Blaming Autism for Connecticut School Shootings Just Adds to the Tragedy

autismOne of the first things we learned in the wake of the horrifying Connecticut school shooting last week was that the assailant, Adam Lanza, likely had autism. His brother, Ryan, told reporters Adam "is autistic, or has Asperger syndrome and a 'personality disorder.'"

And with those words, thousands of parents of children with autism everywhere braced for what was to come -- an onslaught of finger pointing, stereotypes reinforced, and more misunderstanding of what's already a misunderstood disorder. And come it has.

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg, who describes herself as a writer and photographer, a disabled woman, and an activist passionate about disability rights, wrote this weekend about how she's heard from people that Lanza's act could have been an autistic meltdown.


She passionately and eloquently rebuffs this on her blog, saying:

People in the midst of a meltdown do not take the time and the forethought to arm themselves with a bullet-proof vest and several weapons, make their way to an elementary school, and consciously target two particular classrooms of children and the school office. In fact, most people in the midst of a meltdown just want to withdraw and get away from people and the stressors that cause overload.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Autism is not a predisposing factor to premeditated violence. Autistic people are far, far more likely to be the victims of crime than its perpetrators.

Other moms of autistic children have taken to their blogs to try and debunk the myths as well. Emily Willingham talks about empathy and how children with autism do experience it, and how her son with Asperger's reacted to the shooting. A mom of a 5-year-old daughter with autism writes on the blog ProfMomEsq about her fury at the reports trying to link autism to the shootings: "I am furiously angry, because what I hear these 'experts' saying over and over again is that my daughter -- my beautiful, sweet, loving, funny little girl -- has more in common with a cold-hearted killer than the 20 beautiful souls who perished and the hundreds more he scarred."

And there are more. Liz Ditz has compiled a list of plenty of arguments and rebuttals on her blog I Speak of Dreams that contains lots of good facts and solid information. On Facebook this weekend, Autism Speaks posted the following message:

Several media outlets are reporting that the shooter might have had an autism spectrum disorder. Some have also inaccurately reported that there is a linkage between autism and planned violence. We ask that blame not be placed on people with disabilities or disorders in the midst of these types of tragedies and that everyone keep the families of Newtown in their prayers.

Sadly, none of it will likely be enough to undo the damage that has already been done.

I think of all of the moms of young children who have recently gotten the autism diagnosis for their beloved children, and I ache. There are so many unknowns and so many hurdles ahead of them that to add even more fear -- that autism could make their child do what Adam Lanza did -- is unbearable. I think of the children with autism and their parents who have dealt with the challenges and misguided public opinions for years, and fear this case is going to make their lives even more difficult.

It's not to say that autism isn't challenging and the frustrations of the disease do not contribute to other problems. But to blame autism for the Sandy Hook school shooting is too easy, and it's wrong.

What did you think when you heard that Adam Lanza may have autism?


Image via Beverly & Pack/Flickr

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