Newtown Connecticut- Rush to Judgement and Asperger’s Syndrome


By Chad Nance


Camel City Dispatch

Dec. 15th, 2012


When unthinkable tragedies occur, such as Friday’s heart breaking murders in Newtown Connecticut, the human mind wants answers. The mind and the heart need the comfort of knowledge… to somehow find meaning for a meaningless act of violence. To that end journalists from the Washington Post to local Connecticut television have been scrambling to provide the American people with the who, what, when, how, and where. In an almost desperate drive to find the often unanswerable “why”, journalists and media outlets are now including in their articles regarding the murderer Adam Lanza the “fact” that he lived with the developmental disability Aspergers, a disability included in the Autism spectrum. This “diagnosis” being written about as fact comes from unnamed law enforcement sources who claim that Lanza’s brother Ryan told authorities that his brother had “something like Autism”. These are the same journalists and media outlets who initially told us that Ryan Lanza was the murderer based on unnamed law enforcement sources. It is now becoming known that initial reports that Lanza’s mother was a teacher at the school seem to have been incorrect as well. It seems that very little is confirmed in this tragedy, including Lanza’s “diagnosis.”

asperger’s awareness

What is known, however, and is information widely available to be used by media outlets, is that Aspergers Syndrome is NOT a mental disorder. It is a development disability that is often marked by exceptional intelligence in a few specific areas, difficultly in appropriately expressing empathy for others, an inability to innately understand how to read non-verbal cues, and difficultly or awkwardness in communicating with other people in social situations.

Aspergers does not cause a person to purchase or train with weapons. It does not cause people to purchase a ballistic vest. It does not lead people to engage in murderous activity. While it is understandable that people need information and context at a tragic time, the desperate desire to attach a label on Lanza, a “reason” for this profane act of violence, or a political meaning to the murders (there isn’t one), there is no need to begin to demonize a segment of our population who live productive, happy lives every day and are not a danger to anyone.

Because we at CCD felt it is important to point out the reality behind this growing media myth, below you will find a statement from the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, a nonprofit organization run by and for people with Autism. ASAN was created to provide support and services to individuals on the autism spectrum while working to educate communities and improve public perceptions of autism. Their activities include public policy advocacy, community engagement to encourage inclusion and respect for neurodiversity, quality of life oriented research, and the development of Autistic cultural activities.

ASAN’s statement on the Newton tragedy:
In response to recent media reports that the perpetrator of today’s shooting in Newton, Connecticut may have been diagnosed on the autism spectrum or with a psychiatric disability, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) issued the following statement today:
“Our hearts go out to the victims of today’s shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut and their families. Recent media reports have suggested that the perpetrator of this violence, Adam Lanza, may have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, or with another psychiatric disability. In either event, it is imperative that as we mourn the victims of this horrific tragedy that commentators and the media avoid drawing inappropriate and unfounded links between autism or other disabilities and violence. Autistic Americans and individuals with other disabilities are no more likely to commit violent crime than non-disabled people. In fact, people with disabilities of all kinds, including autism, are vastly more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators. Should the shooter in today’s shooting prove to in fact be diagnosed on the autism spectrum or with another disability, the millions of Americans with disabilities should be no more implicated in his actions than the non-disabled population is responsible for those of non-disabled shooters.
Today’s violence was the act of an individual. We urge media, government and community leaders to speak out against any effort to spuriously link the Autistic or broader disability community with violent crime. Autistic Americans and other groups of people with disabilities persist in facing discrimination and segregation in school, the workplace and the general community. In this terrible time, our society should not further stigmatize our community. As our great nation has so many times in the past, let us come together to both mourn those killed by acts of heinous murder and defend all parts of our country from the scourge of stigma and prejudice.”
In this mad dash to closure, the American media is dropping the ball all over the place.  Now should be a time when we all stop, take a breath, mourn. There is time soon enough to return to the what and why, when there is hard data to aid in the search for answers…Even though there may very well be none.