Local News

Families worry school shooting adds to stigma of autism

Posted December 19, 2012

— Word that the gunman in last week's massacre at a Connecticut elementary school had been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome has put families with children who have the high-functioning form of autism on alert.

The families already have to deal with the autism label, and they said connecting Asperger's with violent behavior is another misconception they now face.

"This was a planned attack. That's not the way they work," said Scott Taylor, whose 13-year-old son, James, was diagnosed with Asperger's four years ago. "They don't plan things that way like this. They're not methodical like this."

A mediator who worked with the family of Adam Lanza said he had Asperger's. Connecticut's medical examiner said he doesn't consider the condition a factor in the 20-year-old's Friday morning shooting spree that killed 20 first-graders and six faculty members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Authorities said Lanza also killed his mother and ended the rampage by committing suicide.

Experts say there's no study that links Asperger's with violent behavior.

"We've been trying to let people know that is not the characteristic of the diagnosis, not a trait those with Asperger's or those with autism have," said David Laxton, a spokesman for the Autism Society of North Carolina. "It creates some additional stress for families because they’re worried about their child being labeled."

Asperger's Syndrome Experts say Asperger's Syndrome not linked to violent behavior

Those with Asperger's don't read social cues the way most people do, so they're more challenged in their social interactions.

"You're far more likely to see them be harmed than them to harm someone else," Taylor said.

Between 12,000 and 13,000 people statewide have some form of autism, according to the Autism Society of North Carolina.

Rather than adding to the stigma of autism, Taylor said, he hopes the spotlight on the school shooting offers an opportunity for people to learn more about Asperger's and those with the developmental disability.

"I think the biggest problem is people don't understand what autism is," he said. "If you take the time to really get to know them, you'll find not only are they just, in a lot of ways, like everybody else, but they can be some of the neatest people you'll ever meet."


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  • almagayle50 Dec 21, 2012

    Thank you WRAL for not publishing my comment. Of course, I've phoned your station about medicaid fraud, educational mistreatment, and disparities in SSDI for children of divorce, so why did I expect that you would publish my comment about the latest incident and how with every diagnosis there is the traditional pattern of blaming the mother, letting the father out of responsibilities in family court and having the mother end up alone withe the child.

  • mayhem Dec 20, 2012

    How about the stigma of being a gun nut? Isn't that in itself a diagnosable mental illness?

  • BaseBallMommy Dec 20, 2012

    The reason that people don't understand autism is because it has such a wide spectrum. One child that is high functioning compared to another child that doesn't speak, can't do things for himself. Difficult to understand when almost every individual is different than the next.
    And as for we need to see what is causing the disorders I think we need to realize that maybe the reason more individuals have autism is because anyone with a social issue is being diagnosed. I think this is just like ADD or ADHD, over diagnosed.

  • Marty King Dec 20, 2012

    This is why people with these disorders need to be institutionalized and not in public where they can do harm. We don't need more gun control laws, we need to pass people control laws. Back in the day when people with mental disorders were institutionalized, we didn't have crazy people all in our streets.

  • itsyoureternalsoul Dec 20, 2012

    Autism has a stigma because it is a disorder. Disorders have stigmas

  • Danny22 Dec 20, 2012

    We really need to do research on what is causing mental problems because I never remember not one mentally troubled young person throughout k-12. Lanza came from a broken home and who knows about video, movie, tv, and musical influences. And whether he or his parents used drugs. There are a lot of theories out there.

  • Danny22 Dec 20, 2012

    I agree with much you said but I do not think it's the government's fault for not providing adequate help. Adam Lanza had a loving mother, wealth for the best healthcare, and I do not think the gov't is at fault. adults will many times refuse help and parents often refuse to admit their kids are troubled.

  • IPayYouPay Dec 20, 2012

    Oh, by the way, when I said stop being so defensive. I have two people in my family who are "special needs" so I do practice what I preach and I don't get defensive when something comes up similiar to my family members.

  • IPayYouPay Dec 20, 2012

    People who have children with disabilities or "special needs": stop being so defensive. My personal take was that this child's mother knew he was a threat to someone (babysitter's comments) yet she chose to take him to shooting ranges and keep guns in the home - Was SHE crazy or what. No, you get help for your child - sometimes commitment to an institution IS necessary for ALL sakes. We have to be realistic sometimes.

  • angeliawidick Dec 20, 2012

    As a parent of two children that have developmental disorders, No one seems to get the fact that this should bring light to the government agencies that there needs to be more resources for "PEOPLE" that need it. Why are we focusing on the fact of the parent or the soul person who did this horrific act of violence. I have been turned away by hospitals in the local area for one of my children because there is not enough beds. This should be the issue not the fact as to wither this is a condition that can cause this violence.Truth be told we are all letting people with developmental issues down by not standing up and demanding help to make a change in how people with disabilities are treated. Don't get me wrong in this case the mother is at fault for allowing her son to have access to the weapons, it is the government's fault for not providing adequate help and it also lies on every single person who chooses to stick there head in the sand or focus on the wrong issue!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!