Blaming Asperger's for Lanza's actions is damaging to other children. And it's wrong
“It was very damaging and very misleading. In a way, people with Asperger’s are the opposite of psychopaths,” says mother Lisa Maree Domican, who blogs about autism based on personal experience. “Psychopaths are masters of reading visual cues and manipulating people – but they lack emotional empathy. People with autism disorders like Asperger’s feel empathy for others, but they have trouble reading the cues.”
Domican points out that although children with autism spectrum disorders may experience “meltdowns”, these tend to be short-lived, intense and aimless, more likely to harm the child than anyone else. “They would not be capable of the kind of cold, calculated planning that went into something like this.”
Once the Asperger’s link had begun to be discredited in the media, the focus turned to a new target: Lanza’s mother.
Do a Google search for articles on Nancy Lanza, who was shot four times in the head as she slept on Friday, and you’ll discover she was a “prepper”, a “paranoid”, “gun-proud survivalist” who home-schooled her son, and had an “unhealthily close” relationship with him. One Australian website goes so far as to posit a theory on the shooting, claiming that she “may have triggered son Adam Lanza’s gun rampage”. There were also reports that Nancy Lanza was “friendly” and “well-liked”, but you had to dig to find them.
A search for articles on Peter Lanza paints a far more sympathetic picture of the gunman’s father. He is in “disbelief”, the headlines reveal; he is “heartbroken”; he only discovered about his son’s involvement in the shooting from a journalist. One CNN headline seems to sum it up: “Adam Lanza’s family: Mom liked parlor games, guns; dad, a tax exec, remarried”.
There is, clearly, no conspiracy at work here; just a crude and sometimes misogynistic clamouring for facts to make sense of an unimaginable tragedy.
It is unquestionably the case that something went very wrong inside the head of Adam Lanza. But to focus exclusively on what that might have been is hopeless, dangerous and wrong.
It is hopeless because mass shootings do not lend themselves to easy analysis, and we will very likely never know. It is dangerous because it increases the likelihood of copycat killings. And it is wrong because it draws attention away from the context in which this happened – a society in which procuring an assault rifle is not much more difficult than buying a jar of peanut butter.
But mostly it is wrong because the focus on a red herring such as Adam Lanza’s Asperger’s does untold damage to the efforts of millions of children with the same condition who may already be struggling to integrate into mainstream society.
“The worst part of all this media coverage is that people with Asperger’s are self-aware,” Domican says. “They know they are different; they often know why. They really don’t need the media to tell them they might grow up to become mass killers.”