Parkland school shooter’s death penalty trial: Experts mention mental health terms during testimony

The public defenders who are trying to save the Parkland school shooter’s life are focusing their case on his childhood development and mental health before the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill asked Carolyn Deakins and Danielle Woodard, Cruz’s biological maternal half-sister, to testify about Cruz’s biological mother’s addiction to crack cocaine, alcohol, and cigarettes and her use during pregnancy.

McNeill also asked other witnesses — including a school counselor, a therapist, and a psychologist — who met Cruz as a child in kindergarten and elementary school to describe the challenges that he and his adoptive mother faced.

Here is a list of some of the terminology experts have referred to or mentioned during their testimony:

Developmental delay

Pediatricians evaluate basic developmental progress by focusing on the changes in motor, cognitive, social, and emotional skills from conception through birth. When the progress is consistently slow, physicians recommend therapeutic interventions such as speech therapy, and a special education plan, according to Yale Medicine experts.

Susan Hendler-Lubar, Anne Marie Fischer, and John Newnham testified meeting Cruz as a student in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, or elementary school and reported that he had a special education plan due to developmental delays.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Frederick M. Kravitz, a clinical psychologist, said he agreed with Cruz’s ADHD diagnosis, which caused him to have trouble paying attention and controlling impulsive behaviors. The common disorder can cause difficulty at school and can be treated with a combination of behavior therapy and medication, according to the CDC.

Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD)

Kravitz said Cruz was diagnosed with ODD, a behavior disorder characteristic of defiance and hostility toward authority figures. ADHD makes it more likely for children to have ODD, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

“His acting out, tantrums, anger outbursts, low frustration tolerance, refusing to do things, running away at times,” Kravitz said listing Cruz’s ODD symptoms.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Kravitz said Cruz displayed some symptoms of OCD. The common anxiety disorder causes irrational thoughts, fears, or worries that some manage through rituals or compulsions that help stop or ease the obsessive thoughts, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

“He repeats questions three or four times … he did have some obsessive qualities … he would cross out writing that he did if it wasn’t perfect,” Kravitz said adding Cruz had to “always eat eight chicken nuggets … not seven or eight.”“In the beginning, his fears were excessive, affecting his daily life,” said Caridad Harvey, a licensed mental health counselor who treated Cruz at his home when he was in first grade.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Kravitz said he didn’t diagnose him with ASD, but observed “autistic tendencies” such as withdrawal and delayed language skills. According to The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, patients often have problems with social communication and interaction and restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests that make life challenging.

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