A UK teen who has been implicated in a string of website hacking incidents, has Asperger’s Syndrome, his lawyer said this past week.
Ryan Cleary, 19, has been accused of taking down Britain’s Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA) website and was arrested at his home this past Monday as part of a joint investigation by Scotland Yard and the FBI. Although Cleary was reported to be arrested as part of a probe into the infamous LulzSec hacking group, they have since tweeted that he is not affiliated with their organization.
Cleary has admitted to breaking into computer networks at NASA and the Pentagon, but claims he was only looking for evidence of extra terrestrials.
Since his arrest last week, the court was presented evidence of Cleary’s Asperger’s, a high functioning form of autism. His lawyer also claims that he suffers from agoraphobia, a condition that triggers fear and panic-like symptoms in situations that are perceived to be difficult to escape from.
He was granted bail but remains in custody after prosecutors immediately objected. If bail is re-instated, Cleary will be banned from accessing the Internet or having any device that will allow him to go online.
While we don’t often hear of incidents involving individuals with autism committing crimes, they can and do occur. However, my concern is that the media will incessantly focus on Cleary’s condition and even attempt to connect it to his alleged crimes. Based on recent stories coming across the newswires, this already appears to be the case.
Despite some misconceptions about those with autism (particularly related to violent behavior), studies have actually proven that those on the spectrum are no more likely to commit crimes than their neurotypical counterparts (Barnhill, 2007; Griffith, 10 May 2006).
In high profile stories such as these, it’s important to refrain from jumping to conclusions and avoid the temptation of connecting the crime with a condition. Those with autism have enough to deal with and the last thing they need is a media-generated stereotype of being computer hackers.