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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Shooting: Day Five

The Columbia Journalism Review has a brief summary of the bad journalism linking autism to the shootings.  Another egregious example popped up yesterday in The Washington Post
Nancy Lanza, who was 52, was close to [Mark] Tambascio and his family and frequented his restaurant My Place, befriending many regulars. Tambascio said it was his impression that Adam Lanza had Asperger disorder, a form of autism.
There you have it:  a restaurant owner had the "impression" that the shooter had Asperger Syndrome.  This passage from The New York Times explains why such reporting is both sloppy and irresponsible:
“The media’s continued mention of a possible diagnosis of Asperger syndrome implies a connection between that and the heinous crime committed by the shooter,’’ said Lori S. Shery, president of the Asperger Syndrome Education Network, an advocacy group in New Jersey. “They may have just as well said, ‘Adam Lanza, age 20, was reported to have had brown hair.’”
Many parents had a difficult time yesterday, as their children asked questions about the slaughter in Connecticut. Parents of children on the spectrum had an even harder time, as Michelle Cottle reports at The Daily Beast:
For parents like Hillary Toucey, this sort of primal fear is compounded by another, less far-fetched anxiety: What if someone gets it into his or her head that someday my child will become the kind of monster that would storm a school with an assault rifle?

A mother of three, Toucey has two sons who fall on the spectrum of autistic disorders. Her oldest, 12-year-old Jonah, has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a “high-functioning” form of autism that received a burst of unfortunate publicity this weekend when it was reported that Sandy Hook gunman Adam Lanza also suffered from the disorder.
“I sent the kids to school today a little nervous because I know Eli has had meltdowns in the classrooms before,” she says of her 8-year-old, whose disorder is more severe than his brother’s. Teachers without experience dealing with autism are already unsure of how to handle Eli, says Toucey. “Now, what if they think my kid is going to be a serial killer one day?”
“Aggression in autism spectrum disorders is almost never directed to people outside the family or immediate caregivers, is almost never planned, and almost never involves weapons,” said Dr. Catherine Lord, director of the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain at NewYork-Presbyterian hospital. “Each of these aspects of the current case is more common in other populations than autism.”
Dr. Lord said that in an unpublished review of data tracking several hundred adults with autism over at least the past five years, she and fellow researchers had found no use of weapons.
Among more than 1,000 older children and adolescents in that study, only 2 percent were reported by parents to have used an implement aggressively toward a nonfamily member — fewer than in a control group. That finding was repeated in another set of data that she analyzed over the weekend at the request of The New York Times.
But some of the Twitter messages, electronic postings and media reports in the aftermath of the massacre that has horrified the nation have not reflected that characterization of autism.
"Try curing the real disease, Autism, not the N.R.A.,” wrote one individual on Twitter on Sunday night in response to calls for tighter gun control laws
The Brevard Times asks:
 Since it would take the diagnosis of a medical professional to distinguish whether autistic patient would have violent tendencies, should the mental illness gun control law be changed to require that those who have been diagnosed with autism or Asperger's disease obtain a letter from their doctor stating that the person be allowed to purchase a firearm?
It is one thing to change gun laws for everybody.  It is quite another to assert that a class of American citizens should need special permission to own firearms. Since there is no evidence linking autism to gun violence, such a requirement would violate the rights of autistic people under the Fourteenth Amendment.