News that the gunman responsible for the Connecticut school shooting last week was reportedly diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome is coming with a dose of caution from autism advocates.
A law enforcement official told The Associated Press over the weekend that Adam Lanza, 20, had Asperger’s. Lanza killed 26 people at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Friday, most of them children in the first grade.
But autism advocates say the diagnosis does not explain the mass shooting and point out that there is no link between the type of planned violence that Lanza displayed and the developmental disorder.
“There is absolutely no evidence or any reliable research that suggests a linkage between autism and planned violence,” reads a statement from The Autism Society. “To imply or suggest that some linkage exists is wrong and is harmful to more than 1.5 million law abiding, non-violent and wonderful individuals who live with autism each day.”
Those who knew Lanza described him to The New York Times as shy and socially awkward. While those traits are characteristic of autism, self-advocates caution that having the condition does not suggest whether a person will do good or bad things in life.
“While the majority of statistics prove that we are infinitely more prone to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators of violence, we are not immune from becoming people capable of making terrible, horrible choices. No one is,” said Michael John Carley, executive director of the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership.
Nonetheless, experts at the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law said the tragedy calls attention to the lack of mental health services currently available.
“The real problem is that community based services — including mobile crisis services, assertive community treatment, peer supports and supportive housing — are in short supply, delaying hospital discharges and resulting in mental health crises that could otherwise be prevented,” the organization said in a statement. “A stronger commitment to vital community mental health services is long overdue and must be paired with improved gun laws in order to prevent future tragedies.”