Adam Lanza "displayed a profound autism spectrum disorder with rigidity, isolation and a lack of comprehension of ordinary social interaction and communications," a Yale psychiatrist involved in Lanza's care concluded, according to state police records.
The recently released police reports revealed that Adam Lanza was seen at the Yale Child Study Center in his early teens and was once prescribed the antidepressant Celexa.
Volkmar, a child psychiatrist, professor of pediatrics, and chairman of the Yale Child Study Center, and Lerner, a psychology professor and researcher, said that people with autism and Asperger's syndrome are more likely to be victims than perpetrators. When people on the autism spectrum do commit violence, it's almost always impulsive and reflexive, and in response to a situation that has overwhelmed them.
That Lanza apparently had an autism spectrum diagnosis and committed a calculated crime makes his case exceedingly rare. Lanza killed his mother before driving, heavily armed, to the Sandy Hook school.
Someone with an autism spectrum disorder might struggle to control his emotions in a confusing situation, might exhibit poor judgment socially and might inappropriately assign blame. He might become overwhelmed and agitated when stressed, but in most instances wouldn't act out violently, Lerner said.
Volkmar said that the virtual world could be isolating, but advised caution in assessing someone's online activity.
For a person on the autism spectrum, "one of the pulls toward the computer is that it is rule-governed,'' said Volkmar, adding that a person "can relate to others [in ways] that are not as complicated as doing it in real time.''
Lerner said that with the emergence of social networks, researchers are finding that many online relationships mirror the vibrancy of real-life friendships.
So when analyzing someone's behavior online, it's critical to look at quality and content, not just time, Lerner and Volkmar said.