Saturday, May 24, 2014

To Note about Asperger's Syndrome and Violent Behavior

Asperger's Syndrome is a higher-functioning form of Autism.  In 2012 it was reclassified in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) under the umbrella term "autism spectrum disorder.  Some have called it "autism lite" but the change may signal issues in how children receive services for this condition. 

Autistic author and activist Temple Grandin expressed a similar fear. 
“It is my opinion that social communication disorder is part of the social impairment continuum of the autism spectrum.  I fear that many Aspies will be switched into this diagnosis when school districts get short on funding," she wrote on her website.

Most of us know people with Asperger's (whether we know they for certain that is diagnostically true) because we have all met people who seem socially awkward, unable to make those connections - intuitive to most of us - that make relationships and who have difficulty with focus and follow-thru. Many adults are figuring out now that Asperger's is more widely known, that they may have this condition.  Some believe that many very bright/gifted people like Bill Gates may have Asperger's.

I bring this up because there are now two terrible crimes that have been committed by young men with Asperger's. One was Sandy Hook Elementary and now in Santa Barbara.  In the latest crime, the young man stabbed three people in his home before shooting six and then was killed himself (it is unclear if he died because of police fire or on his own).  Nine people were killed and 13 injured in the crime spree. 

 The latest one was by a young man who had posted a video(s) to YouTube, about suicide and murder and his despair over a lack of dating.  His family had asked police to check on him and he was interviewed and let go.  (It is unclear to me whether they asked/knew that he owned a gun.)  He had been treated by therapists.  There is reason to believe he may have been bullied even as an adult.

But the issue is not necessarily his Asperger's but the effects that caused him to have mental issues over the outcomes of his condition.  It is somewhat similar to the young man in Sandy Hook who withdrew from social interaction and then went on his rampage.

I am not a psychiatrist nor did I know either young man.  But my own experience with Asperger's is that most people with this condition are very loving and gentle.  They tend to get frustrated just because the world - almost every single day - seems confusing and difficult for them to understand how to navigate.

I believe that any violence on the part of those with Asperger's is about mental illness and not their Asperger's.  


Pm said...

As a parent of a kid on the spectrum, I wish that you would delete this entry on your blog. Bringing up the concept reinforces the stereotype of violent kids with Asperger's in the eyes of your readers. Saying that you think that it's not really true without providing any evidence for your own beliefs isn't very convincing.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Pm. I don't have a kid on the spectrum, but many of the statements in the post were very troubling to me. Better to leave this one to the experts.


Anonymous said...

I am going to agree with the other posters. Inappropriate and frankly unsubstantiated at this point to even make such connections.

This is where this blog turns into less activism more angry mommy blog.

If anything this last shooting proves we have problems with guns not autistic kids.

- Offended

mirmac1 said...

I haven't read many news accounts on this tragic story. Only has mentioned Rodger's Asperger's (at the end of the story). I was happy that was not the headline.

I understand Melissa's point. She's talking about the elephant in the room. Many ignorant people will reach a conclusion that autism equals scary madness. Not readers on this blog, but everywhere else.

Anonymous said...

This kid had way more going on than Asperger's. From some of his postings, it was clear he had issues with race, with women, his ideas of his own social standing vs those he considered inferior, and his ideas of morality vs what he saw around him. He also displayed numerous signs of mental illness, but since the GOP gutting of mental health care in the Reagan days, it is very difficult to get care for anyone with mental health issues, especially kids. Makes me wonder if he had Asperger's to begin with, or as his mental illness began to manifest itself, did they just diagnose him as such because he fit some of the symptoms?
I could see Fox News and its viewers spinning something like this, but I suspect most normal sections of the population won't consider this at all. Indeed, one of the victim's parents is already going after the NRA and its gun happy culture and the lax regulations it is pushing, which is probably where the bulk of the attention will be going.


Anonymous said...

I would agree this is in poor taste and should be removed


Melissa Westbrook said...

To my readers, I am not an expert but I know this topic well.

Did you read the post? I'm asking, telling people to NOT link Asperger's to violent behavior because it is not true.

I have spoken out - here and elsewhere - against gun violence. We absolutely have a problem with guns in our country and the easy access to them.

pm said...


It would be nice if you could listen to the critics and admit that you were wrong in this case. Don't fan the flames by bringing up a nonsensical topic. It's like writing a long post about why vaccines don't cause autism.

Melissa Westbrook said...

PM, are you missing the meaning of my post?

I'm not fanning any flames - this is being reported in the news. Feel free to check.

I'm letting readers know that this is not true. I'm not one to sit back and hope it all goes away.

I do admit when I err but I haven't in this case. You can disagree.

Anonymous said...

As a parent of 2 children on the autism spectrum, I was also a bit offended, although I know that wasn't the intention.

I have read this blog for quite some time and have never been offended before. I'm not going to stop reading it, and obviously Melissa has the right to post whatever she want on her own blog, but I don't those of us who have written in are being overly sensitive or didn't fully read what was written.

I don't imagine many readers of this blog are making the connection between AS and these horrible tragedies that I guess are being made by some news outlets (though not in the news stories I have read about the Santa Barbara shootings - I actually learned about the AS diagnosis from Melissa's post). One concern is having this in the same post with information about changes to autism diagnoses with the DSM V and the worry that some newly diagnosed children may be (improperly) denied essential services because they don't meet the new criteria for ASD. What is the connection between that and the tragedy that happened yesterday?

sped parent

Anonymous said...

Personally I'm glad Melissa posted. Seattle or I imagine any school system isn't nearly as progressive as it likes to think it is. Spend a little time at school and you'll know parents who pulled their kids from a public school and went private so that their kids wouldn't have their learning interrupted by "those" kids. You know - kids who disregulate or who need a little extra time or a different method of instruction because the world doesn't work the way their brains work. Kids who are socially awkward because the world doesn't work the way their brains work. Kids who would be fine most of the time in a general ed classroom if only there were a little extra help - instructional assistant or another teacher or a bunch of parent volunteers to help mitigate the ridiculous class sizes and one-size-fits-all course of study that WA State legislators and voters have forced on our public schools.

This is a hot button for me - parents who support public school in theory but in reality don't want to deal with the real life spectrum of kids and then jump ship. The real life spectrum of students who their kids are going to have to interact with in their adult lives. Kids who have so much to give and offer, including in the classroom if adults could learn for themselves and help their kids to see value in all people and who could see that trading classroom "peace" for peer group "acknowledgement and acceptance" is as fine a lesson as what's in between the pages of a textbook.

General ed kids and special needs kids - all need acceptance. We are all different - some markedly so. So what? That's the beauty of the world.

Yes it is likely that mental illness lies behind both horror incidents in the news but it is also likely that the kids had, as a separate issue that became horribly linked later, a disability of some sort. It is also entirely possible that the kids' sense of isolation started in a setting where peers and adults could not cope with their special needs differences. As adolescence kicked in - a time when mental illness also kicks in for neurotypical as well as special needs kids - these kids who were alienated AND had special needs could very well have developed a mental illness. The triple combination ultimately could have tipped them over into unjustifiable actions. What these young adults did is inexcusable. What these kids did is very far outside the norm for kids with special needs or kids feeling isolated or kids with mental illness or kids with any of a combination of those items(or others, including abuse). And yet - and yet - is it not possible that somewhere back in the early grades of schooling their life course could have been changed by the way their teachers and peers and the system handled their education? And their parents too, of course, but none of us are those kids' parents. All of us could be/will be those kids' community and school group and help raise the next generation with respect for all. Unless we choose to leave the public system so that we aren't dealing with "those kids".

'Come Together'

Melissa Westbrook said...

Sped parent, many parents don't know about Asperger's. I was trying to give information about how the diagnosis changed recently. That may have been an awkward transition to the story at hand.

I didn't say anyone was being overly sensitive. But I have read what is out there about these incidents and I would like to try to fight any linkage between Asperger's and violence.

As I said, I know this issue myself.

Anonymous said...

Melissa, I respect your right to post as you see fit, and fully support your intentions with this post. Yes, the linking of diagnostic criteria changes (and what this may mean for school service provision) and the issue of violence was awkward. But awkward can be fine--and may be fitting in the context of this discussion! However, there seems to be an implied message condoning "armchair diagnosis" in your message as well. Comments along the lines of "we all know folks like x, even if we don't have proof of their official diagnosis" suggest that we can safely assign the diagnosis in our heads. I don't think that's a good message. Bringing up the "some people say Bill Gates has AS" argument seems to reinforce that message. We should all be more tolerant and understand without needing to label people and assign diagnoses.

I agree wholeheartedly that mental health issues, not AS, are likely behind the violence you pointed out. A portion of folks with mental illness will also have Asperger's, and that's not surprising. But by calling attention to the linkage, it almost seemed to reinforce the idea that maybe it IS the Asperger's after all, even though your message was that it wasn't. Or actually, your message was that it "is not necessarily" the Asperger's. Which I guess could also be taken to mean that it likely IS. Not your point, I know. But it's how it can come across to others, and I doubt you want that.


Anonymous said...

It's important to stress that there has never been any scientific link between Asperger and acts of violence, and there is no claim that Rodger's disorder itself had anything to do with Friday's actions.

The problem with this country and the people within it is they wish to blame others when in all reality they are just as much consumed in it as Mr Rogers was.

Technology is killing everyone who is consumed by it; it's just a matter how much you wish to consume within yourself to alter your life. From cell phones, computers, blogging, video games, to TV and mass media. What you take in is what comes out. Think about it and "LOOK UP" around you for Mr Rogers is everywhere. If you can't fathom what I saying, by all means; at least watch this video and observe what technology has made you become.


Melissa Westbrook said...

To note, lawyer for the family of the murderer said that the young man had an official diagnosis of Asperger's. I never would have written that without that kind of official statement.

Anonymous said...

There are many causes and reasons for Mr. Roger's actions. And many ways in which the outcome could have been different if we had stronger gun laws and better mental health services. The problem with singling out Asperger's is that that condition becomes the focus of the conversation. --RR

Anonymous said...

Just read a devastating article on The parents' agent says he did not have an asperger's diagnosis; his parents just thought he was on the autism spectrum because he had social problems and had been having lots of therapy. He seemed to have had no empathy and very distorted reality, blamed women (more than men, eventhough he was severely bullied by male classmates) for his problems. Sounds like he was more psychopathic than autistic.

It is so tragic, his parents seemed to have tried everything, did everything as they should have: paid for therapy, monitored his online activities, his mom warned the police more than once when she saw his videos. They actually were on their way to Santa Barbara on Friday to look for him after calling the police! And still, because of our unconscionable gun laws, a disturbed young person had the means to go on a killing spree. He had plans to kill his brother and stepmom, if his mom and dad had managed to find him they could have been killed too. He had 3 guns and 400 rounds! Thank goodness it was Friday night, the papers say he actually went to the sorority he targeted but no one answered the door. If it was a weeknight he could have killed hundreds!


Libby said...

Let's not perpetuate the myth that people with mental illness are (or have an increased tendency to be) violent. Violence is not a product of mental illness; violence is a product of anger, people.
I urge you to read this article written by a clinical psychologist for Slate magazine last month:

Anonymous said...

Is it really the gun or is it the kid......

In the last decade (since 2000) the homicide rate (as a whole meaning all ages) has declined to levels last seen in the mid-1960s. This has even happened with increase in world population.

Based on available data from 1980 to 2008, mind you this is the same time computers and video games became a part of a child’s life.

Approximately a third (34%) of murder victims and almost half (49%) of the offenders were under age 25. For both victims and offenders, the rate per 100,000 peaked in the 18 to 24 year-old age group at 17.1 victims per 100,000 and 29.3 offenders per 100,000.

Homicide victimization rates for teens and young adults increased rapidly in the late 1980s and early 1990s, peaking in 1993 at 12 homicides per 100,000 for teens and 24.8 homicides per 100,000 for young adults.

In 2008, young adults (18 to 24 years old) experienced the highest homicide victimization rate (13.4 homicides per 100,000).

From 1980 to 2008, young adults (18 to 24 years old) have consistently had the highest offending rate. This rate nearly doubled from 1985 to 1993, going from 22.1 offenders per 100,000 young adults to 43.1 offenders per 100,000.

Males were nearly 4 times more likely than females to be murdered in 2008.
Males were 7 times more likely than females to commit murder in 2008. I ask you this question; do males play video games on the computer more than females?

In 2008, young adults (18 to 24 years old) had the highest victimization rate in each racial and sex group.

Young adults (18 to 24 years old) had the highest offending rate in each racial and sex category.

In 2008, of the homicides committed by offenders 14 to 17 years old, 37.5% involved multiple offenders.

Handgun-involved incidents increased sharply in the late 1980s and early 1990s before falling to a low in 2008.

The percentage of homicide victims killed with a gun increased with age of the victim until age 17, where it peaked at 79%, and declined thereafter.


Anonymous said...

Let's get it through our heads. "We all know people with Aspersers'" and "Aspergers is now widely known". These are OUTDATED comments. This post is really the height of ignorance. There is no Aspergers folks! There is no PDD NOS. There's only just Autism. Plain and simple. After searching high and low, the medical community could find no evidence to support differential diagnosis amongst the Autisms.

Does Autism imply lack of empathy? Yes. For SOME. A deficit in the development of "Theory of Mind" is a form of empathetic deficit. Theory of Mind deficiency has been shown to be an equivalent diagnostic mechanism for Autism.

But the real point, individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder are FAR more likely to be victims is crime and abuse than to be perpetrators, and no more likely to be criminals. So why focus on this one incident? Why not focus on state and school sanctioned abuse against people (children) with Autism and other disabilities? What about our unwillingness to outlaw restraint and seclusion in schools? Bellevue School District recently sanctioned tasering in schools... only allowed on the disabled, probably reserved for those kids with Autism especially often. Evidently, their policy is adopted from state guidelines. Before we do any hand wringing about rare national events, lets have many more discussions about the every day abuse happening against students with Autism right here in SPS every single day.

Another Sped Parent

Dianne67 said...

If autism does in fact cause a lack of empathy then it could play a role in poor decision making and violence.

Anonymous said...

Autism causes a reduction in the ability to take perspective.

And what causes the systemic lack of empathy in schools towards students with disabilities? What causes them to repeatedly restrain small children with disabilities and care not a bit about it? What causes school policy writers to write about tasering students with disabilities as if that were a normal behavior? Maybe we should wonder about that as poor decision making and as violence.

Another Sped Parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

Another, yes, you do have to wonder about these efforts to control students at all costs.

We need to look at why discipline rates are so high for some students more than others and not see these students as a problem but as kids who need supports in different ways.

Anonymous said...

In this thread, we have:

*Don't think of autistic kids as bombs ready to go off

*A discussion of whether an armchair diagnosis is relevant

*An armchair diagnosis of mental illness, as well as pushback to that one

*A random observation that parents should have their kids deal with the full spectrum of society, as well as the implication that that includes potential sociopaths, and further a little victim-blaming that poor services and socialization created this (seriously, 'come together's comment is probably the sort of thing the people who think making an Asperger's connection is a mistake are trying to avoid)

*An argument over whether guns are the real issue

*An assertion that technology (?) is the real problem

*A discussion of male violence against women

Congratulations, you're a microcosm of the internet at large. All that's missing is someone who says legalized prostitution could have averted this.

As for myself, since everyone seems to see this tragedy through their own lens: his sentiments were far less indicative of autism and far more typical of the "Men's Rights" groups I see around the internet - men of varying degrees of functionality, but who all think they are owed the affection of women, that they 'deserve' it or that women can be bought or manipulated into giving it (see pick-up artist techniques).

Is this simply the darkest side of larger societal problem, one that we've had since women were chattel, one that we still reinforce with concepts like "a woman's purity is a gift to her husband"? Maybe. But vile as all that is, as all those groups are, the vast majority will still not shoot up anyone over it.

It's my personal opinion that that man wasn't mentally ill, he couldn't have been fixed or helped, he literally saw the world in a distorted way. Maybe guns helped the violence reach a mass scale, but he was always going to be a danger to someone (likely a woman). And this sort of creepy potential serial killer has seemingly always existed. Yup, this is a depressing topic, particularly as a woman.


Anonymous said...

Meet one person with autism...and you've met one person with autism.


Anonymous said...

Just finished reading the perpetrator's "manifesto". It is very sad. I would say that this individual did not have Asperger's syndrome or Autism. He had a rather severe Narcissistic Personality Disorder - he fits that profile perfectly. NPD also manifests itself with a lack of empathy.

His mental state caused him immense anguish but the nature of his disability also made him a profoundly unlikeable individual.

Why wasn't he diagnosed as such and why weren't his parents informed of this? He was under the care of a supposedly well-known psychologist. Also, what are the treatment options for such an individual?


Anonymous said...

I don't mind the discussion personally. Maybe we shouldn't be so scared? I think kids with Asperger's can suffer from issues brought on by isolation and bullying, and I hope we continue to think and talk about it. I really enjoyed this article: These kids obviously had a lot of other more serious problems. I think it's all up for discussion.