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 Mankato Free Press, [Mankato, Minnesota], Jessica Bies reports on the sentencing of a youth for a plan to commit violence at a local high school.
When law enforcement announced in April 2014 that a plan to detonate bombs and shoot staff and students at Waseca Junior-Senior High School had been narrowly averted, the community was duly shocked.
But maybe not as shocked as 25-year-old Wes Huntington of Le Sueur was a month ago when would-be attacker John LaDue's autism took center stage as an explanation for his sinister plot.
On the autism spectrum himself, Huntington was suddenly afraid. It was like Sandy Hook all over again.
Worried that the recent Waseca court case could prompt fear and rejection of those on the autism spectrum, local advocates are speaking out about how the media and legal system sometimes link the disorder with violent behavior.
Last month LaDue, the 18-year-old behind the plot, was sentenced to up to 10 years of probation and treatment at a secured autism facility in Georgia.
During LaDue’s sentencing, Judge Joseph Chase lay blame for the teen's plan with autism spectrum disorder.
“Because of ASD John LaDue is unable to relate to other people the way the rest of us do,” he said. “It is not that he will not; it is that he cannot. ASD prevents him, the experts are telling us, because of the way he is wired, from having — from experiencing true emotional responses to others the way that most of us do.”
But autism specialists say that statement is false, at least in part.
Karen Eastman, a professor at Minnesota State University specializing in autism spectrum disorder, said one myth about the disorder is that it prevents them from experiencing emotion.
“Another myth is that they don't care or don't have feeling for other people or they lack empathy,” she said. “But I have found them to be very caring people.”