Questions About Connecticut Shooter Adam Lanza, Asperger’s Syndrome, and SPD by Temple Grandin, PhD is a special feature from Sensory Focus Magazine Spring 2013 Issue. Read our post about Sensory Focus Magazine. Sensory Focus Magazine, published by Sensory World, is distributed in digital and print format and past issues are also available.
Many people in the special-needs community are concerned about news reports that indicate Adam Lanza, the gunman who killed the children and teachers at the school in Connecticut, had Asperger’s syndrome and perhaps Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). They fear that this information will make the public think that individuals with these disorders are inherently violent.
There is a wide range of people on the autism spectrum. They range from prodigies—the likes of Einstein, Mozart, and Steve Jobs— to individuals who remain nonverbal. Half of the computer programmers in Silicon Valley may have some signs of autism. However, the vast majority of folks on the spectrum are peaceful and nonviolent.
SPD affects an even wider variety of people. Individuals who have SPD and many different diagnoses or labels may have sensory issues such as sound sensitivity, difficulty screening out background noise, or visual sensitivity to fluorescent lights. SPD can occur in conjunction with autism, dyslexia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, speech delay, and learning problems.
I have read extensive articles about Adam Lanza on the Internet. Here is some of his history that may be pertinent to his violent outburst. When Adam was attending his local school, he was super shy and would not allow his picture to be put in the yearbook. During his years there he showed no violent tendencies, and he was really good with computers. His life rapidly went downhill after his parents’ divorce.
Adam Lanza Spent Days Playing Violent Video Games
Adam stopped attending school and became a recluse in his mother’s basement. He spent all day playing violent video games and did not participate in any activities except for shooting a gun at a local firing range. He had no other interests.
The gun he shot at the range was the same gun he shot in the video games he played.
In my opinion, he was probably visiting some really horrible Web sites, because prior to the shootings, he completely destroyed his computer’s hard drive so investigators could not determine what he had been doing on his computer or what sites he had been visiting prior to the school shooting.
What should have been done to help Adam before the shooting occurred?
First and most importantly, Adam Lanza’s parents should have forced him to get out
of the house and find a job. Whether he liked it or not, he should have been working to develop other interests. He was good with computers, and he could have been working at a local computer store. There is a tendency for some people on the spectrum to become recluses. They have to get out into the world. Video-game playing needs to be restricted to 1 hour a day, as it draws people away from reality.
Second, boys need a good male role model. A good male role model would have dragged this kid out of the basement before he descended into his sick world and began shooting people.
Third, people on the spectrum get obsessed with their favorite things. Teachers and parents must direct obsessions toward positive things that can translate into building careers and fulfilling lives.
There are some individuals, like me, who have extreme problems with anxiety and panic attacks. Taking a small dose of an antidepressant worked wonders for me. There is further information on this in my book, Thinking in Pictures.
When I was in high school, I had anxiety and tended to be a recluse. Both my mother and teacher did NOT allow this. They made me get out, be with other people, and develop my own interests and talents.
By themselves, autism and the sensory issues that go along with SPD do not make
a person violent. Had Adam Lanza been encouraged to develop his talents and interests, socialize with others, and turn his skills into being able to earn an honest living, perhaps he could have made a life for himself that turned out very differently.
Temple Grandin, PhD, is an internationally respected specialist in the design of livestock handling systems. She is also the most famous person with autism in the world today. She was recently named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people and is the subject of the award-winning 2010 HBO biopic. Temple has authored several books on autism and is a worldwide speaker on autism topics. Her website is www.templegrandin.com.
SEE our infographic on Temple Grandin
About Sensory Focus Magazine It was established in 2004 as a print magazine. In January 2011, it went totally digital. Now, in 2014, the print magazine is once again available. All subscriptions include four issues per year.
READ Also our review of Temple Grandin’s books:
- Different . . . Not Less: Inspiring Stories of Achievement and Successful Employment from Adults with Autism, Asperger’s, and ADHD
- Review of Children’s Book, “Temple Did It, and I Can, Too!: Seven Simple Life Rules” by Jennifer Gilpin
People get the same feelings every time one of these shooters is said to be depressed or have bipolar disorder. That’s just as bad! People with bipolar disorder are far more likely to be the victim of a crime than to commit one. Yet no one is outraged when their behavior is blamed on their mental illness. How about blaming a society that doesn’t care well for its disabled members – or at least some of them.
Susan Berkowitz, I totally agree that the blaming of different groups should stop and that more effort and resources should be in place to help individuals early in their lives so events like this shooting will be less and less.
This is so true. My son had a fascination with war and death at a very young age. I had to steer him away from that by encouraging with art and writing which he is very good at. Yes, I did have to drag him to social events, but he did well once he got there. We have to present all our children with opportunities to grow whether they have a disability or not. Exposure to the community is vital for them to become a contributing member of society. Although he still plays these video games, he has friends, work and does get out of the house. Video games is not his only outlet and he does understand the difference between reality and fantasy because I sat with him to explain the difference as he played games and watched movies. We cannot leave children on their own because they will find something to fill that void of family, friends and healthy activity.
Thanks Laurie Gerber for contributing to our discussion. I agree fully that we cannot leave children on their own because they surely will find something to fill that void of family, friends and healthly activity.