By Kodey Toney
I have been praying the last two days for the families, victims, and even the shooter in Connecticut. I have recently seen that he may have had autism or Aspergers-like symptoms. Let's get something straight; whether he did or did not have some type of autism does not mean that this is why he committed these senseless crimes. What it means is that there was something deeper going on inside. I've seen people post on Facebook that he was "mental", and there may have been mental issues, but let’s keep in mind that autism is a neurological issue. People with autism, despite what we have heard, do have empathy. They just don't show it like a neurotypical person does. Let's not be too quick to judge people by their disability.
I’m writing this week, not to the parents of children with autism, but to the masses. Anyone who has been watching the media coverage as they grasp at anything that will give them an answer to the ultimate question in this, and any other heinous crime: Why? We may never know the answer to this question, but what it seems that most outlets have grabbed onto is the fact that Adam Lanza may have had autism.
I was watching 60 Minutes last night and this was one thing they really ran with. They interviewed neighbors and a classmate of Lanza’s and pushed the fact that he was quiet, antisocial, and different. The classmate said that he was “Uncomfortable to speak in class.” She also said he was very smart, but “wanted to be left alone, so we left him alone.” A neighbor, and friend of the family, said that Lanza’s mother had told them he had Asperger’s.
I’m not trying to argue this fact. From what I’ve heard it sounds true. What I’m trying to dispel is the assumption that this is the cause of all the evil.
I’m in a unique situation on this one. Not only have I done hours upon hours of research over autism, I am the head of the campus safety committee at CASC in Sallisaw. With that I have had numerous hours of training through Homeland Security and other law-enforcement organizations to deal with active shooters. I have done extensive research on the subject and feel that I have a good amount of knowledge.
With that, I have never once seen anything to say that you should be on the lookout for people with autism. In fact, the stereotype of a quiet/loner type of person is a big misconception.
In the book “Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters” author Peter Langman, Ph.D., uses several words to describe these shooters. Psychopath, depressed, schizophrenia, sexual abuse, and paranoid are among the many words used to describe the shooters of several mass killings including Klebold and Harris from the Columbine Massacre, and Golden and Johnson from Jonesboro, Ar. Never once does this book mention Asperger’s or any form of autism.
Langman states in his book: “Many of the shooters were athletic and involved in extracurricular activities.” He explains that many were outgoing in their schools. In fact, Eric Harris (Columbine mastermind) was a member of the soccer team as well as working with others as an assistant in the computer lab and with the school’s media club. He says: “In short, the image of school shooters as alienated students who had no connection to, or involvement with, their schools is not accurate. Many were engaged in the classroom…” Of the 10 shooters that Langman studied in his book, only one was described as a loner.
The staff of 60 Minutes even ran a letter they had received from an “Asperger’s Support Group” stating: “Patients are more prone to be victims as opposed to perpetrators
We don't know whether Asperger’s played any role in the shootings.”
Think about this for a second. If 1 in 88 people are diagnosed with autism, then it stands to reason that 1 in 88 would have autism (though statistic would probably show a larger margin since we have to breakdown the number of people who commit these crimes). I think this is a random coincidence that proves that people with autism have lives just like ours, and have problems just like neurotypical citizens.
What I think Lanza was, was a 20-year old desperate for attention. He had mental issues that needed to be addressed earlier, and was reaching out. My pastor Victor Sweet said Sunday that people who commit suicide think that it will end their pain. I feel that this person probably did feel this way, and we will never know why he decided to kill other innocent people along the way. But I’m certain, at least in my mind, that it is not because of autism.
Lack of empathy has long been associated with autism. However, the more we learn, mostly from those with the disability, the more we know this is not true. In fact they sometimes have a deeper empathy, but lack the ability to show it. There is a huge difference. What has been shown, according to Langman’s book, is that psychopaths lack empathy; which would be a more acceptable answer to why Lanza may have done what he did.
I’m not trying to make excuses for this act of evil. It is a horrible crime. My heart goes out to the families and friends of the 26 victims. I have a seven-year old. He happens to have autism. This makes things very crazy for me. I also have a four-year old, and I have thought several times about this happening to them in the last few days. That is truly unfathomable.
What I am trying to do is debunk the fact that autism is the cause of senseless crimes. We are fighting for civil rights of people with disabilities, and more specifically with autism. In that fight, something like this can set us way back. Please don’t let others think that people with autism are cold-blooded killers. They are human, they are compassionate, and they are our loved ones and our children.
Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming to be an expert. I’m just a father who is trying to learn as much about Autism as I can to help my child. I hope that you all can learn from me, and I from you. I ask anyone who has questions or comments about something I have written, or autism, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will try to answer questions as I have time, and if I find it interesting enough I may touch on it in my column. You can also find all columns archived at blogspot.com.