Asperger's Syndrome and Violence

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Last Friday, the unthinkable happened. Twenty little children and 6 adults were murdered in a horrendous way. As a nation, we mourn for those that were killed and pray for their families. As is normal, we are curious as to why. We have a need to know and understand not only what happened but why it happened. If we understand why, then maybe we can work toward stopping this type of senseless violence in the future.

    There is speculation that Adam Lanza, the alleged shooter, had Asperger’s syndrome AS), although this has not been officially confirmed. According to experts, however, a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome cannot explain or is not a cause of the horrendous violence we saw unfold on Friday. In an article on USA Today, Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson, an assistant clinical professor at the University of California states, “There really is no clear association between Asperger’s and violent behavior.” [1]

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    Asperger’s syndrome is characterized by social awkwardness and problems communicating. Those with AS do not normally have the speech or other developmental delays associated with classic autism. It is considered a mile, or high-functioning type of autism.

    According to some experts, there is a higher rate of aggression in those with autism, although the aggression is typically impulsive, not a well-planned, intentional attack on others. Some experts don’t see the connection at all. Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer at Autism Speaks, told USA News and World Report, “There is really no evidence that links autism or Asperger’s to violence.” [2] And the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual states, “there is no linking of this syndrome with violence in any way.”

    The aggression most often seen in individuals with autism occurs because of frustration over the inability to communicate needs and wants and usually consists of outbursts, yelling, pushing or throwing objects. It would be more disruptive behaviors than violence. The Asperger’s Syndrome Foundation states that “Individuals with AS are more likely to be victims than offenders.” [3] Typically, individuals with AS strictly follow rules and tend to belaw-abiding citizens.

    Those with AS can, however, have other mental health issues, most commonly depression and anxiety. One study showed that up to 65 percent of individuals with AS also had symptoms of other psychiatric disorders. [4] According to Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson, “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.” [5]  Medication and behavioral therapies are both effective at treating these illnesses, however, for those with trouble communicating, diagnosis and treatment can be difficult.


    References:

    [2] “Asperger’s, Autism Not Linked to Violence: Experts,” 2012, Dec 16, Amanda Gardner, US News and World Report

    [1] [5] “Experts: No Link Between Asperger’s, Violence,” 2012, Dec 16, USa Today, Associated Press


  • [3] “Frequently Asked Questions,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Asperger’s Syndrome Foundation

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    [4] “Mental Health and Asperger Syndrome,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, The National Autistic Society

Published On: December 17, 2012