Sunday, October 19, 2008

Did Asperger's Turn Nicky Reilly Into A Bomber?

I had promised for today's weekly blog post on Asperger syndrome an article about the process through which a child is diagnosed. But the news has intervened, so that article is postponed to next week.

This week, I'm wondering what readers are thinking about the news that Nicky Reilly has admitted to a failed Islamist bomb attack in Exeter, and has Asperger syndrome. I'm concerned that this may open the door to some ignorance and panic about Asperger's. On the other hand, perhaps it is an opportunity to correct some prejudices.

The BBC claims that Nicky's mum reckons that Asperger's left her adult son with a 'mental age' of ten. It seems to me that either the BBC is misquoting her, or society has failed to support and educate Nicky's mum about her son's condition. Read further into the case and you will find that Nicky - who took the Muslim name Mohammad Rashid Abdulaziz Saeed Alim - has a learning disability as well. Asperger's is not itself a learning disability, and would not leave anyone with a 'mental age' of ten. (I'm leaving aside for now whether 'mental age' is a useful concept anyway.)

Plenty of credit is due to his mum, who explains her son's vulnerability, questions why no-one else has been held accountable for his actions, rightly says he should not be in prison but receiving care, and pledges to always be there for her son.

Asperger's could well make someone more vulnerable to getting involved in something like Islamist suicide bombing, partly because the tendency towards obsessive interests may take an aspie deeper into a subject than others, and partly because aspies can be more likely to accept what they are told literally. But before anyone gets into a panic that the thousands of people with Asperger syndrome are wandering around ready and willing to be made into suicide bombers, they should remember that the vast majority of people who get involved in the reactionary, murderous, jihadi bombing plans are neuro-typical. If you want someone to blame, blame the jihadi movements, and blame the oppressors and warmongers who drive people into their arms.

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