It’s Not the Asperger’s Syndrome

Let’s face it; anyone who goes on a shooting rampage has some mental illness. Often, it seems there was a history of family turmoil, few friends, bullying, and lack of empathy. That does not define Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a developmental disorder.

Recent sensational violent acts by young men could be due to a number of conditions, including:
∗ ADHD with feelings of inferiority because of poor performance
∗ Schizophrenia
∗ Personality disorder
∗ Watching violent video games
∗ Oppositional Behavioral Disorder
∗ Acute or transient reactive psychosis
∗ Reactive Attachment Disorder
∗ Subject to abuse
∗ Temporary insanity
In deranged individuals, such as the Connecticut and California shooters, psychiatrists would probably entertain even more possibilities.

There is no precise manner to define Asperger’s Syndrome after someone expires. The conditions that explain impulsive conduct are inaccurate, at best. Psychiatric diagnoses need to be assessed in real-time by documentation of signs and symptoms. Regarding the recent carnage, family members (and their lawyer) reportedly claimed that Elliot Roger was “on the spectrum,” and suffered a long history of mental difficulties.

How about focusing on the histories of mental illness
with easy access to firearms?

The Autism Epidemic that has blighted the child development landscape of the 21st century is a mystery, with vague descriptors and the recent inclusion of many other developmental problems, including Asperger’s and PDD-NOS. The public is left to wonder, “Why so many killing sprees?” The media is quick to supply an answer, “Perhaps it is those autistic (Asperger’s) kids!”

I have examined scores of patients who fit criteria for the disorder. Effective communication is difficult; some are depressed, some understand and address their challenges, and others who say, “That is the way that I am.”

Key traits include early developmental delays, an unusual affect, restricted interests, decreased eye contact and sensory issues. They are usually very standoffish individuals who feel uncomfortable outside of their usual environment.

There is not a great deal of published information about the association between violence and Asperger’s syndrome. In one study, 31 of 37 of the patients (85%) had a possible or probable comorbid psychiatric disorder.

A 2010 follow-up paper concluded, “The mean percentage of registered convictions was similar to that in the general male population of Austria over the studied time period. A qualitative assessment of offence types in Asperger’s former patients suggests that the nature of offences does not differ from that in the general population. In this original cohort of Asperger’s patients, convictions were no more common than in the general male population.

We should be very skeptical about media pundits’ experience, statements and motives. Sensational reporting is unfair and irresponsible because it assigns to Asperger’s patients a stigma that they do not deserve. There are many more examples of productive individuals than violent criminals committing heinous acts due to their autism diagnosis.

Just because Asperger’s Syndrome is the “diagnosis du jour,” it doesn’t mean that there is a shred of proof that affected individuals commit brutal crimes or that they are any more prone to such violence than those who are not so classified.

Addendum:
Op-Ed from the NewYork Times, October 2015

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