adults are likely to have more interactions with the police than average, for a variety of reasons: 1. acting "suspiciously" 2. physical tantrums 3. threats (Cohen's son announced he wanted to burn down his school in class the week after 9/11). 4. getting pressured into illegal activity by "friends" 5. social and romantic ineptness leading to stalking.

Cohen says that there's an ongoing effort to educate police, while at the same time he suggests that adolescents need to learn to be police savvy and to understand that there are criminal penalties for violence and destruction of property.

Wendy said...

It's too bad that Judy Bishop can't really talk about anything now for fear of being held accountable by Amy Bishop's victims' families, but it would be good to be able to have the discussion about what really happened. I think that could be more valuable than doing an investigation that will get stonewalled and we'll never really know what happened.

Of course, I do have a weird way of looking at things and am not much into revenge/financial remuneration. I would just want to know how to stop it from happening in the future.

I think we're owed answers, and the only way to get these answers is to remove the threat of litigation.

Lilian said...

Very interesting "theory" about Amy Bishop, Wendy and the previous post is very informative, well done.

I got here after reading your comment's at Laura's blog (11D) and now I'm particularly interested in your thoughts on where you live (because of my husband's just scheduled job interview). Maybe we can exchange emails later if anything comes of it. :-)

I also have a PhD, but I finished only two years ago and have chosen to wait to pursue some kind of careers (probably not TT by choice) after my husband finds a TT position.

Oh, and on the subject of Asperger's I have a wonderful online friend (and great writer) who blogs about her 9 year old son's condition (he was diagnosed two years ago). She used to have another blog, but now she blogs at the Family Education site. You might want to check her out:

OK, I have to go now, but I'll probably be back!

Lilian said...

I hope I didn't lose my previous comment (I checked out and in of two different google accounts so I'd use my blog one to post the comment). I'll come and check later.

Wendy said...

Lillian, thanks for the comment, and also thanks for the tip about your friend's blog. I will check it out.

Yes, feel free to e- me about the area. We moved here about 7 years ago and have enjoyed it, but we're natives of the Northeast (grew up 3 hours away and don't find it much different from our hometowns).

Anonymous said...

An interesting post but I'm afraid I'm not convinced there is enough evidence for an autism / aspergers diagnosis. People's memories of what she was like are likely to be biased by recent events - they will remember the weird things and not the normal things. Add the filter of journalists who want a 'story' on top, and you've got a big distortion. And even if we accept that her social skills aren't great, poor social skills are a feature of many psychiatric conditions, not just autism.

So I don't think it is possible to get an sensible assessment of Bishop from the information that is out there at the moment. Sorry.

MH said...

More strange things. I'm not expert on symptoms, but that sounds like ordinary egoist (NSF).

Wendy said...

MH, see, I see "Woman with PPD," but I don't know a heck of a lot about narcissistic disorders.

I'm looking forward to the psychological forensic experts looking into this the way they did with Eric Harris/Dylan Kleibold.

MH said...

Usually depression expressed by aggression is a male thing, no?

Wendy said...

MH, I'm not sure what you mean by "expressed." I know that when I had PPD after kid#2, I felt incredible rage and anxiety that looked like depression. In some ways it all goes together. It's all hard for me to talk about (believe it or not ;), but my personal experiences make me see this thing, and a whole lot of things, a lot differently than others.

MH said...

I have no link to the Bishop case beyond curiosity. I wasn't really trying to make much of point beyond showing another example of the degree to which Bishop is an outlier. When an adult hits another adult with whom they have had no prior relationship, we're talking a behavior that is almost entirely done by men.

Wendy said...

I guess you don't watch much reality tv. ;)

(Kidding--I have no idea what goes on in most trashy types of reality tv.)

NightTime said...

As a wife of an undiagnosed Aspie (engineer) going on 19 years, be careful of that smirk.

I finally got him to admit to me that he "tests my reactions" by saying provocative things, or to get what he wants at that moment in time. He is a good liar and manipulator, and as another Aspie has said perhaps "his only way to get rid of his emptiness or boredom is by pulling one over on me."

Tony Attwood refers to this along with the malicious subtype of Asperger's. My husband said that if he didn't have a malicious personality, he would have no personality at all.

That is a sad statement, but perhaps true, since he has adopted my personality to some extent.

Either way, I hope you raise your child well, because all the undiagnosed adults can and do wreak havoc on others. I am a prime example. My health and career are gone due to the stress of living with him. Only a person who has walked a mile in my shoes can really relate to what it is like being married(?) to an Aspie.

I do believe she is an Aspie, hit me right away when I first heard about this. How sad for the families. No winners here.

kelli said...

I immediately thought "Aspergers" when I read about Amy Bishop. My 16 year old stepson was diagnosed about 3 years ago. He lives full time with his father and me. NightTime, I would love to hear more about your husband's behavior - I'm extremely curious about what to expect from an adult child with Aspergers. I've met a few that have been diagnosed and seem to manage well. Every case is different. Although my stepson is a gentle kid for the most part, I do notice those manipulation tactics. He is quite comfortable lying and figuring out any way possible to get what he wants. Often, my husband doesn't think he is intentionally trying to lie or be manipulative, but I think the boy knows exactly what he is doing. The smirk you mention and the comment your husband made is interesting...

Anonymous said...

First, I think it's unwise to suggest AB has a particular diagnosis (e.g. of Asperger's syndrome) until she has actually been given a diagnosis by a specialist in the field. The fact that she is intelligent, has difficulty with eye contact, has poor social skills... etc. does not make her an Aspie. She may have a personality disorder, dissociative disorder or psychotic disorder.

Second, I know quite a few people with Asperger's syndrome (AS) and they are meek and mild. They tend to be self critical and to have high morals. They are not obnoxious, narcissistic or violent.

Third, even if AB does have AS, it should be emphasised in News reports that most people with AS are decent, law-abiding people. The incidence of violence and criminality in people with AS is no greater than it is in neurotypicals.

SarahMN said...

Interesting discussion. I also thought she has Aspergers as I read more about Bishop. My nephew was diagnosed 9 years ago at 7, and my siblings and I figured out via research that our mother has it too. Finally we have a framework for understanding her odd and baffling - and self-centered - behavior.

A couple of points. My mother is all about manipulation and getting her many needs met. As my sister says, everything is too much trouble for her, and nothing is too much trouble for you.
The depression that is common for Aspie adults is likely secondary, in response to stress, rejection, criticism, inability to get what they want. My mother spent most of our childhood on tranquilizers. Stress is a huge issue. Things that aren't stresful to most people can cause a lot of anxiety for Aspies. She can't tolerate any criticism or take responsibility. I know some of this is her personality, and not all Aspies are alike or are unable to overcome some limitations. But the lack of empathy is HUGE.

My mother cannot think of alternatives. We have to reason through options for her. So, excuse my imaginative leap, but I can see that once Bishop thought she had to shoot them all, she could not work out any other way to deal with what she considered the wrong they'd done to her. I expect Bishop has other issues too, but I am convinced she has Aspergers.

kelli said...

I'm with you, Sarah. If it turns out Amy Bishop has Asperger, I would not be at all surprised. When an Aspie reaches a conclusion about something and decides it's THE ONLY RIGHT WAY to do it (unless there is someone aware of their plan and intervening) they aren't likely to stop and apply reason to the situation. Although they are way above their peers intellectually, that ability to reason without prompting is often absent.

At times, Aspies don't consider consequences...they simply want to get their needs or desires met and don't think past that point. If this woman was frustrated and wanted to make what she perceived as a problem go away, she likely wouldn't have thought past the task of eliminating those people. That sounds odd, considering she's a professor and highly intelligent. But if she's a professor with Asperger Syndrome (and there are many), it would make sense.

Anonymous, this is a discussion so all any of us are doing is "suggesting" something Amy might have. I agree those who knew her and are talking to the media might have "biased" memories as you say, but the fact is, an entire group of students went to the dean with concerns about this professor long before this happened. They felt her behavior was odd long before this incident and reported it. Had they just come forward pointing out weird behavior, that would seem a little shady, but these behaviors were obvious to several people well before Amy Bishop became a headline.

NightTime said...

I will add with my husband, once he has his mind made up on a course of action no matter how poor a choice, there is no way in hell you can change it.

He has caused damage to the house, etc with this style of not being able to think of alternatives in any situation. I have to feed him the alternatives. Not that he will actually listen to them. He most likely will refuse help and consider it an attack on his person. He cannot accept any constructive criticism or "help" without some sort of meltdown. He uses silence for days or longer as a punishment. He also controls all communication by not speaking or answering questions he doesn't like. It's like talking to a brick wall. Problems rarely get resolved.

On threat of divorce he is just barely starting to take things seriously and look at some of his behavior. It has taken many years for me to figure out what the heck is going on in our non-marriage. Asperger's wasn't in the DSM when we got married. I knew of Autism, but not Asperger's until the last few years. I thought he just might be a narcissist for a long time. His needs and getting them met, are pretty much the only thing that matters. My needs are rarely if ever met. Sometimes I just feel like an object, not a person with their own opinion or needs that are separate from his. I go without an intimate partner, a mate, someone I can trust, everything an NT takes for granted in an NT/NT marriage. We suffer silently, because they can look good for a short time in the outside world. Home life is a whole other thing. You never know what goes on behind closed doors. They seem to save their worst behavior for their loved? ones.

I know not all Aspie's are the same. The similarities are amazing when you compare notes between wives of Aspie's. It's also possible I had an Aspie parent. That is another whole discussion with the damage that caused to my person and how I think about myself.

I would say that an Aspie should either not get married or should marry another Aspie. If they know they are an Aspie it MUST be disclosed to the future partner. They should be able to decide if they are up for it. I didn't have that choice. The NT will wilt like a dead flower in such conditions. There will never be "normal marital intimacy." He has admitted he has never truly trusted me. I think he is unable to trust anyone, let alone me, his wife of 19 years this year. They can learn to fake things, but an NT will always know it is fake if they are the spouse. The spouse will go without their emotional needs met, and thus it is no surprise the divorce rate is at 80 percent for Aspie marriages. Some wives don't leave because of either children, or money, or health issues. They may not even want to stay, but feel they have no other choice due to their particular situation.

NightTime said...

I would learn as much about the differences between AS and NT people and get whatever therapies you can to help your child fit into an NT world. It may not seem fair, but majority rules. The majority is NT and they have to live and function in this type of world. Not everyone will be kind. Wives of Aspie's tend to be empathetic and kind with hearts of gold. We put up with a lot of bad behavior. Other people run away a lot faster.

You might have to really keep an eye on his behavior, and correct him if you catch him lying or manipulating and make it clear that it is not acceptable behavior. I have not figured out how to do this in a 50 year old man. A wise Aspie woman told me to take away something of his that he wants, or not cook a favorite meal, etc. but to especially nip the behavior in the bud. Once they learn they can get away with it, it will be almost impossible to get them to stop and find a better way to cope in the world. Bad behaviors may become permanently ingrained. I've read one really good blog by an Aspie who talks about his learning of "rules" and finding out how they have often caused problems for him.

You can also find a very inflexible person who will not tolerate their routine being interrupted. We don't have kids thank goodness. I learned early in the marriage not to walk into the bathroom while he was brushing his teeth. This is a SHARED bathroom. They don't share well with others. What's mine is mine and what's yours is mine is a standard rule quite often.

I wish there was more research focusing on Adult Aspie's and not just children. Although I think today's kids will fare better than the adults we see now. They can get help with social skills, etc that our spouses never had. With more support and understanding of the condition by the general public, life with Asperger's may be a little better in the future. it will be interesting to see how it plays out when these kids come into the age where they want to marry or decide not to.

On a side note, remember that guy that shot up the women's gym last year? Sodini I think his name was. I believe he was an Aspie that would have learned to cope and get some help if only he had known what it was that was keeping him from a fulfilled life he so dearly wanted. Instead he took his anger and frustration out on innocent women. Very sad case.

Wendy said...

Whoa, I was looking up "malicious subtype" of Aspergers and came across this page.

I think my boy may be Logic Boy, not Emotion Boy or Rules Boy. Whew. Sort of.

Wendy said...

"Third, even if AB does have AS, it should be emphasised in News reports that most people with AS are decent, law-abiding people. The incidence of violence and criminality in people with AS is no greater than it is in neurotypicals."

Very true.

My interest is mainly in everything that happened before February 12, specifically how people reacted to her behaviors. It's hard, having read about Aspies having certain behaviors, to hear these same behaviors as described in Amy Bishop as being signs that she was a psychotic killer.

NightTime said...

If your main goal in life is to look out for number one, get your own needs met no matter what, and lack of empathy, you get a bad combination. I could see how someone with this combination might resort to something hurtful to another human being. Plenty of cases of AS people murdering because someone was in their way.

That lack of empathy toward other human beings is the worst. If you see a person as an object, you treat them like one or discard them like an object. Easy step to make.

My husband told me he can never think of anyone but himself and his needs first. I can't imagine someone like that having kids. Thank God we don't have any.

As a child of a possible aspie, you definitely suffer. It is no picnic! You aren't really a person in your own right. Your needs are rarely met. It is as if you are a ghost a lot of the time. Invisible.

I wish someone had intervened, but relatives watched and did nothing.


kelli said...

Wow. All of your comments about the grownup Aspies in your life help me know what to prepare for with my teenage stepson, Scott, as he ages. My husband and I find ourselves saying so many times, "Scott, it's not ALL about you and what you want to do." How do you teach someone to care about others? I've met some more mature Aspies who seem to know how to "mimmick" being interested in what others are saying. We find that Scott steers all conversations back to his interests. He is obsessed with the video game "Halo" and we have to limit his game time because that's literally all he will do or think about if we don't. But even when he's not playing, he is thinking about it and finding references to the game in unrelated situations. We were talking to a family friend and he somehow found a resemblance between the friend and a Halo character. He will find off the wall ways to bring up Halo in situations that have absolutely nothing to do with the game. At times when his school work has suffered or he's lied and not done assignments, we've had to restrict him from Halo for lengthy periods. He initially has a meltdown and temper tantrum. As time goes on, he looks like a lovesick boy who lost his girlfriend.

NightTime said...

I used to think you could teach empathy by example. Maybe sometimes you can, but there seems to be an inborn ability that some people do not have due to their brain wiring.

I think empathy and the proper way to treat people need to be emphasized as much as possible. I remember reading something Temple Grandin mentioned about how certain rules of behavior were "drilled" into her by her mother. She found that as she was older that it was of MAJOR benefit to her (if I remember correctly.) The child's behavior has to be really monitored and reinforced to the good side. I guess I think about how I was raised and how my husband was raised. I had the iron fist of "do this whether you like it or not" and he might have just gotten away with murder or just ignored. Religious instruction or lack of (even though he went to Catholic school his whole life, he seemed to absorb nothing) seems also to help reinforce proper behavior toward others.

As far as Halo being your son's special interest, you will have problems limiting it. A special interest or obsession is a behavior typical for some Aspie's. I'm not really sure how you can curb it other than taking it away, but he will fill that void some other way perhaps. He seems to be living in his own self-centered world by bringing Halo into every conversation or situation.

I understand how frustrating dealing with this is. It has taken me years to figure it out and I am only partially there. I was just watching an old Dr. Phil I taped and wanted to delete, and I swear the kid on the show was an Aspie. What was interesting were his comments to the Psychiatrist that interviewed him. He was purposely winding up his step-father. Sounds just like my hubby. I have to remind him now that there will be no mind games allowed or he will have consequences dished out. The kid also said that he say's whatever he has to say to end a situation or conversation that he doesn't like. I'm very familiar with that now. Oh Boy, talk about crazy making behavior.

I would suggest looking for a local support group for parents. I know there is a great group in the East, but I have no idea about other locations. I've just been going it alone or with an online support group. I worry about SOME of the things I've read at wrongplanet because they seem to be so antisocial that is scares me.