Asperger's Syndrome - An autism spectrum disorder. It is milder than autism but shares some of its symptoms. It is more common in boys than girls. Children with AS have trouble reading social cues and recognizing other people's feelings. They may have strange movements or mannerisms. All of these make it difficult for them to make friends. Problems with motor skills are also common in children with AS - (NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke).
After the shootings, speculation arose that Adam Lanza, who was 20 years old when he committed the shootings at an elementary school in Newton, Connecticut, had Asperger's which is considered to be a form of high-functioning autism. Adam shot and killed his mother at home before he forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 20 children between the ages of 6 and 7, as well as 6 adults before killing himself. The shootings comprised one of the worst mass shootings in American history. One of the law enforcement officials involved told the media that Adam had been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, while Adam's former classmates stated that he was extremely shy, socially awkward, and reserved - characteristics that may be typical of Asperger's syndrome.
Asperger's syndrome and the DSM
At this time, Asperger's syndrome has its own designation within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-4), a manual that is considered to be the, 'bible,' of psychiatry and has been in use since the year 1994. In the Spring of 2013; however, the new version of the DSM will be released and, 'autistic disorder,' will become known as, 'autism spectrum disorder,' with Asperger's syndrome being included within that larger category. Certain characteristics are common across the autism spectrum, according to experts. Two of the features that characterize autism spectrum disorders include:
The characteristics are are present in people with Asperger's syndrome whether they are high-functioning, or severely affected. It is important to note that the DSM also states there is no link whatsoever between Asperger's syndrome and violence in any way whatsoever. According to Eric Butter, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Psychology at Ohio State University, people with autism spectrum disorders - including people with Asperger's syndrome, might exhibit aggressive behaviors in comparison to their peers, but it is a completely different type of aggression than what was seen presented by Adam.
Eric Butter stated, "Research suggests that aggression among people with autism spectrum conditions can occur 20 percent to 30 percent more often than compared to the general population. But, we are not talking about the kind of planned and intentional type of violence we have seen at Newtown." According to Mr. Butter, the aggression that is seen in people with autism might best be described as irritable and disruptive behavior that is many times consistent with the social and communication difficulties that are the hallmarks of autism spectrum disorders. He says that it is a very human experience that when a person finds themselves unable to explain how they are feeling, they will act out in frustration, anger, and aggression. Yet it is inconsistent with the diagnosis of autism for a person to plan and execute the type of crime Adam did.
Mr. Butter went on to say that aggression in people who experience Asperger's syndrome and forms of autism in general tends to be more reactive, such as impulsive outbursts, shoving or pushing, being quick to anger, shouting in anger, and being slow to cool off when they are angry. Eric Butter is also the Associate Director of the Child Development Center at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Westerville, Ohio.
The types of violence that occurred in Connecticut and elsewhere in America have occurred at the hands of people with a range of psychological profiles, according to Mr. Butter. The underlying and connected theme between them is that people in America have not done enough in our schools and mental health services systems to identify, assist, and de-stigmatize those who are suffering from forms of mental illnesses, he stated.
Ms. Dawson of Autism Speaks added, "Whenever there is a horrible tragedy like this one, people want to make sense out of it and they're trying to look for answers. I think it's important that we be very clear that if this individual did have Asperger's or autism, which we don't know [for sure] that he did, this is not going to help us understand what happened. Because there really is no link between the two."
Thoughts on the Shootings
Americans as a whole tend to be a highly reactive population. When something like this happens, people read and hear stories through the mainstream media and react quickly without taking the time to think about things thoroughly. One of the first reactions people had upon finding out that Adam may have had Asperger's syndrome was to point at a potential diagnosis and present stigma towards an entire population of people with similar diagnosis.
Doing so is entirely wrong, cruel, and uncalled for. While questions remain about whether or not Adam did have Asperger's syndrome, blaming an entire population for the actions of one person is always wrong. The rest of the population of people with Asperger's syndrome and autism should not have to pay a price for Adam's actions.
One of the questions on my mind is why America's media immediately presented stories concerning gun control and not ones concerning the stigmatization of the population of people with autism. While it is this writer's opinion that no one in America needs to have a 100 round capable weapon, the issue of stigmatization and an entire population of people with disabilities was almost entirely ignored in the media. Mainstream media, your prejudice is showing - and that rather badly.
The politicians who are leading this nation also ignored the stigmatization of an entire population of people in America, making matters worse. When a major hurricane hits this nation, the President visits the city or town that was affected to comfort the population of people that were affected. While the President did visit the town of Newton, he made no effort that this writer is aware of to comfort the population of people with Autism who have been affected by the media slander caused by this event, something that is equivalent to a hurricane of stigma.
Expert: Asperger's not linked to violence
To suggest a tie between Asperger's syndrome and violent, sociopathic tendencies is to undermine the research on autism spectrum disorder, a U.S. expert says.
Asperger's, Autism Not Linked to Violence: Experts
Despite media reports alleging that the gunman involved in the Connecticut school shootings had Asperger's syndrome, experts were quick to assert Sunday that there is no link between the condition - a mild form of autism - and violence.
Asperger's, Autism Not Linked to Violence
"There really is no evidence that links autism or Asperger's to violence," said Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer at the nonprofit advocacy group Autism Speaks and a professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.