Do Not Paint Those with Asperger’s and Autism with Same Brush as Severe Mental Illness
Reports are surfacing that the young man suspected in the Connecticut school shooting tragedy may have had Asperger’s Syndrome and a “personality disorder,” according to the Hollywood Reporter. As people begin to try to make sense of this most senseless tragedy that took so many lives, it is important that the media not paint those with Asperger’s and autism with the same brush as those with severe mental illness.
Neighbors have reported Adam Lanza as “odd” and as displaying some obsessive-compulsive traits. Many individuals with autism do participate in repetitive behavior as a method of self-soothing, and this should not be viewed as a sign that a person with autism is “disturbed.”
According to The Houston Chronicle, Lanza’s former classmate said, “If you looked at him, you couldn’t see any emotions going through his head.” It is a common assumption that people with autism are not capable of empathy, which is a myth. Autistic people have a difficult time expressing emotions, such as empathy. Autism does not render people incapable of feeling empathy, sympathy, or any other emotion. Making a connection between the empathy myth and the shooting might be an easy one for news pundits to make, but that does not explain the behavior of the shooter, nor does it appropriately describe people with autism.
Another classmate spoke of how Lanza talked about, “blowing things up.” Aggression is also attributed to people within the autistic spectrum. This aggression appears when a person is frustrated or unable to communicate their thoughts clearly, and often involves yelling, kicking or hitting. The aggression that some autistic individuals exhibit is not similar in any way to the tragic events that unfolded in Newtown, Connecticut.
No one knows all of the facts of this tragic shooting, but as the story emerges in the days and weeks ahead, autistic children may have questions about themselves as they hear the words “autism,” “Asperger’s,” and “odd” associated with the man who took so many lives. Parents should be prepared to have honest conversations with their autistic children about the shooting, and they should also be prepared to once again help educate those who do not understand what autism is or how it affects those living with it. Unfortunately, great strides recently taken towards understanding autism may be erased by one person’s unimaginable actions.