Adam Lanza: scapegoating is not the answer

My thanks to Michael Baron for this PRESS RELEASE from Autism-Europe.

18 December 2012
Caution over linking autism with school massacre in United States

Numerous media reports have claimed that, Adam Lanza, the young man who killed 20 children 6 adults at an elementary school in the United States on Friday, had Asperger syndrome.

While claims that Lanza had Asperger syndrome (an autism spectrum disorder) remain unverified at this point in time, Autism-Europe urges the wider community to be cautious about making links between autism and violent crime.

On this tragically sad occasion, Autism-Europe’s Director, Aurélie Baranger, expresses “our deepest sympathies for the victims of the massacre at Sandhook Elementary School, their families and the community of Newtown, Connecticut”.

Ms Baranger explains that, “We should understand this tragedy as the act of an individual, not typical of a person with autism.”

“We urge the international community, including journalists and other individuals, to avoid making incorrect assumptions or judgements about people with autism,” she continues.

“As with the rest of society, the vast majority of people who have autism are law-abiding citizens.”

“People with autism throughout Europe, the United States and the rest of the world, already face many barriers and much discrimination. Additional negative stereotyping in the media only leads to further stigmatisation and difficulties for people who have autism.”

“When writing media reports, we urge journalists in particular to take appropriate care to avoid further stigmatising people who have autism,” she continues.

Autism affects around 1 in 150 people in Europe. It is a lifelong disability that affects the development and functioning of the brain. People who have autism experience difficulty with communication, social interaction and often display restricted interests and repetitive behaviours. Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means that the symptoms vary between individuals, ranging from mild to severe.

For more information about autism, please visit: www.autismeurope.org

For more information, and or interviews, please do not hesitate to contact

Aurelie Baranger, Director of Autism-Europe:

Tel: +32 (0)477 70 59 34

Email: aurelie.baranger@autism-europe.org

The media has generally has acquitted itself well in covering the school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, except in one respect. Faced with the inexplicable horror of a massacre of young children, an explanation has been sought by trying to typecast the perpetrator.

From all accounts it is reasonable to assume that Adam Lanza was shy, intelligent, vulnerable, socially isolated, a “nerd” in common parlance. But it is unreasonable to label him a “Nerd Killer” as one UK tabloid did. Language is important. Calling him a “Child Killer” would have left no doubt about what he did. “Nerd Killer” is a statement about who he was. It suggests that going on a killing spree is a nerd characteristic.The grammatically correct “nerdy killer” is less strong. It does not make nerds seem threatening or dangerous. Instead it suggests that this was an uncharacteristic act.

Similarly, the references to Lanza’s interest in computer games, violent of course, are supposed to mark him out as a potential mass murderer. But a month ago the media were all over the launch of Black Ops II with pictures of happy smiling fans some of whom had obsessively queued for days. Others were in fancy dress as blood smeared zombies. All good fun and generating millions of sales but apparently not millions of deranged killers.

Back to autism, and Lanza certainly looks a good fit for a diagnosis. This has yet to be confirmed. Actually most of the “facts” about Lanza have turned out to be false according to the Guardian. If it turns out to be true does it matter? Not very much. In my opinion, if he had survived to stand trial it should have had no bearing on his guilt and no bearing on his sentence. But it should have been taken into account to ensure that his condition did not disadvantage him in exercising his legal right to a fair trial. And it should have been a mitigating factor in deciding the appropriate custodial regime for such a vulnerable adult. That and no more.

It has even been suggested that Lanza was a Goth. Never mind that he is as unlike a Goth as it is possible to be, Goths, like nerds, obsessive computer gamers and autistic people are more likely to be the victims rather than the perpetrators of violence.

In there eagerness to explain the inexplicable sections of the media have focused on identifiable sub cultures and categories of people in society. see for example the lurid profile of Lanza in the Sun. None of this helps to explain why Adam Lanza acted the way he did. But it does increase the likelihood of bullying and violence against these disparate elements in society. This irresponsible behaviour may inadvertently add to the list of Lanza’s victims.

So why did he do it? I do not know. But I predict that if there is an answer it will emerge from a complex analysis of the circumstances of his life and not from simplistic profiling by  journalists that puts others at risk of retaliatory hate crimes.

A comprehensive list of autism related blogs and responses is available here:

http://lizditz.typepad.com/i_speak_of_dreams/2012/12/gun-violence-and-the-search-for-a-scapegoat-autism-edition.html

One thought on “Adam Lanza: scapegoating is not the answer

  1. Gay Eastoe

    Having Asperger Syndrome I was very saddened to read that Autism is being linked with this tragic school massacre. We are socially stigmatised as it is without such ignorant journalism.

    Reply

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