Families worry school shooting adds to stigma of autism
Posted December 19, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. — 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."
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."