GUEST OPINION: The real facts about Asperger's syndrome

  • This artwork by Donna Grethen relates to protecting children at schools, or anywhere gun violence could take. It is also about how to recognize those in need of mental help and care.

In light of the tragic events in Newtown, Conn., it has come to light through the media that the gunman was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome and an unknown psychiatric disorder, even though these diagnoses have not been officially confirmed.

Formerly known as Asperger's disorder, Asperger's syndrome is a developmental disorder falling within the autism spectrum.

<NO1>It is important to note that in the next addition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, <NO><NO1>Asperger's<NO><NO1> Disorder will be eliminated and reclassified under the general term "<NO><NO1>Autism Spectrum Disorder,"<NO><NO1> which may change how those individuals with Asperger's <NO><NO1>receive services and treatment.

<NO>The typical person with Asperger's syndrome may have difficulty with eye contact or with navigating the waters of casual conversation. Many have special interests such as an enthusiasm for war history and steers every discussion back to World War II. They may speak in a monotone voice and may not understand sarcasm or humor. They embrace rules and routines of every day life and sometimes have difficulty with change. They have a tough time with nonverbal forms of communication including facial expressions, body postures or gestures. Individuals with Asperger's syndrome have issues with empathy, but they do not lack it. They struggle with expressing empathy and regulating emotions in general.

The primary areas of impairment for those with Asperger's syndrome are social skills and interaction and communication.

All of this is to say that it is not at all associated with the kind of violence that occurred on Dec. 14.

Asperger's is a developmental disorder. It is not a mental illness. It is also not an emotional or behavioral disorder. It is irresponsible to speculate that a developmental disability was a contributing factor in a mass murder.

"There really is no clear association between Asperger's and violent behavior," psychologist Elizabeth Laugeson, an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, told the Associated Press.

The premise that individuals with Asperger's syndrome are predisposed to violence and/or criminal behavior has been investigated but is not supported by data. It is actually more the case though that individuals with Asperger's are targets of violent behavior rather than the perpetrators.

It is important to note though that individuals with Asperger's syndrome and all individuals on the autism spectrum are more prone to emotional aggression and outbursts and tantrums due to overstimulation and sensory overload. This type of aggression is a relatively spontaneous, reactive, quick burst of aggression usually toward themselves, other individuals in close proximity or against property in arm's reach.

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