Former astronaut Lisa Nowak will claim temporary insanity - Los Angeles TimesThere are two aspects of this story if interest to our community. One is how the law should handle diminished capacity. I personally favor a tailored approach based on the future likelihood of harm to self and others, but that's not what I'll discuss here. The other aspect of interest is her history, and I believe the diagnosis is likely correct, of Asperger's syndrome.
Former astronaut Lisa Nowak plans to claim she was temporarily insane when she attacked Colleen Shipman on Feb. 5 at the Orlando International Airport.
Her attorney, Donald Lykkebak, filed a notice of this type of defense late Monday with the Orange County Clerk of Courts.
Some of the reasons listed in the notice include "a single episode" of major depressive disorder, severe insomnia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The plea also notes Nowak's marriage problems and inability to confide in family members or others, as well as her large weigh loss.
It also diagnoses Nowak with Asperger's Disorder, a condition with autistic-like symptoms that causes problems with social skills and can lead to eccentric behavior...
It's a cliche that a large portion of electrical engineers could have met the diagnostic criteria for Asperger's as children, and could probably meet it today. Lisa is an aerospace/astronautical engineer. It's not electrical engineering, but it's close enough. I would love to see a real study that tested how true the cliche is. The first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, was also an aeronautical engineer and famously shy and publicity adverse. I wonder how he'd test out.
My personal sense is that individuals with Aperger's, and with high-IQ autism (the definition of both is famously inexact, they likely overlap) can do extremely well in some settings. They do, like all of us*, retain weaknesses they must continue to compensate for. I don't know how much of a role Lisa's Aperger's played in her tragedy, but I suspect the combination of obsessive-compulsive disorder, Asperger's and depression was just the "right" wrong mix. As psychiatry continues its sluggish and difficult transformation into a scientific trade, there will be more of an emphasis on how persons with austism, Asperger's, attention-deficit disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder can leverage their strengths and offset their disabilities, and how decompensation can be recognized and individually managed.
Good luck Lisa. Oh, and astronauts -- if someone tries to make Asperger's a disqualifying diagnosis, insist they test Neil first.
* When the gene testing does emerge, it will be interesting to learn how many of us have the predilections.