newtown massacre

Asperger’s Is a Red Herring to Explain the Newtown Massacre

Friends of Nancy Lanza, the mother of Newtown shooting suspect Adam Lanza, told 60 Minutes on Sunday that he suffered from Asperger’s syndrome, and that dealing with the condition dominated both their lives. It’s already been reported that Lanza reportedly had the condition, but there’s no evidence it had any effect on his rampage. As the nation sets out to understand how Friday’s massacre came to pass, some are rightly worried that the high-functioning form of autism will become unfairly stigmatized.

Adam Lanza’s mother had been increasingly concerned over her son’s well-being in the weeks before the tragedy, telling a friend just a week before that he was “getting worse” and that “she was losing him,” the New York Daily News reported. The Atlantic points out that several diagnoses have been bandied about in the press, including autism, Asperger’s, and “personality disorder.”

But those with an intimate knowledge of Asperger’s bristle at the suggestion that it could have caused Lanza to carry out such an unthinkable act as Friday’s massacre. National Journal’s Ron Fournier wrote about his son Tyler, who has Asperger’s, reacting to the news that Lanza may have also had the condition. “‘If you meet somebody with Asperger’s,’ he said, ‘you’ve only met one person with Asperger’s.’” Fournier elaborates on his son’s point: “Asperger’s is a blip on the far-reaching autism spectrum and no two cases are the same. Just as no ‘typical’ person deserves to be tar-brushed with the evil acts of another, Aspies don’t deserve the bad press they’re getting.”

As New York’s Benjamin Wallace pointed out recently, diagnoses of disorders on the autism scale (Asperger’s in particular) are everywhere, coming from doctors, amateur celebrity-watchers, and individuals diagnosing themselves. The condition makes it hard to socialize and communicate, symptoms many of us can find in ourselves if we look closely enough. The terms, Wallace posited, are “words we deploy to describe some murky hybrid of egghead and aloof.” Adam Lanza was reportedly both of those things, but it would be unfair to link those traits, or his rumored Asperger’s diagnosis, to what he allegedly did on Friday.

There really is no clear association between Asperger’s and violent behavior,” psychologist Elizabeth Laugeson, an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, told the Associated Press. Another psychologist, Eric Butter of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, explained that aggressive behavior such as pushing, shoving, or shouting occurs with higher frequency among people with autism. “But we are not talking about the kind of planned and intentional type of violence we have seen at Newtown.”

Editor’s Note: This post originally cited a report in the Daily News that quoted Adam Lanza’s uncle as saying he was taking an anti-psychotic drug called Fanapt. The Daily News subsequently deleted the quote. It is now unclear whether Lanza was taking Fanapt.

Asperger’s Is a Red Herring to Explain Newtown