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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Shootings and Distinctions

In The Politics of Autism, I write:
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.”
At The New York Times, Andrew Solomon draws distinctions that dispel the myth of the autistic shooter:
The wish to hurt others is tied not to autism but to psychopathy, which manifests in a deficiency or absence of empathy and remorse. Some autistic people may not recognize why they cause distress; psychopaths don’t carethat they cause distress. Autistic people may see the world from a singular, personal perspective; psychopaths are often cunning manipulators who act according to perceived self-interest without regard for the destruction they cause. Psychopathy seems to have coincided with autism in the cases of Mr. Harper-Mercer at Umpqua and Adam Lanza at Newtown, Conn. Psychopathy apparently coincided with depression and grandiosity in the cases of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at Columbine and Elliot O. Rodger at Isla Vista, Calif. Psychopathy almost certainly coincided with schizophrenia in the cases of James Holmes in Aurora, Colo., and Jared Loughner in Tucson.