November 18, 2004

Cake and Aspergers

Saw this story being discussed on a web board:

Poison cake sickens students

Two 13-year-old seventh-grade girls from Cobb County, Ga., were held on assault charges Wednesday after being accused of serving poisoned cake to about a dozen students who later became ill and went to a hospital.

It’s upsetting (and hard to imagine why) that these girls would do such a thing. But here’s what bothers me, personally, about the story. The father mentions that one of the girls has Aspergers. We don’t know anything else about the situation of these girls except that one has Aspergers. The press is choosing to report that as if it is significant detail, but there is no indication it is significant at all. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people come away from the story thinking that Aspergers makes someone likely to poison people.

I feel it necessary to point out that people with Aspergers tend to be gullible. It is quite possible that the girl who suffers from it was succumbing to peer pressure, if Aspergers played any part in this incident at all. It’s not an excuse (neither is Aspergers) but in lieu of decent reporting we are left to wonder why it is implied that Aspergers is worthy of reporting.

So, I fully expect the opinions of ignorant people to begin flooding in, telling us what Aspergers is without ever having met someone with the syndrome. But I suppose the many-eyed beast needs to be fed.

Posted by James at November 18, 2004 10:40 AM
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Perhaps it's an attempt at more accurate reporting, and we can now expect to read future stories sprinkled with other details such as "the alleged perpetrator is red/green colorblind" and "the woman who was attacked has celiac."

Seriously, though...this may have seemed an exotic detail the reporter couldn't leave out, or was encouraged to believe was important. Pity he or she didn't take the time to figure out if it was germain.

Posted by: Patti M. at November 18, 2004 12:54 PM

The upshot is, maybe we will learn something about Aspergers. However, with this kind of introduction, I'm skeptical it will be a net gain.

Posted by: James at November 18, 2004 1:10 PM

That website requires a signup to read the story, but the version on the ABCnews website doesn't mention the Asperger's. It does, however, describe the cake in gruesome detail.

Posted by: Julie at November 18, 2004 1:29 PM

Ok, share. What's gruesome about a cake? Body patts? Animal fur? What?!

Posted by: Patti M. at November 18, 2004 2:23 PM

it's the same sort of thing that makes them write "it's a pity she was killed she was such a beautiful girl"

Implying that no one would care that she got killed if she were ugly. Or how they always mention the racial/ethnic background of a criminal if he's somewhat less then pinky-white.

It sells papers. They were never intended to bring you information, that's just a side effect. I never read the damn things.

Posted by: Rui at November 18, 2004 3:26 PM

The actual "cake" was cornbread. That doesn't sound so bad, does it? I mean, it's not exactly cake, but it's still food, right?

But it was supposed to pass for cake, so they frosted it. This was not a quick-and-dirty Crisco + sugar combo. It was a mixture of bleach, powdered clay, Tabasco sauce, and an unspecified expired prescription drug.

Posted by: Julie at November 18, 2004 3:28 PM

The last paragraph of the ABCnews site story contains the Aspergers reference:

Posted by: Pat at November 18, 2004 3:56 PM

That's not the same version that was posted this morning. This morning's version also didn't talk about the father's apology.

This new version also says the doctors told the parents that the girl shouldn't be in a "conventional school setting."

It doesn't say which one of the girls was charged with "terroristic acts" and "interfering with government property," but those charges seem a little much under the circumstances, regardless.

Posted by: Julie at November 18, 2004 4:02 PM

This is all very interesting.

When James first told me the story, I wondered how many bites of bleach and tabasco sauce cornbread one can get down with a smile. Ah, I think Dear Abby is the real cuplrit here. If only we weren't all so damn polite.

As far as doctors telling the parents the girl shouldn't be in a school setting, that's also interesting. In this state, at least, although I think it's under Federal guidelines and not State, an asperger's child can have a one-on-one aide, whispering in their ear how to reply to every statement made by a peer or adult in a social situation, among other things.

Just because a doctor says a child shouldn't be in a traditional school setting, however, does not make that happen. The school system might prefer to mainstream such a child, rather than pay to send them to a private institution. Both options are very expensive.

I assume the cake was made at somebody's home, and not at school??

Was the school comment made just to clue us in as to how impaired the girl is? Then it is the parents' fault, if that's the case.

Posted by: Maggie at November 18, 2004 6:46 PM

What I don't get is how anyone could get near that "cake" without smelling something foul and saying "Nuh-uh. I'm not eating that." I mean bleach? Tabasco? Those are not exactly mild smells that are easily covered.

Posted by: briwei at November 18, 2004 7:00 PM

Mmmmmmm, Tabasco frosting

Thought we needed a Homer moment there.

Posted by: Pat at November 18, 2004 7:27 PM

The father said they were playing in the kitchen. Somehow, Dad knew that they were playing in the kitchen with an oven, but managed not to notice the clay-bleach-drugs-tabasco combo.

Supervisory failure aside, most dads would demand to sample any baked goods that were made in their presence. I have to wonder if Dad was in on the joke.

Posted by: Julie at November 19, 2004 10:03 AM

"Both admitted to teachers and police that they served other students a cake made of corn bread, bleach, glue and Tabasco sauce, covered with green icing made from Play-Doh."

Ok, let's take this step by step.

To Julie's point, where were the parents and/or parent when this "cake" was being created?

To Brian's point, how does anyone manage to get this past his or her nose? And a Play-Doh "frosting"? Come on.

The next bit makes me wonder if this kid has Aspergers:

"Talent, the father said, is a gift that comes with Asperger syndrome, a form of autism affecting highly functional people who often say inappropriate things and have difficulty relating to others.

"Her father said he has tried to discourage her from pursuing acting until she could get treatment for the disorder."

Huh? This does not make sense.

Beyond that, why do we not hear from the parent(s) of the _other_ kid who made this "cake"?

Posted by: Patti M. at November 19, 2004 10:24 AM

"Supervisory failure aside, most dads would demand to sample any baked goods that were made in their presence."

Heck, I demand first dibs on the baked goods.

Posted by: James at November 19, 2004 10:39 AM

Play-Doh? Seriously? Well, there's another problem with the ABC article(s), then - they said clay. You can get clay in powdered form (used mostly for cosmetic purposes) and that's what I thought they meant. It doesn't smell like anything.

Play-Doh isn't clay - it's "modelling compound." (Nitpick.) Both it and glue stink, and I don't know how you could make a spreadable frosting from them. It doesn't dry nicely either. Oh well. The green was a nice touch.

You don't have to have Asperger's to play a dirty trick on people, but the father sounds like he might have some issues of his own.

I'd love to hear what the other girl's parents have to say.

In defense of the children who ate this cakelike product, you have to realize that they were in the lunchroom at the time. Do you remember what your school lunches were like? As a student, you sometimes have to lower your standards on what you consider food.

Posted by: Julie at November 19, 2004 11:04 AM

As a parent of a child with Asperger's Syndrome, a boy, 12, I do understand the syndrome, though each child presents with their own set of symptoms. So, you can not generalize. However, an overriding symptom is difficulty with social rules, modulating voice and behavior, and often do and say inappropriate things.

The making and serving of the cake is obviously wrong. However, the bit that bothers me the most, and I mean it really upsets me, is that the two girls were treated differently by the courts. The one, an A+ student and no previous behavior problems, was released to home under 24-hour supervision, and a case worker to check on her 5 times a day. The other girl, the one with Asperger's, was held in the juvenile detention center, though reportedly moved to a less restrictive group home, BUT STILL NOT HOME. She was held due to having previous behavioral issues and issuing terroristing threats (one report states that the threat was when she told the girls after they ate the cake what was in it - that is a terroristic threat?), and some reports state she interfered with government property (have no idea what led to that charge).

The girl released suppposedly did not take the cake to school (it had to be at home house or the other, so they both could not have taken it!), nor did she serve it.

So, honors student, no previous behavioral issues, though still guilty of making the cake, and she gets to go home??

I can almost guarantee that the child with Asperger's that is now in a "group home" is freaking out, being separated from her home and family. Children with Asperger's, by the way, which is on the high functioning end of the Autism Spectrum, typically have difficulties with transitions, change, and upset with their routine.

Her family, too, must feel the injustice in the differing treatment of the two. I am so upset by this that if anyone has a way to appropriately voice my opinion, I'd like to know how. It doesn't seem enough to post to the web.

Posted by: Sue at November 20, 2004 11:22 PM

Thanks for your comment, Sue. I don't know what we can do about this except make sure that our schools understand something about Asperger's. We're lucky to live in a state (and an area) where there is a fairly high level of understanding and accomodation for all sorts of students. But even here, parents need to be active in making sure their children are getting the type of attention they need.

Also, it helps to have a mother-in-law who is a developmental psychologist.

Posted by: James at November 21, 2004 2:23 AM

Sue, I think this is why James was upset with the article to begin with -- that people seemed to focus on the asperger's aspect, yet the article didn't explain it at all.

Shouldn't the girl who *doesn't* have impaired judgement be the one to be punished??

But don't you think, as an asperger's parent, that the child would have been supervised more closely? Ours is only nine, so I guess I don't know what it'll be like in a few years. But *playing in the kitchen*?? My friends don't let their older children "play" in the kitchen, and they're developmentally typical.

I agree, it is the child who is suffering here. I guess I hope that if we advocate for our children, this won't happen to them.


Posted by: Maggie at November 22, 2004 8:13 AM

Even a child with Asperger's knows right from wrong.

Posted by: katie at November 22, 2004 2:09 PM

Katie wrote:
"Even a child with Asperger's knows right from wrong."

That's a very strange statement. Everybody's "right" and "wrong" are different. Plenty of typical kids don't know right from wrong.

You might say that a kid with Asperger's is as likely to have a sense of right and wrong as any other kid, but I wouldn't agree.

Kids with Asperger's are very gullible. They do not pick up on facial expression, tone of voice, and body language. My daughter *never* looks anyone in the face while they're speaking. She only hears the words. She has done things in school that surprise me, because another kid was doing it. Another kid who didn't have the same idea of right and wrong that I have.

I have no idea what the particular situation with the corn-bread child is, but I can easily see my own daughter, left without a voice of reason, making the cornbread and *planning* with the other girl to bring it to school. The other girl knows it's a fantasy, or chickens out. The Asperger's girl doesn't, because it was a plan.

Posted by: Maggie at November 22, 2004 2:35 PM

I have a hard time imagining our daughter actually handing out a cake like that and letting people eat it.

Posted by: James at November 22, 2004 3:18 PM

I have no idea why the child with Asperger's was put in a group home, but perhaps--perhaps--it's because the father wasn't doing a great job keeping her safe from others who put her up to dangerous stunts like this. If the child lacks reasoning skills, then the parent _must_ take on that job.

What parent lets his kid play in the kitchen--Asperger's or no--without checking up on him or her or at the very least being curious as to what was created?

Posted by: Patti M. at November 22, 2004 3:19 PM

James, you're right, but she is a very high-functioning Asperger's and a person who means well. If that were reduced, and the side of her personality that wants revenge were magnified, I can imagine it.

Posted by: Maggie at November 22, 2004 4:23 PM


Yes, our children require supervision. I would have supervised my son in the kitchen, as I do frequently, as baking and devising recipes is a favorite thing to do for my son. I also, would not allow him to carry something to school that he concocted in the kitchen, unless it was something I assisted with.

Investigation is necessary in this case, but investigation of the whole situation, which includes both girls.

I am merely advocating for parallel justice.

Posted by: Sue at November 22, 2004 7:22 PM


I agree. The other girl should take equal or more responsibility. It sounds pretty ridiculous, but we don't know everything. Maybe the Asperger's girl comes from a home where she's not getting the supervision and advocacy she needs. It sounds like that could be the case.

Posted by: Maggie at November 22, 2004 8:34 PM

Is it possible that a child can reach the age of 13 before being diagnosed with Asperger's, as this story states?

"The father said his daughter was diagnosed this summer with Asperger's syndrome, and that doctors told him the girl should not be in a conventional school setting."

Wouldn't there be signs in the child's life that would lead to a diagnosis earlier on? I ask because I truly don't know.

Posted by: Patti M. at November 23, 2004 10:41 AM

It seems like if she's truly too impaired to go to a regular school, someone ought to have noticed a problem a little sooner.

Unless, of course, her parents weren't paying much attention to her. Which goes back to the dad's failure to supervise, and his bizarre comments about her pursuing an acting career, which suggest that the guy just has no clue as to what's important.

Going back to the point of James's original post, I don't think the girl's alleged Asperger's is really the issue here. Obviously, the dad likes that he can use it an excuse, but it doesn't provide a satisfactory explanation for what happened.

Posted by: Julie at November 23, 2004 11:00 AM

Bingo, Julie.

I get an uneasy feeling about the dad's comments, and I wonder if this girl really has Asperger's at all. If she doesn't, he's done a huge disservice to the thousands of children and their families who struggle with this disorder every day.

If she does, the clumsy handling of the disorder in this story, by all involved, may erode the hard-won social acceptance some have achieved.

Posted by: Patti M. at November 23, 2004 11:25 AM


Yes, children can be 13, and older, before being diagnosed with Asperger's. First, it did not go into the DSM IV before 1994 AS a diagnosis. Until then, children often were either mis-diagnosed or not even diagnosed with anything.

Girls are much better at compensating for their disorders, of any nature I believe is what has been written on compensatory mechanisms.

It often comes to a head with a particular situation that finally breaks the camels back. Then the parents decide to pursue the situation and get help.

And, pediatricians and general medicine doctors often still do not understand the symptoms of Asperger's and say things like, the child will outgrow this. They are just acting out.

And, many parents are in denial that anything could be wrong with their child.

There are so many things that can prevent a diagnosis. I tend to be very upfront with whatever is wrong and seek help early on. Who wants to contend with problems when help could be found? Unfortunately, many people just keep trudging on instead of seeking help.

Posted by: Sue at November 23, 2004 1:02 PM

Oh, and by the way, I am hoping the father is not using the diagnosis to get his daughter off. My biggest concern is that the two girls were treated differently at the hearing on Friday when the one was released to parents (under supervision) whereas the other was kept under state supervision.

Posted by: Sue at November 23, 2004 1:04 PM

Usually with Aspergers comes a list of other disorders due to social isolation ans wanting to fit in....What she did was totally wrong because Asperger children know the difference.

Posted by: at February 16, 2005 6:46 PM

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