There is no evidence linking autism to planned violence, but in recent years, mass shootings by young men have led commentators in the mainstream media and on the Internet to suggest such a connection. After the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, for instance, news reports said that the shooter was on the spectrum. The speculation made little sense to anyone who understood autism. Whereas autistic people have language delays and deficits, the killer had learned English as a second language — and learned it well enough to major in the subject in college. Later on, it turned out that he had an entirely different problem, a social anxiety disorder. Adam Lanza, who committed the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, may have had an Asperger’s diagnosis, but his father emphasized that his behavior stemmed from the psychiatric illnesses that he also had.Nevertheless, the media speculated about Lanza’s place on the spectrum, which worried autism parents. One mother of an autistic child wrote: “This is the first time I'm truly afraid for him. Afraid of what may happen to my son with autism at the hands of a stranger; a stranger who has chosen to buy into the media-fueled misinformation that individuals diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder are dangerous and capable of horrendous acts of terror and violence.”
The New York Times reports on the Oregon shooter's mother, Laurel Harper.
In addition to talking about guns, Ms. Harper, 64, was a prolific commenter in online forums dealing with medical issues, frequently answering questions from strangers with a tone of empathy and concern. She expressed having expertise in autism, saying that both she and her son — whom she never identified by name — had Asperger’s syndrome.
Consoling another parent seeking help with disruptive behavior by an autistic child, Ms. Harper said that her own son “was, among other things, a head-banger” when he was younger and was initially given a misdiagnosis of attention deficit disorder. But over time, he had learned to cope and was doing better, she wrote: “I was in your shoes and now my son’s in college.”
She expressed frustration with people who questioned how successful a person with autism could be, noting: “I have Asperger’s and I didn’t do so bad. Wasn’t easy (understatement) but it can be done.” She also said she had “dealt with it on a daily basis for years and years” because of her son, who she said was progressing well.
“He’s no babbling idiot nor is his life worthless,” Ms. Harper wrote. “He’s very intelligent and is working on a career in filmmaking. My 18 years worth of experience with and knowledge about Asperger’s syndrome is paying off.”CNN has an important caveat:
Autism spectrum disorders can cause significant social impairments, communication problems and restricted, repetitive behavior patterns. But studies have shown there is no direct link between Asperger's and violence. The question was also raised three years ago, after Adam Lanza, who was said to have Asperger's, killed 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.In this case, note that we do not know whether the shooter or his mother actually had a medical diagnosis of Asperger.