Our community is none too pleased to see reports that the Florida shooter "may have had autism." Our children, from tots to teens to twenties and beyond, are not innately cruel. They may be terribly violent at times most often to themselves in what we call "self-injurious behavior," or SIB. Aggression can be fierce and furious and dangerous. I know of "kids" with autism who put their hands through windows, walls, smash furniture, toss rooms, punch family members, bite, pull hair - all of which is a horror for all concerned. But I can't think of many instances of vengeful, targeted violence. Most often, it's a cry for help, the despair of lack of ability to communicate or connect. Behavior in autism is communication. Even the "bad" behavior.
I looked up "reactive attachment disorder," and came across this info from Mayo Clinic. The more benign symptoms look a lot like autism.
Reactive attachment disorder can start in infancy. There's little research on signs and symptoms of reactive attachment disorder beyond early childhood, and it remains uncertain whether it occurs in children older than 5 years.
Signs and symptoms may include:
- Unexplained withdrawal, fear, sadness or irritability
- Sad and listless appearance
- Not seeking comfort or showing no response when comfort is given
- Failure to smile
- Watching others closely but not engaging in social interaction
- Failing to ask for support or assistance
- Failure to reach out when picked up
- No interest in playing peekaboo or other interactive games
The more severe, including cruelty to animals, mentioned in the case of Nikolas Cruz, is nothing like the autism I, and perhaps you, know.
Some research suggests that some children and teenagers with reactive attachment disorder may display callous, unemotional traits that can include behavior problems and cruelty toward people or animals. However, more research is needed to determine if problems in older children and adults are related to experiences of reactive attachment disorder in early childhood.