Comments on: Scapegoating in the Aftermath of the Sandy Hook Shooting: Yes, It’s Really Happening to Us Changing the Cultural Conversation Wed, 30 Oct 2013 16:22:20 +0000 hourly 1 By: Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg Mon, 31 Dec 2012 11:34:35 +0000 Charli, there is a distinction between saying that the bullying and exclusion Adam Lanza likely experienced was a contributing factor in what he did, and saying that his autism was. I don’t think anyone is arguing that autistic people simply can’t do these things; Adam Lanza, if he was in fact autistic, puts the lie to that idea. We’re arguing that, if he was autistic, his autism didn’t make him do it. Perhaps the rage he felt at likely exclusion and bullying contributed, but that’s not rooted in autism; that’s rooted in other people’s responses to autism. And even bullying and exclusion can’t explain it; most people who suffer those things don’t strike out violently at all; it’s a long, long road from feeling anger to hurting someone. Many people, in many minorities, feel pain and rage, but most of them don’t pick up a gun, and if they do, it’s not their race or sexual orientation or gender identity that makes them do it.

By: CHARLI Devnet Mon, 31 Dec 2012 00:00:08 +0000 NOT ONE OF US?

It happens every time a horrific crime is in the news. Most every commentator will rush without evidence, to characterize the perpetrator as “The madman,” or “the deranged individual,” or announce that “a person suffering from mental illness” walked into the school. . the mall. . . the movie theatre. . .”Each time I hear that I cringe, not because of any sympathy for the guilty party or because it is a slur against the mentally disabled, because of the smugness of the speaker. To call someone “deranged” or “mad” is to marginalize them, to declare that they “are not one of us,” and, indeed, not really human at all. As an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome who has been marginalized all her life, I feel very uncomfortable when anyone, even someone quite unsavory, is summarily written out of the human race. I wonder if these sanctimonious pundits realize that most instances of mass carnage (a.k.a. “wars”) have been planned and executed by neurotypicals just like themselves who were perfectly sane, unless you consider “drunk with power” a cognizable mental disorder.

Now, with the news that Adam Lanza, the shooter in the Connecticut elementary school massacre, may have had Asperger’s Syndrome, it is the turn of the autism community to recoil in horror and declare that no, he could not have possibly been one of us. The reports must have been in error, say many autism societies; he had never been formally diagnosed; perhaps he had “something else” instead, as though it would protect us to shovel him off onto another persecuted minority, as though there were a “something else” which would compel a person, not only to pump four bullets into the head of his mother as she lay in bed, but to then pack up the car with military gear, drive to the local elementary school and methodically gun down twenty first-graders and a handful of adults who got in his way.. Perhaps he had a demon, riding alongside him, loading ammo into those high-capacity magazines.

It is true, of course, that individuals on the spectrum are more likely to be victims that villains, and that they almost never commit preplanned premeditated violence against strangers. That is why so few autistics go for soldiers. However, that does not mean that aspies, like all human beings, are incapable of becoming evildoers on occasion.

All I know, all anyone knows at this point, is what has been reported in the media. It does appear, however, that Lanza’s behavior, up to the date of the shooting, was very aspie-like. He puts me in mind of many of the young male aspies I have encountered, and, indeed, a bit of myself at that age. So we will assume, if only for the sale of argument, that Lanza likely did fall somewhere on the autism spectrum and we may further assume that like many adolescent and adult aspies- myself included- he may have suffered from co-morbid disorders such as depression and anxiety. None of these conditions caused him to commit such a despicable and irrational crime, but to say that his autism had nothing to do with it, as some groups have immediately declared, may be too much of a stretch. Rather than rushing to publish disclaimers, is it not possible that we might learn something about ourselves through this one horrific exception to the general rule that autistics only harm themselves and those that are close to them?

I actually knew someone who killed his mother. For many years, I lived next to a peaceable, personable and very nice family. Jason was not on the spectrum and, as far as I know, he had no mental disorders. He was just an ordinary kid. Yes, as a teenager he was a bit wild, but, by the time he reached his early twenties, the young man appeared to have turned his life around. He took responsibility for his life; he dressed well and was gainfully employed. Truth be told, I admired him immensely, for at that age I had been stranded in a limbo of dysfunctionality. Like many aspies, I experienced a world of difficulty making the transition to adulthood, and foundered about for many years before I gained a foothold in the “grown-up” world.

The young man disappeared from the neighborhood, and I supposed he had gotten his own place, moved out of the area, perhaps even married. His mother told me no, that her son was jailed on a drug charge and asked me to say a prayer for his release. Eventually Jason was freed, and one night, apparently in an alcohol-fueled rage, he bludgeoned his mother and stepfather to death. He’s back in prison now, locked away for life, and trapped for eternity, or what will seem like eternity, in his own private hell of remorse and regret, more intractable than the steel walls of his cell.

When I heard what Jason had done, I not only mourned for the victims, I shuddered, crossed myself and murmured, there but for the Grace of God . . . This was the kind of tragedy I could relate to. Had I not myself, in times of stress, flown into blind rages, and lashed out at loved ones or anyone who might be nearby? Had I not lost control of my behavior and caused damage and harm? I had never flipped out to such an extent, of course, but the realization of what rage might do caused me to reexamine my own tendencies and thenceforth I held the reins a little tighter whenever my emotions threatened to run away with me.

Nonetheless, Adam Lanza’s criminal rampage was not a crime of passion; he did not just “snap” one night and strike out blindly like my young neighbor. No, it took planning and it took deliberation and it took a degree of cold-bloodedness to assemble that combat gear, a bullet-proof vest, and numerous clips of ammunition, to pack that arsenal into the family car and drive to town, not aimlessly, but directly to the local elementary school. That was the very unaspie-like thing he did. We on the autism spectrum are so inner-directed, as the very word “autism” implies, that we cannot understand why anyone should be hell bent on mowing down strangers, be they children or be they grown-ups. That is what makes Lanza’s actions so inexplicable.

About a week after the incident, I met with my therapist. She suggested that perhaps Adam Lanza was envious of the children. Perhaps he felt that he had been deprived of his own childhood and the very existence of these first-graders wrenched his heart with excruciating pain. A light went on in my head when she said these words.

It was a coincidence, but while sitting in the waiting room, I had been scanning a New Yorker article on Michael Jackson. Jackson certainly had some quirky, eccentric ways, and he was unquestionably obsessed with children and his own lost childhood. Although never the perpetrator of violence, the singer did express his obsession in ways that many people considered inappropriate and wrong.

I recollected my own past. It was not my childhood that I had been robbed of, but adolescence. The summer I turned thirteen, my parents sold our house in my hometown and moved to a rustic area in upstate New York. Life as I knew it was ended. Left behind were my childhood friends, my school, three grandparents and numerous aunts and uncles. Once a spunky street urchin, I suddenly found myself abandoned on the frozen tundra with no one to talk to and nowhere to go, unbearably homesick and alone. High school was a nightmare from start to finish. I was bussed to a large impersonal campus full of bullies and strangers. My grades which had once been exceptional now plummeted. I made no new friends to replace those I had lost, nor did I have an adult mentor. There were a few good teachers there who might have taken me under their wings, but they were overwhelmed and far too busy. My parents were convinced that I was only making believe, pretending to fall apart in order to punish them for tearing me away from my hometown. Dragging myself out of bed in the morning was agony; sleep, my only solace. All the while I was well aware that, all around me, my classmates were having fun, dating, going to parties, dances and football games It’s not that I did not want to join them; My nose was pressed tightly to the windowpane, but where was the key?.

Long after those days were passed, when I was an adult in my twenties and thirties, and, yes, in my forties, my heart would sink whenever I happened upon a group of teenagers chatting, flirting, and enjoying themselves. An unreasoning envy would seize me, and I would curse them under my breath and wish them misfortune. I knew that my reaction was irrational, that these young people had done me no harm, that they were not the bullies who had tormented me and locked me out of their world. Logic could not dispel the anger and pain that seethed within.

Now, I might have wished them misfortune, but would I have ever taken steps to inflict it? No, of course not. Rather, I did what aspies commonly do. I turned and sunk my claws into my own heart, scorpion-like. I gave myself up to the slow suicide of desolation and despair.

If Adam Lanza had only destroyed himself, no one would have noticed. He would have silently departed this world, leaving “no footprints,” as one commentator put it. If he had only killed his mother, well-meaning people would have shaken their heads and said exactly what they said about my neighbor, that here was another troubled young man who “snapped.” It is because he exploded in such an unusual and almost apocalyptic way, that we are so shaken. If there is a silver lining to this horrific event, it might be that now the autism community will take an honest look at the dark side of living on the spectrum.

Advocates prefer not to address the negative aspects of autism. The reason for this is easy to understand. First of all, scare no one. Better to portray us as shy, gentle, quirky geniuses. This is a safe depiction, but is it complete? Yes, we want acceptance, but must we sacrifice some inconvenient facts? Pretend all spectrummites are saints and the one who is not a saint is doubly alienated.

“Aspies are prey animals” say Tony Attwood and Temple Grandin. That we know is true. However, wounded prey may become desperate and strike back. A lifetime of being bullied, rejected and relegated to the periphery of life can give rise to anger and bitter fantasies of revenge, especially among lonely young autistics that have grown up in a culture where violence is glamorized and who may turn to perfecting their skills at violent video games in lieu of a social life.

This is not to excuse Adam Lanza or anyone else, on or off the spectrum, who commits a terrible crime. In the end, I believe in free will. Unless a person is truly insane and has no control whatsoever over his or her actions, one must ultimately be held accountable. An ordered society could not exist unless there were laws against wrongdoing, and most aspies respect the law. It has been written that courage is not the absence of fear, but the strength to overcome it. Perhaps choosing to be a good person entails not the absence of anger, but the presence of mind to channel that anger in a constructive way. Rather than sweep it under the rug, would it not be wonderful if aspies who have succeeded could lend a helping hand to those who are still challenged by pain, anger and despair to overcome the darker emotions and temptations of the autistic life?

Charli Devnet

By: Bonivard Fri, 28 Dec 2012 02:35:53 +0000 Actually, ‘a few days’ is being charitable. I quote verbatim from Dr. Malt’s testimony:

“The first time I saw Breivik enter the courtroom, I watched him extremely closely – and for a psychiatrist, the first few milliseconds are very important.”

This was towards the end of his hour-long lecture about how all autists lead wretched, unendurable lives as a result of their supposed complete inability to empathize with other people or to form genuine friendships. :-(

By: Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg Thu, 27 Dec 2012 14:57:41 +0000 Not really. A psychiatrist looked at him from across the courtroom for a few days and said he might have an unusual form of Asperger’s. A very scientific analysis. The psychiatrists who actually examined him — as psychiatrists are wont to do from time to time — said that he didn’t have Asperger’s at all.

By: Randy Klein Thu, 27 Dec 2012 14:13:58 +0000 Is there any way that donations can be sent to the family of the child who was attacked in the store? I’m sure that htere will be medical and therapy bilss as a result of this. Was the person responsible for this charged? I am sure that this could be considered a hate crime of some sort.

By: Bonivard Thu, 27 Dec 2012 13:41:23 +0000 Tell me, did the autism theory that surfaced during he trial of Anders Behring Breivik receive any coverage internationally? (Hopefully not…)

By: chavisory Thu, 27 Dec 2012 04:01:25 +0000 The following was part of a comment left on Emily Willingham’s “Motherlode” column in the New York Times, titled “Our Sons Are Not Future Killers.”

“I never turn my back on these kids.
They have no empathy. They are time bombs”

I flagged it as inflammatory, but it remains, without comment or any apparent condemnation from an editor. Can you imagine this comment being made against any other ethnic or disability group, flagged, and adjudicated to be acceptable to the Times’ comment policy? No, but bigotry against us like this is totally acceptable.

By: Aliz Thu, 27 Dec 2012 03:08:40 +0000 The scapegoating reached my country too, someone said on a tv show that the tragedy was caused because of Asperger, I think it was a psychologist, few people even know about Asperger or Autism here and we still have the same problem from what we learn about violence and autism from the United States news.
Luckily we have less “awareness” so people can’t see if someone is an autistic person if they don’t pass well, actually this is not luck but it makes some people safer.
Many people protested the misinformation on our media but the damage was already done, if there is an apology at the same show it would be nice but the first thing people hear is the one they memorize more, it caused damage to the autistic people, especially children, that were watching the show too.

By: Bob Rottenberg Thu, 27 Dec 2012 02:49:40 +0000 Two thoughts:

1. In the Jewish world, one of the greatest “sins” is called “lashon ha-ra” — literally, “evil tongue.” Saying harsh, untrue things about others. It is equated with murder because the blood drains out of a person’s face when they have been publicly insulted or shamed. Everything negative that is being said about people with autism and Asperger’s is nothing less than lashon ha-ra, and should be seen as such. It murders a person’s good name.

2. Most cultures, ours included, have the tendency to “otherwise” those who are “not like us” so that we won’t have to look into the mirror and see ourselves reflected there; so we won’t have to take responsibility, as a society, for the evils that we either do or allow to be done. Wayne LaPierre’s very public meltdown the other day is a perfect example of this: Throw enough buckshot out there, and it’s bound to hit something — but it certainly won’t hit any of “us.”

And a third thought: “First they came for the Jews, but I wasn’t a Jew, so I said nothing….”

By: SueZoo Wed, 26 Dec 2012 22:47:19 +0000 I’m with you Cara, so dis-heartened and sad and angry, I can’t get the thoughts flying through my head to settle down so I can organize them. My cognitive dysfunction amplifies when I’m feeling too hard. This is so very hard. I want to delete my incoherent and non-participatory post, but that will just make me angrier too. another hurdle. well … try again tomorrow.