It’s Happened Again: Apparently, It’s Let’s Publicly Defame a Family Member By Comparing Him to Adam Lanza Week
December 21st, 2012 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

Last Friday, there was the infamous I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother piece.

This Friday, there is an equally disgraceful piece called My brother is not Adam Lanza, but he could be, in which the author, under her own name, with a photo of her brother, says that he could be the next Adam Lanza. Or that he could have been. If his parents hadn’t done such a good job. And he weren’t such a nice person. Or something.

Please, dear readers, answer me two questions: What makes people unable to restrain themselves from blowing the privacy of family members? And what compels them to put a photo of a family member in a piece in which said family member is likened to Adam Lanza?

The author acknowledges that Asperger’s isn’t associated with violence. She acknowledges that her brother, who has Asperger’s, has never committed a violent act in his life. The closest he has ever come has been to get up into her face, with his fists, once.

It was only years later as I watched my brother shaking with rage, as he struggled to hold himself together, with his fist clenched inches from my face that I understood how intense frustration and pain could explode out of a person.

He has never hit me, or any family member, although there are times he uses up every ounce of self- control restraining himself. This incredible effort and bravery, is testament to his goodness.

On these rare occasions I wonder what it would take to push him over the edge. Is that the difference between him and Adam Lanza?

So, apparently, in the mind of Pamela Mirghani, shaking with rage at a family member, if the person shaking with rage happens to have Asperger’s, suggests a risk for committing mass murder. I can’t even begin to parse the logic there, because there isn’t any. The statement is completely prejudicial. Does she realize how many non-autistic people get up in other people’s faces with their fists, and worse, and don’t go on to shoot up schools?

Millions of people, all over the world, feel like hitting people and they don’t do it. And millions of people, all over the world, feel like hitting people and — unlike her brother — they do. Does that make all of these people potential mass murderers? Of course not. And even if it did, why in God’s name link it to Asperger’s, especially when she admits that Asperger’s isn’t linked to violence at all:

While violence may not be linked to autism, frustration is. Without the tools, help and support to cope with that frustration it can overwhelm the sufferer.

I am not Adam Lanza’s sister. My brother is NOT Adam Lanza. But he could have been, maybe could still be under certain circumstances. And acknowledging this is not wrong.

Yes, folks. She just said that her brother with Asperger’s, who has never been violent, who on “rare occasions” has gotten so upset that he wanted to hit someone, could become a mass murderer under certain circumstances — purely because his Asperger’s makes him frustrated. Of course, that blithely ignores the fact that all studies show that Asperger’s is not associated with premeditated violence, and that there is no evidence that mere frustration makes someone load weapons into his car, drive to a school, and commit murder and mayhem. But hey, who needs studies  — not to mention common sense — when you can defame and violate the privacy of a family member for no good reason?

So yes, Pamela. Acknowledging something, when it’s entirely false, prejudicial, and defamatory, is wrong. Saying that anyone with Asperger’s could become a mass murderer under certain circumstances, simply because the person has Asperger’s, is wrong. Saying that your own brother could become a mass murderer, merely because he shares a diagnosis with someone who just committed an unthinkable act, is wrong. There is nothing about Asperger’s that predisposes people to premeditated violence. Nothing at all.

To suggest that your brother with Asperger’s is capable of such a thing, purely because of his disability, not only tars and feathers him, but also tars and feathers everyone who has Asperger’s.

Do you know what that means? Do you know the harm that could come from articles like this one? Do you know the kind of fear that autistic people are feeling right now because we’re being scapegoated in the media for the evil that was done last week? Any idea at all? Do you know how this stigmatizes your brother? Do you understand the humiliation involved in calling him a potential mass murderer? Do you grasp the fact that it puts your brother — and all of us — in potential danger for you to say such a thing in public?

Great job, Pamela. What a nice Christmas present to your brother, to autistic people, and to those who love us. Merry Christmas to you, too.


The Huffington Post. “‘I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother’: A Mom’s Perspective On The Mental Illness Conversation In America.” December 16, 2012. Accessed December 16, 2012.

Mirghani, Pamela. “My brother is not Adam Lanza, but he could be.” National Times. December 21, 2012. Accessed December 21, 2012.

© 2012 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

Note: Anyone who would like to protest the nature of Pamela Mirghani’s article is welcome to share a link to this piece in an email to You can also find WA Today, on whose site the piece appears, on Twitter at @watoday.


30 Responses  
  • Paula C. Durbin-Westby writes:
    December 21st, 20122:27 pmat

    What a disgusting post. Not yours, the other.

  • Amy writes:
    December 21st, 20122:50 pmat

    Maybe you’ve seen this already–arrived in my Facebook feed via _Karla’s ASD Page_ via _The Autistic Self Advocacy Network_.

    I can’t find the words to describe the sinking feeling I had reading about the bullying and Facebook hate groups.

  • Patty writes:
    December 21st, 20122:52 pmat

    Ugh. That piece was disgusting. It’s like she realized she could use her brother’s Aspergers to gain herself some attention. It sickens me. Thank you for posting this, Rachel. You’re right. There is no logic at all to what that woman wrote.

    • Jayn writes:
      December 21st, 20123:50 pmat

      I blog anonymously, trying to keep my pseudonym separate from my RL identity, and get little traffic, and I still hesitate to talk about people in my life in anything more than the most general terms. I can’t imagine what’s going on inside the head of this woman of others like her. Actually, I probably can, but I know I don’t want to.

  • Sheesh writes:
    December 21st, 20124:45 pmat

    Next week someone will tell us their pet rabbit could have been Adam Lanza. What’s with people wanting to leap onto someone else’s tragedy to get attention for themselves by defaming their loved ones (and the entire autistic community by proxy)?

  • Amy Caraballo writes:
    December 21st, 20124:53 pmat

    When writers connect questionable degrees of relation, the motives are usually pretty obvious. This is about boosting a career and using tragedy to make a name for herself. Sick and sad. Worse is that online media publishes this drivel. Ethics no longer apply to journalism it seems.

  • Andrew Dell'Antonio writes:
    December 21st, 20124:58 pmat

    Really, the level of self-pity that relatives of disabled folks can exhibit is truly mind-bending. And we neurotypicals are supposed to be the ones who have empathy? I agree with Amy C that the fact that the media continues to “bite” at these whinersis deeply appalling. How can anyone can pretend to believe this is in any way “helping” anyone?

  • selene depackh writes:
    December 21st, 20125:10 pmat

    This is beyond pathetic, using a family member who’s never done anything but apparently restrained himself remarkably well against hurting someone who clearly thinks absolutely nothing of the value of his feelings.

    • Matthew Smith writes:
      December 22nd, 20125:49 pmat

      Yeah … made me wonder what she was doing to annoy him. People (autistic or not) usually don’t attack people just for no reason.

  • Ben writes:
    December 21st, 20125:18 pmat

    sigh. because the murders of teachers and little kids weren’t upsetting enough, we’ve all had to endure the seemingly inevitable, backwards backlash against autistic people. the last week has hurt, SO MUCH.
    some people in my life think i can’t possibly be autistic, because i can manage eye contact and can keep from acting ‘weird’ for fifteen minutes at a time. i learned how to endure these things, among many others, because i was tired of people treating me like i was scary.
    i can’t help that i’m male, that i’m six feet tall, that i have deep voice, but i figured i could act like a regular person, and counteract their assumption that i was scary, and dangerous, because i was no longer cuddly.
    there’s no room to look angry when you’re six feet tall, male AND autistic. never mind that i’ve never hurt anybody, and am horrified and disturbed by violence, delighted by animals, goof off with little kids, calmed by quiet, spend most of my time by myself and confused and scared of regular people all my life. people who know me well, know that i love animals, animation and comic books, and have a hard time watching skateboarders fall onto railings on America’s Funniest Home Videos.
    i’m exhausted from trying to appear harmless and neutered.
    but probably still not as tired as Rachel :-)

    • Angeerah writes:
      December 21st, 201210:16 pmat

      You sound awesome, Ben.

  • dkmnow writes:
    December 21st, 20125:23 pmat

    I already had plenty of misgivings about clicking or linking to HuffPo, and Liza Long’s disgraceful behavior has only reinforced my reluctance. And now that WA Today has earned it’s first distinction in my eyes by following suit — a thoroughly unflattering distinction — I only have reasons NOT to click their links.

    Congrats, Huffpo and WA Today; and bon voyage: your failboat is boarding.

  • rina writes:
    December 21st, 20125:29 pmat

    Like everyone else, I am disgusted by Pamela Mirghani’s blog post and all its ilk (and how sad is it that there’s been more than one?). Others have said it better than I can, but to repeat: it is beyond selfish and inconsiderate to “out” a family member, without his consent, to compare him in any way to a reviled mass-killer, to make logical corkscrews in order to support a ridiculous argument that there is some kind of connection and commonality between the brother and the killer, in order to get attention and page-views. It’s despicable.

  • Jules writes:
    December 21st, 20125:40 pmat

    I am so torn about this one. On one hand, I think that Mirghani’s blog post is so blatantly stupid that bringing attention to it is a waste of one’s energy. I read it yesterday and thought, “Really? Who could take this seriously? It’s ridiculous. A obvious attention seeking attempt by a sub par writer. . .anyone would dismiss it!”

    But then again, in the last week I’ve heard enough evidence to prove to myself that most people are far less informed than I’d previously thought (and believe me, my opinion wasn’t all that high to begin with). I’ve heard people who work with “emotionally disturbed kids” talk about bringing guns to class. I’ve heard them exchange stories about their past brushes with violent autistic kids, heard bogus explanations of what empathy is, looks, and feels like. . .and wondered, “Do any of these supposedly normal people have a scrap of empathy themselves?”

    Maybe not. Everyone seems quite willing to throw anyone under a bus for a buck and some publicity.

    A part of me wants to write “We are all Adam Lanza.” We are a (so called) society that is filled with ignorance and predicated on exploitation and enforced compliance and “normalcy.” We are also a violent society that is insane in its worship of destructive dominant masculinity. “We” seem so shocked, confused, and surprised when a troubled young man kills someone, yet it seems only natural when the gun dealers advertise “man cards,” and this boy, Adam Lanza. . .well, let’s be frank here: If nothing else, he was what Americans calls a scrawny nerd. It’s highly unlikely he wasn’t bullied. It’s highly likely he was given off label “psychiatric” drugs. I know we don’t want to put a human face on him, but it’s necessary to look at this thing as it is. It is not isolated. He may have been on the spectrum. Can we say that? I am NOT defending him, but I think someone needs to speak truth to power here.

    I am somewhat afraid to write this or post this. I don’t want anyone to be angry at me. I don’t want to alienate anyone. I’ve been scared and sad and upset this week, too. I want support. We all do.

    • Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg writes:
      December 21st, 20125:45 pmat

      Jules, I agree wholeheartedly that we need to talk about the way our culture constructs masculinity and associates it with violence. I also think that, if Adam Lanza did, in fact, have an Asperger’s diagnosis, it’s fine to mention it — as a fact, like his hair color or height, not as an explanation, and not in a way that makes people fear autistics without any basis whatsoever. Yes, people with autism can do terrible things, but not because of their autism. And most people who do terrible things are not autistic, or mentally ill, or disabled.

      • Emily writes:
        December 22nd, 20121:20 amat

        One of the things that bothers me so much about articles like hers is that they acknowledge some of the external factors – how people treat people, what people have to endure from others – that contribute to someone’s potential future “issues,” so the authors seem sensitive and understanding, like they “get things.” But then they write from that point on as if those resulting, long-time-in-the-making, didn’t-come-out-of-nowhere issues are a result of the condition of the person who has them instead of the experiences they have had at the hands (words, attitudes, etc.) of other people. It is implied or directly stated, and received by many people as making perfect sense, without question, that an autistic person has or is more prone to certain emotions or mental health conditions because they are autistic, not because of the way they have been regarded because they are autistic. The lack of critical thinking and the blindness to reality just burns sometimes.

  • Bec writes:
    December 21st, 20125:45 pmat

    I have never been as genuinely scared for my kids’ welfare as I have been this week. The frenzy of irresponsible and incorrect reports is so troubling and incredibly serious. This is a big deal. It’s not a time for careless words, and unfortunately the WA Today opinion piece is exactly that.

    • Tiff writes:
      December 23rd, 20129:36 amat

      Couldn’t agree with you more, Bec.

  • Jules writes:
    December 21st, 20126:03 pmat

    I agree with what you wrote, Rachel, agree totally. . .but, do you really think the majority of people even understand the distinction? I don’t think so. Truth is, a good majority of Americans would consider “facts” like skin color and religion to be “reasons” for why people do what they do. Not only have people with disabilities been targeted this week, but people without religion. . .People are looking for reasons. Reasons they will find. We must fight ignorance on all fronts!

    • Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg writes:
      December 21st, 20126:05 pmat

      I think that there are a lot of people who don’t understand the distinction, and not understanding the distinction is at the core of bigotry. That’s why it’s so important to speak up about it.

  • Jules writes:
    December 21st, 20126:51 pmat

    Good point! That’s why you are the academic and not I. ;-)

  • Dean-The dyslexic autistic writes:
    December 21st, 20128:55 pmat

    One question.Where is there any evidence, beyond two comments, off hand in the instance of his brother, unsubstantiated in the instance of the divorce mediator, that Lanza had Aspergers, or was anywhere on the spectrum?Cos ive not read of it.

    • Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg writes:
      December 21st, 20129:49 pmat

      There is no other evidence.

  • Emily writes:
    December 22nd, 201212:17 amat

    “He has never hit me, or any family member, although there are times he uses up every ounce of self- control restraining himself. This incredible effort and bravery, is testament to his goodness.”

    This, I understand. I got to that point many times when I was younger. I had to use up every ounce of self-control restraining myself from hitting someone or throwing something at someone. It didn’t take long before I started hurting myself instead, and I’ve had the bruises and scratches and aches and still have the scars to show for it. I know what it’s like. And she’s right: it *is* a testament to his goodness that he exerts so much energy to restrain himself when he has arrived or been brought to that point of frustration.

    But that’s where it ends. There is no excuse for the author thinking that all it takes to go from that to premeditated murder is an unknown trigger. No excuse. It’s ridiculous. I don’t even know how else to get that point across because it’s so incredibly absurd.

    I actually wonder how many non-autistic males would restrain themselves under the same internal pressure as the author’s brother sometimes experiences. Boys and men getting into fistfights wouldn’t be such a common occurrence in books, TV, and movies, and wouldn’t be presented in the ways it is presented, if it wasn’t so widespread in our culture. People lash out at other people all the time – usually at specific people, the objects of their immediate emotion. I wish they didn’t, but they do, and they’re not suspected to have the capacity for mass murder because they scream at someone, hit someone, or even kill someone. The author’s brother hasn’t been violent at all and has shown more restraint than so many boys and men without autism who have lashed out due to extreme frustration and anger, and he is suspected to be one hypothetical trigger away from imaginary mass murder. How does that makes sense?

    • Emily writes:
      December 22nd, 201212:28 amat

      I just read her addition and I do think it helps explain where she is coming from a bit. She touches on the same ideas I have been thinking about – the indirect routes from one point to another, with all of the input from external sources that happens along the way. I do want to give her the benefit of the doubt in light of that, but I also think that if we’re going to be discussing indirect relationships, we need to stop talking about autism specifically, because if the indirect relationships between things are about bullying, abuse, silencing, and all of the other things that happen, then we are absolutely not just talking about autism. We are talking about an entire culture.

      And still, her article is unsettling to me because I know that so many people don’t think critically or deeply about things. I hate seeing autism and violence in the same article even if there is more to it than that, because I am so afraid that people won’t notice, absorb, or care about the “more to it.”

      • Emily writes:
        December 22nd, 201212:39 amat

        Okay, it’s also unsettling in other ways that I remembered immediately after I hit submit…figures. But I do think I understand what she’s *trying* to say in the piece – how’s that for theory of mind? – I just don’t think she’s saying it very effectively, which is why it still feels unsettling to me.

        With a subject like this, I think people need to go into overkill mode with explanations and caveats and paraphrasing complex ideas into the simplest constructions possible – repeatedly – because it’s too easy for things to be misunderstood. It’s too heavy and consequential a topic for an author to not make sure she is being absolutely, without a doubt, perfectly clear in what she is actually trying to convey.

    • Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg writes:
      December 22nd, 201212:46 amat

      It doesn’t make sense. That’s because it’s based on a prejudice.

  • Andee writes:
    December 22nd, 201212:43 amat

    You know what happens when stories like this keep coming out, one after another after another? I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, Rachel, or the other autistic people (and allies) reading this, but I’ll say it anyway: People start saying things like, “Yes, we know that most of you aren’t like that, but just in case you are the one in 500 million who would do such a thing — which we can’t know because we hardly know you — we can’t take the chance on hiring you/being your friend/letting you go to school or live here/etc.”

    We can’t take the chance. That’s what this comes down to, people wanting their suspicions confirmed. The same thing would probably have happened if he were NT but brown or Muslim or transgender, or maybe even gay or Jewish or pagan or avowedly atheist or fat (I’m sure I could make this list even longer if I thought about it). “You’re one of them, those people we will grudgingly tolerate until one of you does something very, very bad. Then we will use that as an excuse to do what we’ve secretly been wanting to do, which is relentlessly snub each and every one of you, because we only really trust people who are exactly like us.”

    • Tiff writes:
      December 23rd, 20129:41 amat

      That’s what scares me, and breaks my heart, when I look at my adorable boy, full of love, life and goodness – that anyone might decide they can’t take a chance on him.

  • Bonivard writes:
    December 26th, 20126:35 amat

    Oh my God. Oh my good God.

    You wanna talk about ‘shaking with rage’, Pamela? Well, you should see me right now, because I’m positively spastic just from reading your noxious article.

    Frankly, if this is how the neurotypical ‘empathy gene’ manifests itself, I think I’ll take that Asperger’s diagnosis that’s been hovering around me for a while.

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