By Anne Dachel
When I first heard of the shooting at UC Santa Barbara on Friday, May 23, I could only hope that it wouldn't be another Adam Lanza, the young man responsible for the CT school shooting in Newtown in 2012. Numerous news outlets said he had high functioning autism--Asperger's Syndrome.
And it was discouraging to see that major new outlets were quick to announce that the Santa Barbara shooter, Elliot Rodger, had Asperger's Syndrome, More than anything else, it was the way they talked about it. It was included in the midst of describing violent and psychotic behavior.
Alan Schifman, the lawyer for Rodger's family, said the 22-year-old was being treated by several therapists and recently his parents and a social worker had become so alarmed by his behavior and his videos that they had reported him to police. Schifman said Rodger had always had trouble making friends and was diagnosed as a high-functioning patient with Asperger's syndrome as a child.
The Associated Press spoke to Alan Shifman, an attorney who represents Elliot's father, Peter Rodger. Shifman told the wire service that Elliot Rodger "was diagnosed at an earlier age of being a highly-functional Asperger Syndrome child."
On Saturday, a family attorney said Elliot Rodger's parents long had concerns about their son's mental health. . . .
Shifman said Elliot Rodger had been diagnosed at a young age with Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism, but did not have a history of gun use.
On May 26th CBS did put out a story with an expert who denied that Asperger's caused someone to commit murder, but they didn't change the story from the 24th.
He was being treated by multiple therapists, according to the lawyer, and had been diagnosed as “a high-functioning patient with Asperger syndrome.”
Elliot Rodger’s Asperger’s syndrome and depression are thought to have played a role in triggering the mass shooting, which many will remember as being talked a lot about in relation to Adam Lanza and the Newtown shootings. The family also brought up the issue of gun control in relation to their son.
Rodger was reportedly under psychiatric care and “diagnosed with ‘highly functional Asperger’s syndrome’ as a child, the BBC reported.
I was surprised to read in the Los Angeles Times, that Simon Astaire, a family friend, said that Elliot Rodger was not diagnosed with Asperger's, but they referred to it as a mental illness.
Astaire said Elliot had not been diagnosed with Asperger’s but the family suspected he was on the spectrum, and had been in therapy for years. He said he knew of no other mental illnesses, but Elliot truly had no friends, as he said in his videos and writings.
I have to mention that NBC News did mention that having Asperger's doesn't necessary mean someone will become a mass murderer. I didn't see others saying this.
At some point, Rodger was diagnosed as having an ultra-high-achieving form of Asperger syndrome, a disorder on the autism spectrum, an attorney for his family said Saturday.
It's important to stress that there has never been any scientific link between Asperger and acts of violence, and there is no claim that Rodger's disorder itself had anything to do with Friday's actions.
Two days after their original story, CBS did put out a piece with an expert saying that Asperger's didn't necessarily lead to violent behavior.
Because Elliot Rodger was born in the UK, there was considerable coverage there. Here are two examples.
UK Daily Mail:
He was diagnosed at an earlier age with Asperger's Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism meaning he had difficulties with social interaction.
Earlier, Peter Rodger's lawyer, Alan Shifman, said that the "family believes the child was the perpetrator".
He said Mr Rodger's son had been "diagnosed at an earlier age of being a highly functional Asperger Syndrome child", had trouble making friends and had been receiving professional help.
I can only think back a month to all the April Autism Awareness stories celebrating the disorder by lighting the world up in blue. No one was really concerned about autism, despite the fact that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had just announced another gigantic rate increase for the disorder that has no known cause, prevention, or cure. The new numbers, one in every 68 children, one in 42 among boys alone, weren't cause for alarm. They didn't make the front pages. There was no demand for answers. Instead, as in all the past increases, one in 166, one in 150, one in 110, one in 88, one in 68, no official would state that it was a real increase. The media eagerly told us that it might just be more better diagnosing of a condition that's always been around.
The media's casual attitude toward these increases only makes one ask, if the rate were one in 10, would anyone care? I've never seen a reporter really look into this. No one asks why the rate is based on studies of eight year olds, not eighty year olds. No one is worried that the numbers may get worse. No one questions how long we're supposed to accept that all the autism is the result of doctors doing their jobs better. No one is concerned that the definition of autism was broadened twenty years ago, but it's cited as the reason the numbers keep going up.
In the absence of telling the American people anything substantial about autism, news reports usually show us happy, typical-looking kids as the face of autism. Almost never do we see the seriously affected kids. The teenagers in diapers who are a danger to themselves and to others. The ones who require 24/7 care.
In the average autism story, we're not told that according to the Kennedy Krieger Institute, half of all autistic children are prone to wandering off or “bolting.” There is no mention that according to experts, 30 percent of children with autism regressed into this condition with loss of learned skills, including speech.
And, according to Autism Speaks, 25 percent of children with autism are diagnosed as nonverbal. This is a significant handicap requiring lifelong support.
Instead, the press usually reports that autism results in a lack of communication skills and an inability at social interaction, which doesn't sound all that bad.
So what about a link to violent behavior? March 10, 2014, the Today Show interviewed Adam Lanza's father who stated, "I wish he had never been born."
"Adam had what was then called Asperger's syndrome and what would now be autism spectrum disorder,'' Solomon said. "He had a certain amount of autism, and the autism made him as his father said, 'very weird.' Because they had a diagnosis, it didn't occur to them that anything else was wrong.
"Whenever Adam was being strange or peculiar, he thought it was just the Asperger's, and he didn't look past it. But Adam saw a huge number of psychiatrists and psychologists, and none of them detected hints of violence. (Peter) said he wishes he tried harder because he said, 'Anything I did differently might have changed the outcome, and the outcome couldn't have been worse or more evil, but at the time I didn't see it.'''
Then on May 21, 2014, the Washington Post published the story, Study: 'Significant' statistical link between mass murder and autism, brain injury.
The public is supposed to accept that autism is a mysterious condition. No one knows anything for sure about the disorder. No one is alarmed. But one thing is making the news, killers can have a diagnosis of autism. It's more the of mystery.
Anne Dachel is Media Editor for Age of Autism and author of The Big Autism Cover-Up: How and Why the Media Is Lying to the American Public, which goes on sale this Fall from Skyhorse Publishing.