In the wake of tragedy, it’s natural to try to seek answers. Whether you approach tragedy spiritually or intellectually, the question remains. Why? Why did this happen? Do the autism community a favor and drop Asperger’s syndrome from this dialogue.
After Elliot Rodger murdered six young men and women in Isla Vista, California, word spread that he had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Asperger’s is a developmental disorder that was also linked to mass murderer Adam Lanza. Did Rodger’s alleged high-functioning autism spectrum disorder lead him to go on a murderous rampage? No. And even making it part of the conversation is harmful and stigmatizing to those with autism.
We’re operating on assumption and speculation
Thanks to Rodger’s elaborate manifesto, a lengthy autobiography detailing most of his life, we know that he was frequently in treatment with various counselors and therapists. His social skills deficits were clear in his inability to connect with peers. Statements that Rodger had Asperger’s have yet to be backed up with a diagnosis. What we do know is that there’s no correlation between Asperger’s syndrome and violent behavior — and that people with autism can have co-morbid mental health issues. It bears repeating that Asperger’s is not a mental illness but a developmental disorder. For those with Asperger’s and those, like myself, raising kids with Asperger’s, this is an important distinction.
You can’t diagnose autism over the internet
Trust me, I tried. When my toddler son started behaving differently in ways I couldn’t brush off as the quirkiness of little kids, I googled like my life depended on it. I read blogs, talked to parents and spent weeks reading medical publications. Ultimately, it took a huge team of doctors and dozens of appointments and evaluations to come to the conclusion that my son had an autism spectrum disorder. Even now, 7 years later, my son’s diagnosis is often re-evaluated as he develops and his needs and behaviors change. The point here is that internet users, friends and even parents can’t diagnosis a child or adult with an autism spectrum disorder, mental health issue or psychosis.
Let’s focus on what we really know about the situation
Discussing whether or not the killer had autism takes away from what we do know about Elliot Rodger’s situation. We know that he hated people who were sexually active. We know that he considered himself a virgin. We know that he hated women and wanted to punish women for his unhappiness. We know that he found communities online that nurtured his misogynistic and violent world view. We know that he was a racist. We know that relatives brought their concerns over his behavior to the authorities prior to the shooting. We know that he was able to purchase guns legally. We know these things because he detailed them in his own words. While these factors will never coalesce to give us a cut-and-dried reason why six young lives ended violently or how it could have been prevented, it certainly gives us a lot to think about changing.
Read about the new DSM-5 guidelines for autism diagnosis >>
We want to celebrate, not stigmatize
We’re not living in a world with an epidemic of killers with autism. We are living in a world where social awkwardness associated with Asperger’s syndrome leads to kids being bullying and isolated. I’ve spent 7 years seeking therapies for my son. From occupational therapy to social skills groups, these specialized therapies will help him develop meaningful interactions with peers and get through school. I’ve met wonderful kids and young adults with autism of various degrees of severity. Every child with autism is just as unique as you or I. These kids aren’t defined by their diagnoses any more than you’re defined by your physical appearance. When I tell you my son has Asperger’s syndrome, I want you to know that it makes him focused, quirky, driven and different. I want to explain that he sees a world you and I will never see. What I don’t want is for you to make a knee-jerk correlation to two deeply disturbed individuals. I don’t want you to see a ticking time bomb when you look at my third grader.