Earlier this month, Adam Lanza, 20, shot and killed his own mother, then came into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., armed with a high-powered rifle and two handguns and killed 20 students and six adults and then shot himself. As the news reports trickled in, the nation sat in horror.
Questions arose: What could drive someone to do something this heinous? Why kill innocent children? Why this school?
Sadly, because he killed himself, we may never really know the answer to those questions. But as more reports come out, the finger is pointing to a range of culprits, including mental health issues and Asperger’s syndrome.
Asperger’s, an incurable but treatable disorder, is a high-functioning form of autism that impedes one’s ability to socialize, leads to eccentric and repetitive behaviors and contributes to coordination problems and unusual preoccupations. It’s estimated that this disorder affects almost 2-6 out of every 1,000 kids.
Recently, some media outlets have been criticized for making a connection between the violence and this developmental disorder based on hearsay. People “close” to Lanza went on record saying that he had Asperger’s, but there was no real proof. Several days after the shooting, though, it was confirmed through divorce papers filed in 2009 by Lanza’s parents that their son did suffer from Asperger’s. While the parents’ lawyers did not disclose specifics of Lanza’s condition, it’s been documented that Lanza’s mother told her lawyer that she didn’t want to leave her son in the house alone.
But even with a confirmed Asperger’s diagnosis, does this mean that this is the sole reason for the massacre?
According to many autism experts, the answer is “not likely.”
Asperger’s is “often characterized by social awkwardness. While people with the disorder can become frustrated more easily, there is no evidence of a link between Asperger's and violent behavior,” the Associated Press pointed out.
An Asperger’s expert told The Daily News that a combination of factors — possibly including the disorder, but perhaps not — may have played a role in Lanza’s actions:
“It would be unfair to say every child with Asperger’s will become a mass murderer,” said Nancy Alspaugh-Jackson, director of ACT Today, a major autism treatment program in Los Angeles.
“But combining Asperger’s with his troubled family situation, a sense of isolation — no job, no school — and no care and treatment, is a recipe for a disaster.”
It’s also important to not jump to conclusions about this disorder because it can further stigmatize children and adults who already suffer from it and are not violent.
Hopefully, as the police continue their investigation, they will be able to shed more light on the motivations behind why this troubled young man did what he did. And maybe then, will we have a more nuanced understanding of what happened that Friday morning.
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