Adam Lanza Asperger’s: Can autism explain the Sandy Hook tragedy?

December 18, 2012

Boy throwing a temper tantrum.

Yes, autistic children can engage in dangerous behavior. But the autistic population has a lower rate of criminal activity than that of neurotypicals.

Photo by Agnieszka Ciura/Hemera/Thinkstock.

It first showed up in my Facebook feed early Saturday morning, and then I saw it everywhere—in my email inbox, my texts, all over the internet: Asperger’s … Asperger’s … Did you hear???? … Asperger’s. Twenty-year-old Adam Lanza, who had killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School the day before, was allegedly on the autism spectrum. Advocates rushed to respond; many groups, including Autism Speaks, GRASP (the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership) and Autism Rights Watch issued statements expressing sympathy for the victims while reminding a spooked public not to “scapegoat” the disorder or further “stigmatize … autistic persons and their families.”
Although Lanza’s diagnosis has yet to be confirmed, he is only the latest mass murderer whose autism-spectrum status has been speculated about, including Colorado movie shooter James Holmes and Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian who killed 77 people in 2011. Even serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski have been retroactively labeled autistic, with the same diagnosis-happy fervor that has caused other activists to claim Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison as members of the Asperger’s nation. But the legitimacy of these diagnoses is less interesting than the question they imply: Did autism make them do it?
As president of EASI Foundation: Ending Aggression and Self-Injury in the Developmentally Disabled, I work with many families struggling to manage their autistic children’s dangerous behaviors. There was a time when my own son Jonah, now 13, was prone to such violent rages that I feared I might end up like Trudy Steuernagel, who was bludgeoned in 2009 by her 19-year-old autistic son Sky Walker, or Linda Foley, who was also beaten to death by her 18-year-old stepson, Henry Cozad. But I was never afraid Jonah would massacre 20 kids with a semi-automatic rifle.
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Researchers distinguish between two types of aggression: affective and predatory. Affective aggression is the most common; it occurs when an individual reacts to stimuli in the environment—or, as was the case for my son, internal neuropsychiatric events. These are short but very emotional episodes, accompanied by the increased heart rate and flushed skin of autonomic system arousal. The vast majority of violent crimes committed by individuals with an autism spectrum diagnosis fall in this category, and the details reveal a marked lack of premeditation. A 2006 Swedish study comparing autistic murderers with those who had been diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder found that more than 70 percent of antisocial killers used a weapon, whereas only 25 percent of the autistic killers did—and, I should note, this group was very small, consisting of eight autistic individuals who had been convicted of homicide or manslaughter in Sweden from 1996 to 2001, compared with 27 who had been diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder. As many autism advocates have pointed out over this past weekend, the autistic population has a lower rate of criminal activity than that of neurotypicals; in all likelihood this is because those who are prone to the most violent rages—like Sky Walker and Henry Cozad—are identified at a very young age. In the best-case scenario, they respond, as Jonah did, to psychiatric intervention. But this population is notoriously difficult to treat. Many end up in residential treatment facilities.
Predatory aggression is very different. Cool, detached, and controlled, it is primarily a cognitive experience of planning and execution. When Adam Lanza donned black fatigues and a military vest, drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School with three of his mother’s guns, and ruthlessly gunned down everyone he found—this was an example of predatory aggression that is generally not seen in the autistic population.
Still, this distinction doesn’t explain why so many autistics are prone to aggression of any kind. Studies have found that up to a staggering 30 percent suffer from aggressive and/or self-injurious behaviors of varying degrees. But it turns out this might not have much to do with autism at all—the primary impairments of which, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, involve socialization and communication, not violence. The violence has and more to do with psychiatric conditions that many people on the spectrum suffer from. One 2008 study by scientists at King’s College London found that 70 percent of their young autistic subjects had at least one co-morbid disorder, such as childhood anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, oppositional defiant and conduct disorder, or ADHD. Forty-one percent had two or more co-morbid disorders.
It is this combination of developmental delay and psychiatric disorders that pops up again and again in the literature on autism and violent crime. A 2008 review by Stewart S. Newman and Mohammad Ghaziuddin reported that “an overwhelming number of violent cases had co-existing psychiatric disorders at the time of committing the offence”—84 percent, to be precise. And Newman and Ghaziuddin couldn’t rule out personality disorders, such as anti-social personality disorder, in the remaining subjects. They conclude, “co-existing mental disorders raise the risk of offending behavior in this group, as it does in the general population.” This academic paper echoes the practical experience of those working with autistic youth; Roma Vasa, child psychiatrist in Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Center for Autism & Related Disorders, states that children with Asperger’s “usually only exhibit intense anger if they have additional psychiatric disorders.” Even then, “their anger does not typically result in these types of massive violent attacks [like the Sandy Hook shooting].”
It’s no surprise to find the real culprit is mental illness, not autism. As Katherine S. Newman, author of the 2004 book Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings observed in a CNN editorial Monday morning, school shooters such as Adam Lanza “are almost always mentally or emotionally ill.” Still, there is a lesson for those of us who care for a person on the autism spectrum: We need to watch for those secondary psychiatric disorders our loved ones are vulnerable to. Often, parents and clinicians assume that patients are anxious or depressed or manic or aggressive because of their autism, when in fact those symptoms may have a different etiology. It isn’t easy to tease them apart, especially in lower-functioning individuals who can’t articulate their feelings well. But it was only once my son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and treated accordingly that the frequent, unpredictable, and intense rages that characterized his childhood finally subsided.
Going forward, we may or may not find out more about Adam Lanza’s alleged Asperger’s diagnosis. But his social awkwardness, his genius IQ, his ability to build a computer from parts—these are all red herrings, reasons why autistic individuals are more likely to be victims of crime. These factors are not even remotely relevant explanations of why Lanza committed this crime. And every time we conflate his developmental disorder with whatever psychiatric or personality disorders he may also have suffered from, we harm the entire autism community.


Israel’s Supporters Must Learn from the Enemy

September 20, 2011

(Bill Levinson) We removed our post that compared Henry Ford’s proven job creation methods with Barack Obama’s proven job destruction methods because a couple of readers expressed outrage against Ford personally because of his involvement in anti-Semitic activities. We do not agree with these readers (as shown below) but we don’t want to put Ted in the position of circulating a piece to which people might take exception. This shows, however, that Euro-Americans in general and Jews in particular have failed to understand a simple point: a person we might find offensive or unsavory, or even an outright enemy, is often the best teacher. Our collective failure to learn this lesson puts Israel in particular and Civilization as a whole at considerable and even mortal risk. We will begin with a couple of extremely simple examples of this principle. The United Kingdom is famous for the 95th Rifles, a regiment immortalized by Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series.The UK is also famous for its rocket artillery, as immortalized by “the rockets’ red glare” in our National Anthem. Neither rifle-armed skirmishers nor artillery rockets were however British inventions; both were examples of learning from the enemy.The War of Independence taught the British that a man in a bright red coat with a musket that could not hit reliably beyond 70 to 100 paces was an easy mark for a rifleman in dull-colored clothing who could melt into a forest after firing. They accordingly created an Experimental Corps of Riflemen (later the 95th Rifles) who wore dark green uniforms to blend in with foliage, much as their American opponents had blended in with their surroundings. The Congreve Rocket was meanwhile the result of the British being on the receiving end of Tipu Sultan’s rocket artillery during the Anglo-Mysore Wars.
We obviously do not agree with what Henry Ford published about Jews, or for that matter his support for Prohibition or his “sociology department” that intruded on his employees’ private lives. We did an Internet search on suspicion and found Henry Ford on a list of historical figures (along with Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, and George Washington) who were suspected of having Asperger’s Syndrome.
People with Asperger’s Syndrome are often described, as having social skills deficits, reluctance to listen, difficulty understanding social give and take, and other core characteristics, is typically quite misunderstood and/or misdiagnosed in our country today.
Other characteristics include a lack of empathy and a fascination with systems, i.e. “how things work.” The latter certainly describes Ford, noting his boyhood fascination with taking watches apart and even being able to put them back together. His production line was described as a giant clock, and it relied on workers as “components” who performed repetitive tasks to make the clock work. The system’s success paid the “components” high wages but it is quite likely that Ford viewed people as something like elements of a machine–hence his infamous Sociology Department–with roughly identical desires and motivations. If Ford did have Asperger’s, he could have understood intellectually that he needed to pay fair wages to gain his workers’ commitment but it is doubtful that he could really empathize with them on an emotional level. If true, this theory explains quite a bit. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (in which Ford is God, My Life and Work is the Bible, and people are manufactured to fit society’s needs) constitutes Fordism taken to the extreme.
In any event, The International Jew was not Henry Ford’s creation. It a translation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion that was given to Ford by the Tsarist Russian propagandist Boris Brasol. To put this in contemporary terms, Ford saw the equivalent of a sensationalistic Web site or E-mail, copied it to everybody on his mailing list, and pressed the “Send” key. His “Send” key unfortunately consisted of the Dearborn Independent, so what he circulated caused substantial harm to Jews and, in the end, Ford’s own reputation.
What then are the lessons to be learned from this experience? How many of us have, at one time or another, forwarded an E-mail or Web posting without investigating thoroughly? We have received them from highly intelligent and well educated friends only to find, after investigating, that the material was untrue. The National Jewish Democratic Council relied on somebody else’s blog posting or equivalent to publish a vicious falsehood about the Christian computer game “Left Behind: Eternal Forces.” None of this excuses Ford for his own failure to investigate Brasol’s material thoroughly but we must make sure we do not repeat the same mistakes.
Let’s assume for the sake of argument the absolute worst about Henry Ford. This does not change the fact that his methods created the American middle class along with the 40 hour work week, and made the United States the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth. Our thoughts must now move to application of this knowledge to our country’s current problem: an incompetent buffoon in the White House who has proven repeatedly that he knows nothing about how to create jobs or prosperity. (The same individual wishes to reward Palestinian terrorism with territorial concessions at Israel’s expense.) We should welcome assistance from any source that will help remove Obama from office next year and, even more importantly, create high wage jobs for the millions of American workers who need them!
Now let’s move on to a genuine Nazi who has plenty to teach us. Most people cannot get past their revulsion at Hitler’s statement, “If you win, you need not have to explain. If you lose, you should not be around to explain,” to internalize the truth of this observation. Hitler lost so he had to follow his own advice on April 30, 1945. His equally murderous and genocidal counterpart Josef Stalin was on the winning side so he never had to explain. Neither did Mao Tse Tung or Pol Pot, for that matter. This applies directly to Israel versus its militant Islamic neighbors: “If you win, even if you have to kill several million Arab aggressors and inflict some collateral damage while you do it, you won’t have to explain. If you lose by playing nice and worrying about world opinion, you won’t be around to explain.”
We observe further than ancient Jewish history was not very “nice,” with the result that today’s Jews need not explain while the Canaanites and so on are not around to explain. Roman history was not very “nice” either but the sole consequence of Rome’s genocide of the Carthaginian people is that Southern Europe and even England speaks words with Latin instead of Phoenician roots. Modern Hungary and Mongolia have statues, currency, and/or postage with images of Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan, neither of whom were nice people but who did outstanding jobs for the Huns and the Mongols respectively. Ann Barnhardt elaborates further on the problems with being “nice.” (Christian-oriented material can be ignored without loss of continuity.)
This is not to say that Israel or any decent country should initiate aggression today even though history shows it can often get away with it. It does say that, if an aggressor attacks you, you must take him down in such a manner that he will never lift a hand to you again. Only in movies must the hero (or often a terrified female victim who turns the tables momentarily) let the downed serial killer or monster get up again, and that’s only because the movie can’t end at the 45 minute mark. If you put your attacker down for good, you don’t have to explain. If you let him get up again (in the absence of law enforcement personnel who can take him into custody), it is quite likely that you won’t be around to explain. Israel should have put its attackers down for good in 1967.
Most people and especially Jews are meanwhile reluctant to read Mein Kampf because of its content and authorship. This is EXACTLY why the Arabs, who love the book not merely for its anti-Semitic aspects but for its very practical content, are currently demonizing Jews in general and Israel in particular the way the Nazis demonized Jews during the 1930s.
Mein Kampf however goes beyond a discussion of how to use propaganda effectively; it shows explicitly that Hitler followed the advice to learn from the enemy, in this case the Triple Entente. The Entente and its American sympathizers demonized Germans the same way the Nazis later demonized Jews. The following could in fact be described as a blood libel of Germans, noting that it was proven that the Lusitania carried munitions and was therefore a legitimate military target.
Little Lost Children of the Lusitania (to view jpgs click here)
Main Kampf states explicitly that Germany failed to recognize the effectiveness of this kind of propaganda, and failed to reciprocate in kind: with visual images designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator, the man in the street and the man in the beer hall. If the Jews in Israel could bring themselves to read Mein Kampf, they would realize that Israel is repeating Imperial Germany’s mistakes to the letter while the enemies who want to destroy it are working straight from the Entente’s (and later the Nazis’) playbook.
Arab propaganda; could have been drawn by genuine Nazis
Our recommendation is and has always been retaliation in kind and with an enormity of compound interest, to dehumanize Israel’s enemies and militant “Islam” in general every bit as thoroughly as the Entente dehumanized the Central Powers. We should not hesitate to adapt propaganda images from the Second World War that were used to demonize Nazis and Japanese, along with similar material from the First World War and Spanish American War. As but one example:
The Palestinian Brute
Ethics and honor require only that the propaganda be truthful (and the militant Muslims have provided our side with an unlimited supply of truth), and that hatred and contempt be directed selectively against a specific behavioral choice (militant Islam) and never against an entire religious identity, race, or ethnicity.
George Santayana wrote that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Those who cannot or will not learn from the enemy, even an enemy as loathsome as Hitler, are likely to become history.

Agreed, but I disagree that Ford merely pressed the send button on facebook. Ford trolled the equivalent of internet forums for decades. He was more then just some guy who distributed Antisemitism. He was completely obsessed with it’s philosophy. Asperger syndrome is more then just Rain Man. It is more then just being systematic. Asperger syndrome is a tendency to be obsessed with a system and in this case the system was hate. We still can learn a lot from the most despicable people. On my friendfeed account I follow many twitter accounts that have complete contempt for my being. Should they know that I follow them in this manner they would probably call me a stalker. In fact one person I followed who was a former teacher even put me on the news as such. The point being is these people I follow not because they are complete idiots…many of them are geniuses… and many of them probably hate me. One example of a complete genius who I have been following for years goes by the name of SeanMcBride (on both twitter and friendfeed). He is a complete tech genius, and a debater that leaves me in awe. His contempt for Israel (though he does not hate Jews), leaves many writing him off as a common thug. He is no such thing. His genius for systems has led him to believe in the fear of Zionism and Neo Cons. My guess is he is similar personality to Henry Ford and I can’t tell you how informative his feed is. Both in Tech and Israel News (though in the latter it is our enemies spin). The point is that I am wise enough to follow those I don’t like. The world is full of grey area. The beauty of open feeds on the internet is that we can peer into the minds of those who are our opposition because those who do not like us have huge egos and want to share their information without realizing how easy it is to subvert that information. I suppose I am guilty of doing the same and I have no doubt that my opinions will be used against me (actually they were used against me in court and my first amendment rights were taken away by the state of Washington). Point being however is that we must not write people off just because they are Nazis or Anti-Zionists. We must enjoy the work of Wagner or the malarkey of the children’s book writer Roald Dahl. To reject those brilliant minds that reject us is futile. Sometimes there might even be brilliant Zionist writers who have flaws in other ways. I’d like to tell you who those people are, but it would hurt my own cause. A few people do come to mind however… I won’t mention the name. I can tell you that I still have a deep respect for their mind… and I leave them the hell alone because on a social level they are nuts. The worst is when two very flawed Israel supporting geniuses start attacking each other… and then even go so far as to get people out on the internet to take one side or the other. Life is complex. I have no doubt that there will come a day when I might depend on the guy above I mentioned SeanMcBride (who is my enemy) to defend me from people who are supposed to be on my side. I am known to be an opponent of feminism… (though I am a descendant of Emma Lazarus), but when I was in jail I depended on my feminist mother to get me out (The female and probably feminist identifying Jewish judge just would not listen to me). Never write out your opponent… and never assume because a person supports Israel that they are to be trusted. BTW, the teacher I described above… she wasn’t stupid either. Just crazy.