Editorial: Violence and Aspergers

Since the information that the Connecticut Sandy Hook Elementary school gunman has Aspergers has come to light, there have been several great articles on the subject.

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John Elder Robinson – Psychology Today

Love that max

CNN Article

Our son was diagnosed with Aspergers (now being renamed to High Functioning Autism) several years ago and we’re still learning what it is, how to deal with it (it’s not a disease to be cured) and how to help others relate to him as well as help him function in society.

What bothers me as an Aspie parent about the articles cited above is that they seem to be a bit defensive and frankly I feel this could be a good time for a teaching moment – where we can educate people more fully about Aspergers.

Are Asperger’s people murderers – NO! And frankly that’s silly.

Are the authors of these articles correctly worried that all Aspies will now be greeted with “wow, I hope you don’t shoot up my school” – yes.

However, with all due respect – anyone who makes that leap is just ignorant – I really can’t come up with another word for it.

First of all, there’s very little concrete information yet about Adam Lanza – he easily could have had (and probably did have) several psychological disorders which are more proven to violent reactions. But for this moment, I’m going to assume that Aspergers was his central diagnosis.

What I think is missing is a discussion of the obsession part of Aspergers. Obviously I can’t speak to other kids, but I can speak to our son, whose obsession is movies.

He’s wanted to be a director since he was 3. He carried around DVD’s like they were security blankets. He has memorized entire passages from movie dialog. He knows the eye color and other inane physical details of almost every character of every show he’s seen. He organizes his toys by Movie Production Companies.  He can tell you what songs plays behind the dialog in almost every movie trailer. He can identify a DVD within about 2 minutes of its playing.

Do you see what I mean by an obsession? This is not a mere passing interest, like “our son is really into trains” it’s a passion like “he thinks only about trains and nothing else!”

It’s a challenge to get him to focus on schoolwork. He and I have talked about it and he has movie dialogs (sometimes more than one) and songs running through his head at all times, he simply has to push them aside to listen to teachers, etc –  you can imagine what a challenge this is.

Because of this, Aspie people have a hard time relating to others. They’re very literal and don’t have the social understanding to pretend to be interested in other things. They tend to have a hard time making eye contact and making polite chit-chat with others. They are usually pretty self-involved (again, picture movies running in your head 24/7).

Now, imagine you don’t fully understand your Aspergers and your personal obsession turns to guns, or violent scenes in movies, or violent video games – and you simply could not get those images out of your mind. Ever.

I’m not saying this is what happened to Adam, but it’s a possibility.

As a mother of an Aspie child, I see in Nancy Lanza a mother who probably had NO idea what she was dealing with, or no support. What I do know is that this child was not getting help – somehow.

Years ago I had a psychiatrist/friend congratulate me on our sons diagnosis and say “now you’re protected in case he hurts someone” to which I was completely appalled. Our son has never been anything but sweet and caring to everyone around him. I can only assess that this friend of mine (despite her degree) really didn’t understand Aspergers at all. It’s not a syndrome where people are naturally violent – it’s a syndrome where people are generally misunderstood.

Could this lack of understanding lead to frustration or ultimately lead to a tragic end, yes, I think it could, but it’s up to us to educate and help these kids and their parents. Whether they’re a danger or just need a leg up with whatever their dealing with.

Mental Health and Healthcare is at a tipping point in this country – I hope we start making some progress. I think the first step is to stop stereotyping and start learning and I hope we can all make that first step together.

Disclaimer – this is all very much my opinion from what I’ve read and what I’ve observed in my own son – I am not a professional and don’t claim to be.


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