Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Experts Dismiss Autism Connection

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Experts Dismiss Autism Connection

Article excerpt

Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old shooter in the Newtown, Conn., school killings, had Asperger's syndrome, but experts say the autism disorder likely did not cause the rampage on Friday in which he took the lives of 20 children, six school employees and his mother.

"There's no known connection between Asperger's syndrome and planned acts of violence," said Suzanne Buchanan, a psychologist and interim executive director of Autism New Jersey. "This was an extremely rare event by one individual."

Like others with autism, people with Asperger's have difficulty interpreting social cues and forming personal relationships. They may avoid social contact and engage in repetitive, ritualized behavior, but usually have average or above-average intelligence. They tend to focus intensely on a few narrow interests.

That social awkwardness can make them targets of bullying, which may provoke a violent reaction, said Dr. Sherie Novotny, a psychiatrist who is director of the Autism Clinic at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway.

"But it's mostly personal violence -- against the one doing the bullying, not mass shootings," she said. The action is reactive, not preplanned.

"Anybody can commit an act of violence," Novotny said. "A lot of children with Asperger's syndrome have also had exposures to bullying and stress and things that might make them more prone to violence. ... It's not related to the disorder."

In one highly publicized case, a 16-year-old with severe Asperger's syndrome attending a special education program at a Massachusetts high school was convicted of stabbing a 15-year-old to death in a school bathroom in 2007.

Details are still emerging about Adam Lanza. By all accounts, he was socially withdrawn and isolated, speaking little in class and having no known friends. But his high school classmates appear to have let him be, rather than bullied him.

His parents, Nancy and Peter Lanza, told a divorce mediator in 2009 that their son had been diagnosed with Asperger's. His mother said at the time that she did not like to leave him alone, and that she was prepared to care for him as long as needed. …

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