Autism and Involuntary Commitment


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In every state in the U.S. and in every province in Canada, as well as in countries around the world, there are laws that pertain to involuntary commitment.  These laws state that if an individual is in imminent danger of harming themselves or others, they can be hospitalized against their will for a set period of time (usually three to five days).  It’s an incorrect belief that in order to be involuntarily committed, the individual has to have a diagnosed mental illness. 

The determining factor isn’t whether the individual has a mental illness; the determining factor is the degree of danger the individual poses to himself or herself and to others. It’s up to the medical profession to determine if this danger is the result of a mental health issue, diagnosed or undiagnosed at the time of admission to the hospital.

A person cannot be involuntarily committed because they hold political views or social opinions that are not mainstream.  A person cannot be involuntarily committed because they have had a number of run-ins with the law or have been found guilty of one or more crimes.  A person cannot be involuntarily committed because they have a diagnosis for a disability, disorder or disease that is found in the DSM-IV-TR (or any of the previous editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). 

According to mental health professionals, involuntary commitment is used as a last resort and is limited to instances where persons pose a serious risk of physical harm to themselves or others, and where less restrictive alternatives to addressing the imminent danger cannot respond adequately to the risk.  The reason for this is because the individual’s civil rights and liberties weigh heavily in making a decision to involuntarily commit an individual for any period of time.

It is understood that all persons, whether there is a mental health issue at play, are competent most of the time.  Yes, even if the person has a very serious mental illness, the premise is that all people are competent most of the time.

It is understood that involuntary commitment cannot be imposed on individuals on the basis that they destroyed property or were a risk of non-physical harm to themselves or to others.

On August 3, a comment was posted to the MIC blog article, “Asperger Syndrome and James Holmes.”  The comment included a number of inaccurate stereotypes about individuals with Asperger Syndrome.  In particular, the visitor posting under the pseudonym psychology101 stated: 

They can also show great anger and rage.”

Is it a stereotype or a fact that individuals with a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome have a greater amount of anger and rage than those who do not have a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome?

According to the criteria used for diagnosis Asperger Syndrome, whether the medical practitioner relies on the DSM or the ICD (International Classification of Diseases endorsed by the World Health Organizations in May 1990 ), there is no mention of “great anger and rage” as part of the symptomology of Asperger Syndrome.  In fact, the ICD-10 states specifically that Asperger Syndrome is a “combination of a lack of any clinically significant general delay in language or cognitive development plus, as with autism, the presence of qualitative deficiencies in reciprocal social interaction and restricted, repetitive, stereotyped patterns of behaviour, interests, and activities.  There may or may not be problems in communication similar to those associated with autism, but significant language retardation would rule out the diagnosis.”

In researching this blog article, I came across an entry by Melanie Yergeau wrote in December 2011 and posted to her personal blog site.  Melanie Yergeau is the ASAN Board Chair.

She is also the President of the ASAN Ohio State chapter.

Last December, Melanie Yergeau wrote about being involuntarily committed.  Her entry began with this introduction to the situation:

Sarah wrote in part:  “It sounds to me like none of the professionals have a freaking clue about what’s going on.”

Laurentius Rex wrote:  “My autism tells them to go [word removed by MIC] themselves if they have either the agility or the endowment.”

ASAN and AWN member, Lydia Brown (who is an intern at ASAN’s national office as well as the Volunteer: Information Resources for the Autism Women’s Network) wrote in part:  “By the way, what you describe is a perfect and horrifying and terrifying example of de-legitimization. Nothing you say matters anymore, because you can’t possibly understand or communicate, because, well, that’s just autism.”

The tone of the entry was that autism was the reason Melanie Yergeau was involuntarily committed to the “psych ward at the university hospital” by her “ex-doctors” and “former therapist.” 

Having autism is not a valid or recognized reason for involuntarily committed.  Doing so would place Melanie Yergeau’s “ex-doctors” and “former therapist” in danger of having their accreditation as medical, licensed practitioners suspended or revoked.  It would also place these “ex-doctors” and “former therapist” — and anyone who involved themselves with assisting them in the involuntary commitment — in danger of lawsuits as well as having formal charges laid against them by the authorities. 

For that reason alone, those who have the power to have someone involuntarily committed for observation are loathe to exercise that power except in extreme circumstances. 

And what are those extreme circumstances, again, where someone in power would risk having another individual involuntarily committed?  It would have to be a case where the individual to be involuntarily committed posed a serious risk of physical harm to himself/herself or others, and where less restrictive alternatives to addressing the imminent danger could not respond adequately to the risk.

When someone diagnosed or self-diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome claims that his or her autism is the reason he or she was involuntarily committed to a “psych ward” is it any wonder that people like psychology101 have the skewed perception of Asperger Syndrome that they do?

Elyse Bruce
Founder and Creator
MIDNIGHT IN CHICAGO

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17 Responses to “Autism and Involuntary Commitment”

  1. Lawyer Says:

    Try getting input from an actual attorney familiar with the civil commitment system before posting this sort of misinformation. You state that it’s unnecessary to have a diagnosed mental illness to be committed; this is totally untrue. Mental disability is a necessary precondition and developmental disability, including autism, is sufficient.

    People can be held involuntarily for a certain period of time, based on only a reasonable suspicion of mental illness and dangerousness, before receiving a hearing. The reason hearings are necessary is that sometimes psychiatrists are *wrong*. The fact that someone has been involuntarily hospitalized fire a period of time, without actually being committed after a hearing, is not proof they were ever dangerous.

    By implying Ms. Yergeau wad ever dangerous, you are committing defamation and may be sued in the state of Michigan or your own home state. Just a warning.

    • midnightinchicago Says:

      Research done on the article indicated that a diagnosis of a mental illness alone is not sufficient for an involuntary commitment.

      You have stated yourself that there must be a reasonable suspicion of danger. This is a determination that can only be made by licensed and accredited medical professionals who are recognized as having expertise in making the decision as to whether someone should be held against his or her will in a medical facility.

      The article does not state, nor does it imply, that Ms. Yergeau is dangerous now, was dangerous in the past, or will be dangerous in the future.

      The linkage to Ms. Yergeau’s blog article on her own blog site — as well as other reputable links — was included in this blog article to allow readers and visitors to read what Ms. Yergeau wrote in December 2011.

      • Lawyer Says:

        You stated: “It’s an incorrect belief that in order to be involuntarily committed, the individual has to have a diagnosed mental illness.” That is completely untrue in every state.

        Your post implied that the only case in which someone would be involuntarily committed is “a case where the individual to be involuntarily committed posed a serious risk of physical harm to himself/herself or others, and where less restrictive alternatives to addressing the imminent danger could not respond adequately to the risk.” This is a) an implication that Ms. Yergeau actually met those criteria – an implication not warranted from Ms. Yergeau’s actual blog – and b) only half true: the professional need only suspect such a risk. However, in almost every state it is possible to involuntarily detain someone in the hospital for observation prior to a hearing, on less than clear and convincing evidence of dangerousness. Dangerousness is determined at the hearing, not pre-detention.

        For example, the commenter below mentioned Ohio. In Ohio, the standard for detention in a hospital prior to a commitment hearing is probable cause – the equivalent of the standard required for a search warrant. Just as not everyone whose house is searched committed a crime, not everyone who is involuntarily detained in hospital actually posed a serious risk. Clinicians themselves openly admit that this is not an exact science, and they are frequently mistaken on this point; moreover, I see no evidence that clinicians actually fear lawsuits over wrongful detention more than they fear lawsuits over failing to detain someone (even in states where they’re statutorily protected from such lawsuits), and that therefore their standard for detaining someone is in practice at all higher than probable cause. Your focus on the idea that this determination is made by “licensed clinicians” appears aimed at convincing readers that these clinicians were correct; however, even most clinicians would discourage readers from arriving at such a conclusion.

        Moreover, it is possible to base such probable cause entirely on autism or symptoms of autism; in Ohio, evidence amounting to probable cause that “the person is unable to provide for and is not providing for the person’s basic physical needs because of the person’s mental illness” – that is, difficulty attending to activities of daily living – is sufficient.

        A disclaimer that I should have included last time, but was on my phone: I am licensed in DC. My comments should not be interpreted as legal advice. I do not represent Ms. Yergeau or any individual mentioned in this post.

      • midnightinchicago Says:

        MIDNIGHT IN CHICAGO confirms that Ari Ne’eman, President and Founder of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network has stated in a newsletter that was publicly disseminated that Samantha Crane is an ASAN ally.

        Quote from Volume 2.0 (January 2012) of the ASAN newsletter as posted on WrongPlanet: “And yet, here we were, many of the friends I’ve made at ASAN over the years and I, along with allies such as Carol Quirk and Barbara Trader of TASH, Samantha Crane of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law and Policy, and senior policymakers and members of the Obama administration.”

        LINK: http://www.wrongplanet.net/postt187035.html

        Please note that the link does NOT open in a separate window.

        MIDNIGHT IN CHICAGO confirms that Samantha Crane claims she does “not represent Ms. Yergeau or any individual mentioned in this post.”

        MIDNIGHT IN CHICAGO has no knowledge if Samantha Crane is speaking on behalf of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN).

  2. Yvonne Mikulencak Says:

    What is the real Bedlam, today?

    Too many people are misusing Autism as an excuse for either co morbid disorders or unethical/immoral behavior (nature or nurture), and having nothing to do with Autism. If the person’s behavior is a conundrum to people, then in their feeble minds, IT MUST be AUTISM.

    I do not see the real reasons she was placed in a hospital for examination. To say it was autism, by anyone with what information presented, is prejudicial propaganda. We do not know what happened. What bothers me is that this propaganda is being promoted by the self Advocacy groups, with little facts and all “victim hysteria” emotion. To me advocacy is about truth and support, not bullying tactics with made up scenarios of autism , when one of their own, gets into trouble or they want to just harass a group or a person. This discredits all autistic people and does not serve Autism knowledge for the general public.

    Yes, the doctors involved and anyone involved would be complicit to false imprisonment if the diagnosis did not fit the criteria for commitment. Nothing has been presented by either the committed nor the two advocacy groups, as legitimate claims that it was, indeed, autism, nor what she was doing to bring this commitment to fruition. It’s basically misusing the case to gain attention and give false justification to hostile aggression techniques in the name of advocacy.

    I am beginning to wonder how the term,” advocacy”, is being morphed from its original definition of “public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy” to a basic bully gang behavior with no real facts presented? Facts left out and emotional rumor and spin replacing it.

    It seems Bedlam is no longer between 4 walls of an asylum, but in cyberspace, as remote gossip mills, by advocacy groups and individuals.

  3. Yvonne Mikulencak Says:

    Addendum: What bothers me even more are professionals on the active boards of these advocacy groups and individual professionals who engage, support, and propagate this unethical and immoral action or behavior.

  4. Yvonne Mikulencak Says:

    I think the Lawyer should present his/her Bar license No. and State of licensing, so the readers would not think he/she is misrepresenting their sense of authority. I am not a licensed attorney but I will share the following….. Mr/Ms Lawyer please read.

    St of Michigan: http://www.michbar.org/journal/article.cfm?articleID=161&volumeID=14&viewType=archiv

    • midnightinchicago Says:

      The link below is from the Ohio Legal Rights Service website.

      State of Ohio: http://www.olrs.ohio.gov/sites/olrs.ohio.gov/files/u5/ohio-involuntary-civil-commit-process.pdf

      For more information on the Ohio Legal Rights Service, please feel free to click on this link, or to copy and paste it into your browser.

      LINK: http://www.olrs.ohio.gov/about-olrs

      You can also reach the Ohio Legal Rights Service website by using “Ohio Legal Rights Service” as search parameters in your browser of choice.

      According to the Ohio Legal Rights Service website, the independent agency of the State of Ohio will be re-designated as Disability Rights Ohio on October 1, 2012.

    • Lawyer Says:

      The email I used for this comment includes my real name, and I mentioned that I’m licensed in DC. DCbar.org permits people to look up attorneys by name, which I encourage the blog admin to do (although I will point out that the place of employment that shows up is out of date).

      I am aware of Michigan’s civil commitment laws. They do not change my opinion. Moreover, Yvonne, you are incorrect that doctors are liable for “false imprisonment” if they make the wrong determination; in fact, detained individuals are frequently later determined by the court not to meet the detention criteria. This is something that’s downright expected to happen. I’m not sure why you believe your link supports your position in any way.

      • Yvonne Mikulencak Says:

        Lawyer, I have no idea if you are licensed or not, its not listed here, so I cannot conclude you are a licensed attorney. For all I know you are a disbarred attorney or someone’s uncle who is an internet delusional attorney at law. As for representing someone, I have no idea if they contracted with you to represent them, if you are a licensed attorney,, or you are here as a representative in another hat. Link was not about my comment but the ones before… I will change my first comment about the doctors from Would to Could. too fast typing in the weee hours of the morning, ill fitting reading glasses , and a lap top on my stomach along with two dogs.. As for the link.. that is not the context it was given. I will let you figure that one out :) Good to meet you cyber counsel.

  5. ZoomRocket Says:

    Of all the “lawyers” in the world who could have responded to this post, ONLY one “lawyer” that is an ally of ASAN has responded.

    Interesting.

    Especially since the post had to do with involuntary commitment and the terms under which someone can be committed involuntarily.

  6. Yvonne Mikulencak Says:

    I dont have the email address of Lawyer, but a Samantha Crane , J.D. writes articles on ASAN or am I wrong? . . Am I wrong that Samantha Crane J.D. is working for the Federal government and under their payroll paid for by tax dollars? Is it true that Ari Ne’eman had a political appointment to the Disability Board for the Federal Government? Is Samantha Crane J D. giving special legal attention to ASAN due to the Obama connect of board and job or did they just meet one day in a strange alley unknown to each other? Do the other organizations on the Federal Disabiliity board get the same attention or service or do only Obama supporters get that attention? “LAWYER” B U Samantha Crane, J.D.? So many questions and so little time or answers. As for someone who was involuntarily committed by their employer….How do they manage being the Director of a board for ASAN group? This case is interesting. Almost like an Agatha Christie mystery.

  7. Mike Says:

    If an ASAN board member writes pornographic stories that depict the sexual abuse of children or mentally ill individuals, I wonder if allied ASAN lawyers warn them that this may not be in the legal interest of an organization that advocates for children and people on the autism spectrum.

    If someone like Michelle Dawson accuses ASAN of various acts toward her, I wonder if ASAN allied lawyers tell the founder of ASAN that it may not be in the best interest of an organization that advocates for people on the autism spectrum to behave toward Dawson in the manner in which she describes.

    http://midnightinchicago.wordpress.com/?s=michelle+dawson

    Maybe the law as it is described in the response above from the ASAN allied lawyer only applies to everyone else, and not ASAN specifically.

    One thing is for sure, if I were a lawyer, I doubt I’d be allied with ASAN.

  8. Yvonne Mikulencak Says:

    WOW! The Plot Thickens! http://autismgadfly.blogspot.com/2010_10_01_archive.html Two Female attorneys involved with ASAN? And here I was going to ask Samantha Crain/Crane for an appointment, since she was not representing Ari Ne’eman ASAN nor Sharon Davanport of AWN, to represent me in a very strong possible defamation case of an egregious nature against AWA. Where is Hercule Poirot?? or Mrs Marple??

    • Yvonne Mikulencak Says:

      Or who is “LAWYER”? Samantha Crain/Crane or Michelle Dawson or? Is there another involved? This is confusing. I remember someone writing accusing me of being some “name” that was attacking them. I knew the person was a paranoid loon. I never heard of the “name”, yet they threatened me with defamation and legal counsel going after me. I just shook my head and knew these people never even had a real job in their life or could hold one. I have the emails. It was constant tirades of me being some “name” I never heard of.. Later I learned someone else was doing such a deed and the persons thought it was me.. But it was made public all over the place and I never received an apology when it was discovered it was a totally different person. Sort of like telling people you won a contest when you really didn’t. Now what kind of mentality would do that. People who lie often are paranoid because they believe others do the despicable things they engage in. You never see an apology or retraction..

  9. Pleasantly Eccentric Says:

    AWA is an educational organization and believes critical thinking skills are extremely important when allying oneself to organizations. Advocacy is a noble cause, but in the wrong hands and with lack of leadership,wisdom or experience, it can morph into selfish purposes of unbridled attacks against others including those people for whom they claim to be advocating . Knowledge is power. It is important to stand up against hate, evil, and discrimination. Choose your battles wisely. Too many advocacy groups have been the very entity of bullyism they “claim” to fight and evolve into vigilante groups. Place a mirror to your soul when you get involved in such groups. Following a crowd who claims to be heroes may in fact be the very bullies you want to stop. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=271986389583835&set=a.172122956236846.36929.137166373065838&type=1&theater

  10. Pleasantly Eccentric Says:

    In the last few days, I received a statement by a young woman that a kind of the aforementioned groups have made a false statement regarding AWA, creating in the young person that AWA lacks credibility. It was in its information attacking AWA. This is defamatory in a very nasty intentional political with intent. Would “Lawyer” like to contact AWA regarding such behavior and statements to people. I have copies.I would hate to think people who are involved with a Federal group to help disabled people are actually using their power to bully and attack them through false defamatory remarks. People in glass houses should not cast stones especially with stones from a major Government entity as their catapult AND especially against honorable good AS organizations who are empowering Autistic people. Some groups need to walk the talk of honor and not engage in the very bullyism they claim to battle. I think it’s time for some of us to contact our Federal representatives both houses regarding this abuse of power against disabled people politically.


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