By Kim Stagliano
I live 15 miles from Sandy Hook, CT, where Adam Lanza brutally murdered his mother, 26 elementary school students and their teachers and staff members just under two years ago. Speculation in the media was that Adam had autism or Asperger's Syndrome. My heart sunk. The thought process - "autism = violent behavior" bothered me very much.
Chris Harper-Mercer, the man who murdered so many people in Oregon is also falling under the autism umbrella in the media - because he attended a school that accepts students with emotional disturbance COMMA and Autism and Asperger's. Remember the book, Eat Shoots and Leaves? Could be about violence, or, with the simple addition of a comma, a book about koala bears. Even if he had a formal Asperger's diagnosis, his violent behavior would seem to signify co-morbid mental illness and/or brain injury.
I have so many friends whose sons are on the spectrum - they have enough issues with socialization, peer interactions and finding their way in the world without people turning a jaundiced eye toward them simply because of their diagnosis.
Yesterday, there was a horrible FB page that equated autism and shooters. The sting remains. Many of us have reported this hate age.
At the same time, if you know me, you know I also rail against the "normalization" of autism as just another way of thinking, or a brain difference. I think this denies the real struggles of autism and Asperger's. I think it alters the response to needs for funding and support and medical care and treatment and prevention and housing and employment and schooling and the list goes on for a mile.
After Lanza, I spoke on CBS Radio.
“I don’t want people to hear Asperger’s and think mass murderer,” she said. “If anything, people with Asperger’s tend to adhere to rules, adhere to laws. They prefer order so this anarchy that Adam Lanza created is anathema to what typically would be an Asperger’s diagnosis.”
She said she would be interested to see what medications Lanza may have been taking so medical professionals could try to determine if they played any role in triggering the rampage.
“We really do need to look at the medications. Pharmaceuticals tend to be left out of the equation and I think they may be a very big part of it,” she added.
Adam Lanza's father described his son as having Asperger's Syndrome. Our Editor Dan Olmsted countered Lanza's comments with the following, to show the interchangeability of terms. The diagnostic alphabet soup that is like pea soup, not a clear consomme. Dan wrote:
Well, if he didn’t speak until he was three, he didn’t have Asperger’s. Straight from my hefty copy of DSM-IV, retrieved from the box in the garage: “In contrast to Autistic Disorder, there are no clinically significant delays in language (e.g., single words are used by age 2 years, communicative phrases are used by age 3 years).”
Now you tell me, but assuming his own father has his personal history right, Adam as an infant did have clinically significant delays in language. So if he had an ASD, it had to be autistic disorder or PDD-NOS.
You can read Dan's post here.
Back in 2007, I wrote a similar post on Huffington Post, after the shooting at Virginia Tech.
Autism is the new term for psychotic behavior? I THINK NOT.
There are posts buzzing about the autism lists that the media is saying the murderer at Virginia Tech was autistic. Perhaps a relative in S. Korea uttered the word and it got into a press report? Not one individual who has worked with or taught the man has mentioned autism as far as I know. That doesn't mean the rumors aren't already flying.