Connecticut shooter Adam Lanza was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of autism which manifests itself in awkward socialization with others. As the town of Newtown grapples with the tragedy at its Sandy Hook Elementary School, Lanza’s psychological profile remains an enigma as victims’s families wonder what would provoke such a horrific act.
The 20-year old single man murdered his mother and then 20 more children and six adults in methodical fashion with several guns before killing himself. Described as bright but extremely shy, worrisome and reclusive by high school classmates and others, Lanza fit the Asperger’s profile.
In addition, some research suggests that people with autism exhibit aggressive behavior such as outbursts, shoving or angry shouting more so than the general population according to Eric Butter, psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH. Dr. Butter, who treats autism including Asperger’s, asserts that Lanza’s actions were not due to that condition, saying, “But we are not talking about the kind of planned and intentional type of violence we have seen at Newtown.”
Furthermore, he points out that “these types of tragedies have occurred at the hands of individuals with many different types of personalities and psychological profiles.”
Classical Austism and Asperger’s share the common characteristics of poor social skills, repetitive behavior or interests and difficulty with communicating. However, Asperger’s does not usually include mental and speech developmental delays as parts of its symptom set.
“There really is no clear association between Asperger’s and violent behavior,” said Dr. Liz Laugeson, a licensed clinical psychologist and an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.
“I think it’s far more likely that what happened may have more to do with some other kind of mental health condition like depression or anxiety rather than Asperger’s,” Laugeson stated. She pointed out that those with Asperger’s tend to focus on rules and be very law-abiding. “There’s something more to this. We just don’t know what that is yet.”