Could Amanda Knox Have an Autism Spectrum Disorder?

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Amanda Knox, the 23-year-old American college student who was convicted of sexually assaulting and killing her roommate, Meredith Kercher, in Italy in 2007, allegedly after an orgy gone wrong, got good news this week. Independent experts working on her ongoing appeal said that the traces of DNA used to convict Knox may have been contaminated and are “unreliable.”

With the DNA evidence excluded, the only substantiation of Knox’s guilt includes a possibly coerced confession and her bizarre behavior after being arrested. But could those two things have the same explanation? Is it possible that Knox has an underlying condition — Asperger’s syndrome, a less severe form of autism — that caused both her unusual social behavior and a gullibility that triggered a false confession?

Knox’s link to Kercher’s murder was always sketchy: for one thing, there was no physical evidence of the orgy that the prosecutor claimed led to the killing. Knox was said to have helped stab her 21-year-old roommate to death when Kercher refused to participate in sex games with Knox’s boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, then 23, and Rudy Guede, 20, an African immigrant. No other motive was ever presented.

But Guede’s bloody footprints and handprints were found at the scene, his DNA was found in Kercher’s body — and he was a prior robbery suspect known to carry a knife. The simplest and most logical view of the crime would be that Guede alone killed Kercher. And in fact, he was also convicted of the murder.

However, by the time his involvement was discovered, Knox had already confessed after hours of questioning by police, implicating herself and Sollecito. What’s more, her behavior after her arrest was bizarre and seemed callous.

In a riveting feature story on the case, Rolling Stone writer Nathaniel Rich describes how Knox’s odd actions may have led to her conviction. He writes that while at the police station with Sollecito, she did not act normally:

“Knox and Sollecito would make faces, kiss each other, while there was the body of a friend in those conditions,” said homicide chief Monica Napoleoni.

“I couldn’t help thinking how cool and calm Amanda was,” said Giacomo Silenzi, a neighbor who had been having a fling with Kercher. “Her eyes didn’t seem to show any sadness, and I remember wondering if she could have been involved.”

Officers would later complain that Knox, after sitting for hours in the stiff waiting-room chairs, had started to do cartwheels and even splits. Convinced that she was psychotic, the guards begged her to stop, explaining that such behavior was “inappropriate.” And a detective complained when he saw Knox sitting on her boyfriend’s lap. “Inappropriate,” he said.

Could this be evidence of Asperger’s? In people with the condition, odd emotional reactions and atypical responses to stress are common. Women with autism spectrum disorders tend to be better at appearing socially skilled than men do, which often leaves them undiagnosed.

Valerie Gaus is a psychologist who has worked with hundreds of autistic people and is the author of Living Well on the Spectrum. “Everything I read would be consistent with it and it could be one alternative theory for the behavior that made her seem suspicious,” says Gaus, while stressing that she has not met Knox and cannot diagnose her. “When people on the spectrum become anxious or nervous, they won’t necessarily show it through facial expressions and they may use odd behavior to regulate anxiety. You might see that in odd gestures or strange tics or body movements. If she did have it, her cartwheels might have been [her way of] trying to regulate overwhelming anxiety.”

MORE: Mind Reading: How to Live Well on the Autistic Spectrum

Rudy Simone, author of Aspergirls and herself a woman on the autism spectrum, says, “While I’m not a diagnostician and haven’t seen anything on the tapes we’ve all seen that would indicate she has Asperger’s, if she did, theoretically, the kind of behavior she displayed before, during and after her arrest would be in line with the many psychological or neurological differences [that mark] Aspergian behavior.”

Another example of “self-soothing” behavior common to autism could be Knox’s frequent loud singing, which Kercher’s sister told Rolling Stone had been annoying to the victim.

Knox’s lack of social skills, unusual reactions to emotion and lack of concern about appearance — all common in autism spectrum conditions — were clear to everyone who knew her:

“She’s a little dork who doesn’t wear matched socks,” says her best friend, Madison Paxton. …

[Sollecito said]: “I noticed that her opinions on the music were odd. … She didn’t concentrate on the emotions it provoked but only on the rhythm — slow, fast, slow.”

And, like many autistic people, Knox was highly intelligent but also extremely naïve and gullible:

“She’s the smartest person you’d ever know” but “dumb as a rock” when it comes to “street sense,” [her stepfather said]. In conversations with her friends and family, a portrait emerges of a person with a childlike innocence. She was, as her mother, Edda, puts it, “oblivious to the dark side of the world.”

“The common term we use is naïve but from a clinical perspective, what can cause that is that people on the spectrum have difficulty with perspective-taking. They have a difficult time thinking about or understanding what another person might be thinking,” says Gaus.

“We just don’t understand other people,” says Simone. “We don’t read faces. Social language is always a second language to us that we’re never particularly fluent in and alongside that is a childlike naivete.”

That can lead to gullibility because if you can’t understand the world from other people’s perspectives, you can’t recognize when they might be trying to manipulate you, or even that such a thing is possible to do. This makes people with Asperger’s particularly prone to false confessions both because they get easily overwhelmed by stress and because they don’t understand the intentions of the police.

“In my own practice, I’ve seen a fair number of young people get in trouble with the law because of naivete,” says Gaus.

Knox’s apparent penchant for casual sex, which was extensively covered by the British tabloids, can also be seen in some women on the autism spectrum. “With females on the spectrum, sometimes promiscuity is a way that you connect and they learn early on that they can get attention for being sexual. That wouldn’t be surprising,” Gaus says.

Notes Simone, “Because of our open demeanor towards others, what we see as friendly is often consider flirtatious and often misread.”

Also, Knox’s utter lack of awareness of her own beauty — detailed in the Rolling Stone story — could be a symptom. Appreciating your own good looks “involves the ability to imagine how others perceive you and people on the spectrum have problems with that,” Gaus says.

Yet another potentially telling characteristic: Knox’s desire for justice, not only for herself but for others. Rich describes how Knox would try to help strangers on the street and how she insisted on staying in Italy to help the police with the case, even after her other roommates had gotten attorneys and left the country. “A strong need for justice is common,” Gaus says.

MORE: Did Amanda Knox Get a Fair Murder Trial?

Of course, whether or not a formal diagnosis of Asperger’s would help or hurt Knox’s case is hard to say: the stigma associated with autism spectrum disorders might make her seem more suspicious, rather than less, in the eyes of some legal authorities. But Gaus believes that screening her would be appropriate and that it could help her come to terms with what happened. It could ultimately help her have a better future if she is, as seems likely, exonerated.

13 comments
TruthfullySpeaking
TruthfullySpeaking

I meant to add in my previous comment below, Amanda's monotone way of speaking in interviews is similar to a number of my students with Asperger's, and the odd behaviors, lack of emotion and sensitivity hits the nail on the head. Glad you wrote this article!

TruthfullySpeaking
TruthfullySpeaking

Laughable how commenter on this post and uninformed people think they know better than the 20 US forensic scientists and 4 seasoned FBI agents who have given a strong opinion of not guilty after an in depth expert analysis.


Although some of the 'facts' about the case in this article have been proven false by expert US investigators, I generally agree with the gist of it. As a special needs teacher working with students with Asperger's for 5 years, I definitely see behavioral similarities. Even her way of speaking in interviews is similar to a number of my students.

Ghislane100
Ghislane100

Knox's traits are not those of someone with Aspergers.  This is just another sad article trying to unsuccessfully hide her clear guilt behind layers of b.s.

In fact, her personality traits and her behaviour point to her being a psychopath, pure and simple.  An American psychopath with a love of murder and a pinched rat like face.

StacyMorgan
StacyMorgan

I just now ran across this article, almost 2 years after its publication. I have often wondered if Amanda has either
Asperger's or PDD-NOS.  She has always reminded me of a very close relative (I'll refer to as D), who will be 20 in a few months, and who was diagnosed with PDD-NOS in 5th grade. They are amazingly similar: both are beautiful young women, both are very intelligent ( D has an IQ of 135), both have a highly developed sense of defending what they see as "right", both have unusual or "odd" reactions to stress and don't always present themselves in a socially acceptable way. D also has very little sense of "style" when it comes to clothes, like Amanda. D wears what is comfortable, not for how it look or if it's "in style". D comes across as "quirky" like Amanda. But, D is also kind, loyal to her friends, not violent in any way, and would never intentionally hurt anyone, either emotionally or physically. Her somtimes "clueless" remarks may hurt someone's feelings, but it's never done maliciously or on purpose. 

 I believe that it's more likely than not that Amanda Knox does have undiagnosed mild autism.

Ghislane100
Ghislane100

@TruthfullySpeaking There are over 10,000 pages of forensic and circumstantial evidence and 30 expert reports and NOT ONE page of this evidence has EVER been seen by a single one of your US forensic scientists and your FBI agents, and you have proven yourself a moron to think that they have!  


Knox is a murderer and your instincts are useless as is your knowledge of this case!


Even Sollecito is pointing the finger of blame at her now!  Try squirming out of that!


By the way, if Steve Moore is one of your 'seasoned agents', pull the other one!  He is a deluded maggot and his highest post in life was that of janitor.

StacyMorgan
StacyMorgan

@Ghislane100

Exactly what training in the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder do you have, specifically Asperger Syndrome?  What close personal experience with someone in the autism spectrum do you have, specifically AS?  You claim that "Knox's traits are not those of someone with Aspergers" and yet  Dr. Valerie Gaus, a psychologist with over 15 years of experience working with people in the autism spectrum, says she does.

Rudy Simone, someone who actually has AS and has published a book on the subject, says  "the kind of behavior she displayed before, during and after her arrest would be in line with the many psychological or neurological differences [that mark] Aspergian behavior.”

Yet you, who as anyone who has read any of your posts knows, are a "fabulously successful designer living in mansions, traveling the world (first class, not even business class) who stays at the most luxurious hotels and eats in restaurants well out of the common people's reach...are also skilled in the recognition of autism spectrum symptoms. WOW!  When do you find the time between your jet-setting and designing?

Now, let's discuss your hypocrisy.  You declare Knox's traits are not of someone with Asperger's despite the opinions of  an experienced psychologist with over 15 years working with people in the autism spectrum and some who actually has AS. Then you immediately  declare that her "personality traits and her behaviour point to her being a psychopath." No supporting evidence, no supporting statements from mental health professionals. Just your declaration. But, I do happen to know that your uninformed opinion of her being a psychopath comes from a UK paper article titled "Signs that suggest Amanda Knox is a psychopath". And what doctor tells us of these signs? "The FirstPost's psychoanalyst". That's it. This so-called analyst is never named nor are his/her credentials ever mentioned. Wow. That's reliable!  In fact the ONLY named mental health professional, Prof David Canter, disagrees that Knox's background supports her being a psychopath and being involved in the murder.

"Pinched rat like face"? True to form, you cannot post anything without including a nasty personal insult about Knox. I wonder what a psychologist would have to say about that?  In fact, after reading the multitude of the most nasty, venom filled personal attacks you make, not only on Knox, but upon her supporters, I'd say you meet the criteria for being a psychopath far more than Knox.

Ghislane100
Ghislane100

@StacyMorgan @Ghislane100 Another meaningless rant from an embittered Knox groupie.

Stacy Morgan has such high standards that she is a defender of animal porn addicts.  As her quote from the Time article entitled "The Amanda Knox Haters Society ; How They Learned To Hate Me Too" testifies:

"StacyMorgan:

The "animal porn" didn't even belong to Sollecito, but to another student. A group of boy watched it together out of curiosity as is normal for college kids. Young men that age are completely obsessed with sex and it's NOT considered abnormal for them to be curious about anything having to do with sex.  Actually HAVING sex with animals is not normal, but watching a video with some in it is NOT."

There we have it.  Watching animals abused in the most disgusting way possible is NOT ABNORMAL according to the deviant Stacy Morgan!  

I have been bought up to see animals as one of the most beautiful things on Earth, along with all nature, and that anyone would not only hold this despicable view but put that view on a public forum for all to see is beyond belief, and absolutely illustrates the kind of subhuman Morgan is.

You say 'you do happen to know your uninformed opinion of her being a psychopath' comes from a UK paper.  You know that do you?  How laughably ignorant!  I have not based my opinion on anything of the sort so drop the pretence that you are psychic!  This is just another facet of the make believe world you inhabit where Knox is innocent.

When rabid Knox groupies start with personal insult, as they do without fail in their attempts to disguise they have neither fact, evidence or truth on their side, I am not bashful in giving an account of my life.  Leftists like yourself are angered by success in others as is proven by your rant above.  Normal people, like myself, admire and applaud success; not you lot, angered by the fact that you do not have the wherewithal to get off the bottom rung.

I will of course continue with my fortunate life, enjoying each and every day of it, whilst you seethe away in your dump.  By the way, Georgian town house, canal side town house and penthouse; no mansions.  Also, I fly whenever available Suites Class as it is vastly superior to First.  Of course, Americans would not have a clue about this, your First Class is equivalent to the ever wonderful SIngapore Air's cattle class.  Like many, many things, Americans do not have a clue.

Take for instance their insistence on using 'squeezy cheese' on everything.  We stayed in the much lauded Beverly WIlshire for 3 weeks and it was like purgatory. The food was basically inedible and the car concierge a big fan of the 'n' word. It is no wonder that our successful television dramas remade for Americans have to be written as for children so that you lot stand a chance of understanding them.  Every tiny thing has to be spelt out in a way that would drive an intelligent person mad, but is perfect for you lot.

You must manage your time very badly.  It takes a mere 5 minutes a day to update my posts leaving me plenty of time to enjoy myself.  Not that I need to answer to anyone about my time in any case, the joys of being self employed.  

According to you, anyone who criticises Knox must be a psychopath.  In the real world, a high indicator of psychopathy is torturing someone to death, just as Knox did.  I have never even seen a dead body let alone murdered anyone so, once again, you prove yourself a cretin of the highest order.





Ghislane100
Ghislane100

@StacyMorgan @Ghislane100 You know, Morgan, you have no need to worry about my well being.  Not only am I completely sane, more intelligent than most and talented, but I am also completely content, I have the perfect family AND I am wealthier than you could ever dream of being.

Try concentrating on your own pathetic existence for you have nothing compared to me.

StacyMorgan
StacyMorgan

@Ghislane100 @StacyMorgan

>The simple FACT is that HE DID.<

And yet you still have provided absolutely no evidence of it. Now, why is that?

You know, Ghizzy, I'm sure there's an exclusive and veddy, veddy expensive facility in England where you could get man/pedis and massages in between your sessions with your psychiatrist.

Ghislane100
Ghislane100

@StacyMorgan @Ghislane100 How the hell would I know why the filthy murderer you support and admire would be so stupid to access animal porn on his college computer?

The simple FACT is that HE DID.  You carry on squirming, there is no way out of this just as there is no way out of the fact that the Supreme Court has ordered a re-trial, has designated the Hellmann on to the rubbish tip as a result of it's criminally intentional bastardisation of the truth and will have an easy job giving Sollecito and Knox their life sentences back!

I am the one with good cause to laugh.  You had better get used to the fact that you are on the losing team across the board; in life and in your support.  Good luck with that!

StacyMorgan
StacyMorgan

@Ghislane100 @StacyMorgan

Aw, Ghizzy, you do make me laugh. Your tirades are nothing if not amusing once one gets past the initial shock of so much venom and hate being spewed.

> Her lies are so easily disproven.<

And yet, you don't provide any evidence at all of your "college computers" allegation. Why on earth would a computer science major with 2 computers of his own (and I can only assume the other boys had their own computers in this day and age) bother to use a college computer?

Ghislane100
Ghislane100

@StacyMorgan @Ghislane100 Another lame arse response from this animal porn defender who, in addition to finding animal abuse perfectly acceptable, is also a filthy great liar.  

Morgan claims Sollecito did not own the porn, it belonged to other boys.  Funny that!  In fact, Sollecito watched animal porn on the college's computers and it was therefore easy for the college to trace the offender back to the student using the computer at that time.

Stupid Morgan!  Her lies are so easily disproven.

Morgan has no case to rest.  She has no valid points, she has not even bothered taking the time to research the official Reports and judicial evidence.

The Galati is now on line ripping to shreds the criminally incompetent Helman and it looks as though repercussions are coming his way thanks to the little fact that his Appeal has broken Italian law repeatedly.  Further proof that Knox groupies like Morgan base their views on bs.

Slink back to your windowless basement bedsit Morgan, back to the world of minimum wage misery.