Let’s get this straight: We do not know that Adam Lanza had Asperger syndrome.

There are numerous reports coming out that Adam Lanza, the man who killed 20 children and 6 adults in Newton, CT, had autism or Asperger syndrome. Some are kindly spelling it correctly while others are using the improper “Aspergers.”
Let’s keep in mind that these are the same “Dewey Beats Truman”, 24 hour news cycle reporters who so far in this story have falsely reported that Lanza’s mother was a teacher at the school and Lanza’s brother committed the crime or was an accomplice.

No one has said for certain that Lanza had Asperger or any other diagnosis.

Lanza, who friends and officials said suffered from Asperger’s syndrome or a personality disorder, had a tortured mind.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/adam-lanza-20-deeply-disturbed-kid-article-1.1220752#ixzz2F65RNiiL

So, unspecified “officials” have said he had “Asperger or a personality disorder.” That’s a general statement and covers a wide range of things.

1) “Personality Disorder” is, as I understand it, the preferred term for sociopathy/psychopathy, though a friend pointed out there are personality disorders other than sociopathy and psychopathy. Technically, a personality disorder is not a mental illness, because a person with a personality disorder understands reality.

2) Lanza is described as been sullen and not speaking much (most of the media speculation comes from people who claimed to have known him). There very distinguishing trait of Asperger syndrome from other Autistic Spectrum Disorders is that Aspie’s are socially outgoing but don’t understand social cues. The classic person with Asperger is the guy who comes up to you and talks incessantly about his favorite book or tv show, or random trivia, and doesn’t really care if you’re listening. Even a more strictly autistic person will come up and present you with some random piece of information–which is hard to understand–then walk away, though being sullen and withdrawn is more of a trait of classic autism than Asperger.

3) Lanza is dead, so there’s no way of knowing what was going through his mind, but the nature of his act of violence tells me it was either the cold-hearted work of a sociopath or the paranoid insanity of a schizophrenic. An autistic can be violent, but autistic violence is a response to unpleasant stimuli. An autistic might have shot his mother and himself, but I don’t see an autistic going out of his way to go to a public place like a school and killing random people like this. If Lanza had autism, and even if he’d been set off to some extreme form of violence by a family situation, it would have ended there with his suicide or shutting down or something.

I have three children now diagnosed as severely autistic, and all four of my children, when I plug their behavior into the Baron-Cohen Autism Quotient test (designed to study the notion of a “spectrum”), score in the mid-30s (clinically significant to seek a diagnosis, and because of this I’ve spent a lot of time among support groups and such the past few years, seeing other children and adults with autistic spectrum disorders. They show some strange behaviors, and all four have bad tempers, and they can sometimes be violent, but it’s a fight-or-flight kind of thing, not a cold, calculated, go out and seek violence kind of thing. If Lanza had shot his mother and then turned the gun on himself, and people said, “He probably had autism,” I wouldn’t dispute it, though I’d leave the final say to those who had knowledge of the situation.

However, going to a public place like a school, and killing a bunch of strangers? An autistic would be terrified to do that. The only way an autistic would commit such an act was if he were *in* the school, *being* teased by bullies or something and lashed out at that moment against them.

I don’t see either the descriptions of his behavior given in interviews or especially the act he committed being consistent with Autism–more likely it sounds like schizophrenia or sociopathy, but anything more specific could only be diagnosed by whatever professionals may have been treating him, if any.

I just keep thinking of a video I was shown in 6th grade at an Evangelical school I attended, where a man was telling his conversion story, and he talked about how he chose at one point in his teen years to serve Satan, so he set out to intentionally break every Commandment. As difficult as it may be to accept, some people really do consciously choose evil, and barring further evidence about Lanza’s influences or psychological health, I have to say this is the case. Ethically, we call such individuals amoral. Psychologically, such individuals are called sociopaths.

Please, no matter what you think of my political or religious views, take this message seriously. There is way too much misinformation about mental health issues as it is, including again that there are many conditions listed in the DSM that do not constitute “Mental illness” strictly speaking, and that “mental illness” and “legal insanity” are two different issues as well. We don’t need a witch hunt. I have more to say about that in another post, but every time something like this happens, people seek a witch hunt. Sometimes, it’s guns, or movies, or video games, or whatever, but this time it seems to be shaping up to be about learning disabilities, mental health, developmental and personality disorders–or about the failures of the mental health professionals to properly treat them (i.e., I’m seeing a lot of posts about the potentially dangerous side effects of different medications).

It annoys me when people “heart attack” as a catch all for any of the various things that can go wrong with the heart, and it annoys me when people lump together all the various things that can go wrong with the mind: that merely being treated by a mental health professional makes one somehow inferior. The other day, rehashing the Fr. Corapi debate on Facebook, I said that I think both he and his alleged accuser have mental health problems. My interlocutor suggested I was besmirching Corapi’s good name by suggesting he had mental health problems. I said, “How can that be when he built his ministry on talking about how he had mental health problems?” Why does it do harm to someone’s good name to say that person has mental or physical health problems? That’s just silly.

Proper diagnosis of disorders of the mind can be challenging and complicated, but it’s crucial. Proper treatment of the proper disorders is also crucial because giving the wrong drug to a person can have disastrous results–even a seemingly unrelated medication. So the more we learn, the more we can both properly see things, know how to work with people, and not expect behavior from one person because we assume all “mentally ill” (itself a misnomer) people act the same way.

People like to talk about “awareness.” They wear ribbons. They forward memes in emails and on social networking site to say, “share this if you want to raise awareness of X,” but awareness doesn’t just mean, “Hey, there’s something called Autism/Asperger/Schizophrenia/Psychopathy/Bipolar/Diabetes/Cancer/Heart Disease/Marfan syndrome! Let’s be aware it exists.” Awareness means knowing what that condition entails and how to deal with it.

A big part of dealing with someone with a mental health problem is knowing what it entails and knowing how to properly respond to such a person. You discipline an autistic child differently from an ADHD child and differently from a neurotypical child (if there is such an entity).

Let’s not have a witch hunt. I don’t want my children growing up with people saying, “Hey! You’re autistic! Wasn’t that guy who killed those kids in Connecticut autistic? Are you like him?”

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18 responses to “Let’s get this straight: We do not know that Adam Lanza had Asperger syndrome.

  1. Pingback: Let’s get this straight: We do not know that Adam Lanza had Asperger syndrome. | ChristianBookBarn.com

  2. We do not even know that Asperger Syndrome exists. One Dr Asperger said it did and diagnosed himself as having it. One symptom is getting lost in details and missing the general picture.

    Dr Asperger may have diagnosed that correctly enough in himself, but who says anyone can “diagnose” that as a permanent condition in anyone else? The other criteria are similarily rubbery.

  3. Asperger did diagnose himself with it? I have heard other people say that but never came across it in my own reading. In that case, Asperger’s would be appropriate.
    But anyway, it “exists”, and I think worries about vaccines, etc., are kind of off since Asperger himself said 1/100 and that’s the current statistic. What really fascinates me is that the original kid Kanner (sp?) described as being autistic was basically what Asperger simultaneously described. He was a Catholic kid who didn’t talk much, but at the age of 2 had memorized the Catechism and the Psalms.

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  5. Personality disorder most definitely does not equal amoral!

    • Well, I meant sociopathy, which everything I’ve ever read says they’re coterminous, but maybe they aren’t.

    • “Personality Disorder” refers to a whole class of behavioral patterns that deviate from expected norms. And I could be wrong about this, but can’t someone be only mildly disordered? Either way, saying that anyone with a “personality disorder” is “amoral” is a gross misrepresentation of a significant percent of the population (research has estimated between 6 and 10 percent).

      • Well, again, my understanding was that “personality disorder” is synonymous with sociopathy/psychopathy, and those are essentially marked by the complete lack of a moral compass (amoral). And sociopathy/psychopathy *is* much more common than people think–that book _The Sociopath Next Door_–and they say the higher you get in any organizational structure, the more likely you are to run into a sociopath. But I wouldn’t want to be guilty of the same error I was trying to advise against, so it was an easy fix. 🙂

      • joyschoenberger

        I don’t know about sociopathy or psychopathy, but I know personally some very moral people with personality disorders.

        Thanks for the correction.

  6. Thank you for this post. I have a son with high functioning autism, and I worry what this will mean for him. He already is ostracized. I can only imagine how much worse that will become when people get it in their heads that Aspergers caused Adam Lanza to do this horrific thing. My child is socially awkward, but he is the sweetest, kindest child I know. He isn’t violent. But thanks to the media, now all people with Aspergers or ASD are going to be assumed to be ticking time bombs. 😦

  7. Thank you. I got up this morning to find they are claiming the shooter had Asperger Syndrome (like me) and that they are claiming that people with Asperger Syndrome are like sociopaths and lack empathy. I’ve talked this over before with my therapist. Sociopaths lack empathy because they do not care about others (allegedly). People with Asperger Syndrome lack INFORMED empathy— they don’t easily pick up on the non-verbal cues that tell how another person is feeling. Other people who do pick up on these cues may think the behavior of the person with Asperger Syndrome is uncaring because they assume that person must know that someone is unhappy and they just don’t care. That’s not true. And when people with Asperger Syndrome DO know another person is sad or in pain, we care. We may not have the social skills to express that caring in just the right way, but that doesn’t mean we don’t care.

  8. Exactly, Nissa. We just don’t know how to respond to people the way they expect. I always say that Aspies care *more* deeply than neurotypicals.

  9. Lanza was reported by a relative to be taking Fanapt – a psychotropic drug of questionable value – which is used exclusively for SCHIZOPHRENIA. Adam Lanza had a serious brain disorder, and was not fully responsible for his actions. May God have mercy on his soul, also, because he did NOT get the care he should have received – which resulted in the deaths of 28 people, himself included…

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