Autism and violence

Adam Lanza had Asperger’s Syndrome and a personality disorder, his brother reportedly said. Can autism explain the Sandy Hook tragedy? asks Amy S. F. Lutz in Slate Magazine. Overall, people with autism are less likely to commit crimes than “neurotypicals.” Very few plan and execute an attack, as Lanza did.

However, some erupt in short episodes of violence: “Studies have found that up to a staggering 30 percent suffer from aggressive and/or self-injurious behaviors of varying degrees.”

As president of EASI Foundation: Ending Aggression and Self-Injury in the Developmentally Disabled, Lutz helps “many families struggling to manage their autistic children’s dangerous behaviors.”

Autism alone doesn’t lead to violence, writes Lutz. The problem is autism plus a psychiatric disorder.

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. . . . 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.

School shooters “are almost always mentally or emotionally ill,” said Katherine S. Newman, author of the 2004 book Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings in a CNN editorial.

. . . those of us who care for a person on the autism spectrum . . .  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 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.

 People with Asperger’s Syndrome and their parents are very worried about being seen as cold-blooded killers. On I Speak of Dreams, Liz Ditz rounds up reactions from people with autism, parents and others.

It’s a bit off topic, but everything you thought you knew about autism is wrong, writes Bookworm in a review of Ido in Autismland, a collection of essays by a 16-year-old boy who doesn’t speak but learned to communicate with a letter board. Ido Kedar also blogs.

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  1. Crimson Wife says:

    My autistic child can be “aggressive” but what that means is she hits, kicks, or bites when she gets frustrated and she’s past the age when most kids have outgrown that sort of behavior. 90+% of the time, the aggression is directed towards me and it doesn’t seem malicious but rather reflecting a deficit in impulse control. It’s something that her various therapist, teachers, and I are working on curbing.

    The sort of cold, calculated attack Adam Lanza carried out is not the kind of aggression that is reflected in that 30% statistic. Fortunately, that kind of violence is very, very rare.

  2. Stacy in NJ says:

    According to some media reports Lanza was taking Fanapt which is an anti-psychotic most commonly prescribed to schizophrenics. He had a whole lot more going on than just Autism.

    I have a 14 year old aspie who has never had a violent action/reaction or even what could be called a temper tantrum. A tearful argument, sharp word or fresh comment? Yes.

  3. Would Ido’s book be appropriate for the Common Core non-fiction list? I think it’d be fascinating to share a work like that with students.

  4. Stacy in NJ says:

    Everything we think we know about autism is wrong because the autism diagnosis is an incredibly crude tool. All kinds of folks with differing developmental, intellectual, emotional, and physical disabilities get dumped into this category when they’re very young – usually around 3 years. Many, many of those kids have symptoms or behaviors that are superficially alike (stimming, lack of eye contact, slow or precocious verbal development, physical awkwardness, sensitivity to noise/sounds/smells). Intellectual and/or emotional development are incredibly hard to measure in young children, especially those with “symptoms”.

  5. I wouldn’t put the book that Ido has supposedly written on any nonfiction list. If you look at the clip of him using a letter board, it’s clear that the person holding the board is moving it. And you have to wonder why, if Ido is actually able to spell out words, is it necessary for anyone to hold the board at all. Facilitated communication such as this has been debunked long ago.

  6. How many “normal” people are aggressive? Look at how people drive. Look at how people act when they have to stand in line for more than three minutes. We are in a culture of anger and me-first. And a culture of death where life is considered to be worth less and less.