When it comes to a frightening, devastating incident like that at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on Friday, everyone always wants one thing: answers. And how could you not? When dozens of people die in a seemingly random act of violence, we all need somebody or something to point fingers towards in order to make sense of it all. Many of those things being pointed at are completely valid; for example, gun control is important to think about as a contributor to violence just as much as the lack of available, decent mental health care in our country is. After a law enforcement official said that the 20-year-old killer, Adam Lanza, may have had had Asperger’s Syndrome, many have speculated that this somehow contributed to his violent behavior.
Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild autism spectrum disorder characterized by social difficulties, awkwardness and sometimes patterned behaviors and interests. Experts say, however, that this is not the case.
According to University of California, Los Angeles, assistant clinical professor Elizabeth Laugeson:
“There really is no clear association between Asperger’s and violent behavior… I think it’s far more likely that what happened may have more to do with some other kind of mental health condition like depression or anxiety rather than Asperger’s.”
Apparently, high school classmates described the young man as “bright but painfully shy, anxious and a loner,” which can be characteristic of those with Asperger’s Syndrome. Another psychologist, Eric Butter of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, said that while people with Asperger’s Syndrome may have a higher rate of aggressive, even mildly violent, behavior than the rest of the population, that there’s nothing to suggest that they would be any more likely to commit something on this scale of planning, intention and violence.
“These types of tragedies have occurred at the hands of individuals with many different types of personalities and psychological profiles,” said Butter. In fact, Laugeson says that people with Asperger’s actually tend to be more rule-abiding.
While I fully understand why people are searching for reasons behind this, there is already an incredible stigma surrounding autism spectrum disorders. People often see those with Asperger’s as “weird” because they may or may not exhibit some different behaviors than people are used to. Growing up, I had more than a few friends with Asperger’s in particular and I have never once seen any of them get angry or violent.
So yes, it makes sense to want to point fingers at one aspect of Lanza’s life to say, “Yes! That’s the one! That’s what led him to do this. Now we know.” But it’s not that simple. It’s never that simple. And making Asperger’s Syndrome the scapegoat is not only incorrect, it’s also offensive.