After Adam Lanza killed 20 children on December 14, a host of subsequent coverage of the Newtown, CT, massacre focused on whether or not he was mentally ill and, if so, how his illness may have affected his actions.
Most of the speculation centered on whether or not Lanza had autism—which is not a mental illness but often gets lumped in with them—leading to enraged pushback by advocates that (rightfully) resented the implication the developmental disorder causes violence. (A joint investigation between Frontline and the Hartford Courant reported that Lanza did have a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome.)
Turns out all this coverage was crafted with no official standards guiding how journalists should treat mental illness in their reporting—the Associated Press Stylebook, the main arbiter of style and usage in journalism, lacked an entry on mental illness until Thursday.
Autism figures prominently in the entry:
Autism spectrum disorders. These include Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism. Many experts consider autism a developmental disorder, not a mental illness