In his first interview since his son shot and killed his own mother, himself, and twenty-six people at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the father of Adam Lanza said his son would have almost certainly killed him, too.
“With hindsight, I know Adam would have killed me in a heartbeat, if he’d had the chance,” Peter Lanza told the New Yorker.
Lanza said his son talked with many mental health professionals, but none saw violent tendencies in his personality. He tells the magazine he thought his son was “a normal, weird little kid” but by the time he reached middle school “it was crystal clear something was wrong.”
“The social awkwardness, the uncomfortable anxiety, unable to sleep, stress, unable to concentrate, having a hard time learning, the awkward walk, reduced eye contact,” he said. “You could see the changes occurring.”
Lanza says he may have overlooked troubling signs himself by attributing his son’s strange behavior to Asperger’s when, in fact, obviously something was really, really wrong that had nothing to do with autism.
“Asperger’s makes people unusual, but it doesn’t make people like this.”
He’s absolutely right. There are thousands of kids with Asperger’s or other forms of Autism Spectrum Disorder who don’t act out in a violent manner, and saying Lanza’s Asperger’s was the cause of his evil acts of violence does them all a great injustice. As Joe McGinniss, author and the father of a son who has Asperger’s, said to to New York Times writer, Margaret Sullivan, “The suggestion that Asperger’s might be a clue to why this happened is offensive to me…It’s misleading to suggest that quiet people who don’t pick up on social cues are more likely to become killers.”
Dr. Ami Klin, an expert on autism at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, told the New York Times that any tie between the Newtown shootings and Asperger’s or autism “is an enormous disservice” to those whose lives are affected by these developmental disorders, which should not be confused with mental illness.
“Any human condition can coexist with violence,” he said, but no correlation should be drawn. Klin goes so far as to say that those with Asperger’s “are much more likely to be victims rather than victimizers.”
“This is not about autism,” Dr. Klin said. “It’s about mental illness and guns that those with mental illness should have no access to.”
Lanza said he thinks about his son and the massacre every waking hour. “You can’t get any more evil,” he said. “How much do I beat up on myself about the fact that he’s my son? A lot.”
The bottom line: autism and Asperger’s are not necessarily connected to violence, nor to nonviolence. The problem here is making assumptions either way, just as it would be if we were talking about a shooter who did not have Asperger’s. Something was clearly wrong with Adam Lanza, but we can’t blame Asperger’s.
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