Blaming Autism for Connecticut School Shootings Just Adds to the Tragedy

Rant 48

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

a mom's life, autism


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cassi... cassie_kellison

I do not know enough about autism to even make an educated guess about whether he had autism or not. No denying the man had some sort of mental issues though.

jjand... jjandmilly

Placing the blame on autism with just make it harder for kids and families with autism to get support. It would add more of a negative association with kids with autism, kids that already have a hard time socially relating to others. Don;t let the blame fall on autism, Remember pointing the finger only leaves 3 fingers pointing back at you,  at the end of the day it does not bring back the lives lost in the tragic events of Friday.

Laurlev Laurlev

I think it's terrible. The media keeps throwing out comments that Lanza is autistic and he was quiet and shy as a child. It's such BS to label this psychopath with terms that have no correlation to someone becoming a mass murderer.

Laura Wylesky

I would like to say thank you for your post and what you wrote here. I am a nana raising my grandson with ASD. I will have to say every time I hear that on the news my heart broke just a little more for my grandson and for the rest with ASD. For you see I have already got comments from people around where we live about well one day you will just have to lock him up in a mental ward for he will never be able to function in society. The lack of knowledge of what is has sadden me. Then to have the media slander people with ASD. I am sadden to the ramifications that this will have on many. For you see I have already have heard of the back lash of this from families. People have had to lock them self in their home due to the comments from the public. Was on the phone Saturday night with a mommy from another sate till late scared due to comments. She ended up locking her son and her self in their home. I have great compassion for the families and the children the adults that are going to have to suffer the effects from this. The back lash from it all.

nonmember avatar Cheri

My immediate reaction is "no freaking way he was on the spectrum". I'm not formally diagnosed but I know I'm Aspergers with zero doubt. I have quiet meltdowns all the time...I just stop being there in the moment. I have to escape into art or reading in order to think. One does not premeditate the murder of innocent little babies. I remember all the pain and hurt I felt as a child getting made fun of for being weird and smart-as an adult I wouldn't ever want any child to hurt...I think all on the spectrum understand that feeling. I spend so much time analyzing people's actions and motivations that logically it makes no sense to take your pain and give it to someone who doesn't deserve it.

jec72579 jec72579

I don't know anyone with Asberger's or Autism, and know very little about the disorders. However, when I first heard that he was autistic, I thought that maybe it was maybe one thing that kids might have made fun of him for. Thinking that maybe it was a mild case (If there is such a thing), and could possibly give him  a motive, that he was angry at being made fun of.  

Then, when people start coming out saying that these disorders were causing him to do this horrible thing, I just thought.. no... The very little I have heard, I haven't heard that people with them are violent towards others at all. ESPECIALLY to kill his mother in her home, then go to a school and go to what, 2-3 separate rooms, and deliberately kill people?? It just doesn't sound right. 

I think that they are mis- portraying people with Autism  

Victoria Joyce Fry

I am a mental health therapist and I can tell you that Asperger's or any other disorder on the ASD is not associated with violence. It is actually, among adults, one of the least violent mental health diagnoses. Now, if he indeed had a personality disorder, which the media has also been reporting, there are several PD's that are highly associated with violence such as antisocial personality disorder or borderline personality disorder.

Brenda Wideman

jec, my son is high funcitoning autistic among other emotional chalenges. i can only speak from knowing him. But I know for a fact he would never hurt me in any way shape or form. he would defend me if someone else tried to hurt me with him around though.

Serena Roy Champeaux

ALL the children I know with Autism are the kindest and most loving and affectionate children you will ever know. I personally have family and friends with children with Down Syndrome, Autism, and Asperger Syndrome, and never was their anything but pure affection and pure empathy for not blame autism....the truth is that this had nothing to do with had to do with issues in a family...the Mother of this boy had some serious meltdown issues, and was barely hanging on herself...their were some deep deep problems in this family and what he did had NOTHING to do with speak the truth...if you can media!!!!!!!!!!!

curly... curlygirl31

Leave autism out of it he was plain psychotic animal

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