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Acts of Violence in Teens with Asperger’s

Reports that some of the recent school shootings may have been committed by young people with Asperger’s have led many to wonder whether the disorder plays a role in such acts of violence (e.g., the Adam Lanza case in which 20 children and six adults lost their lives at a Connecticut elementary school).

While experts strongly believe that Asperger's does not make a young person more likely to commit a violent crime, some believe it may affect the way a crime is carried out. Also, while experts agree that individuals with Asperger’s are not more likely to commit violent crimes than members of the general population, they do say that, in very rare cases, it can happen.

People who commit crimes usually do it for some kind of concrete reward (e.g., money, sex or drugs). That’s not the case in teens on the autism spectrum. In cases involving these teens, the motives are very different. The motive of the violent act is to communicate that the teen himself is very offended. Other people have treated him in a very bad way. He wants revenge, and he wants to communicate that on a very global level to lots of people. But, we need to understand four very important points here:
  1. Violence among individuals with Asperger’s is exceedingly rare.
  2. Studies have revealed that 84% of violent offenders with autism also have co-existing psychiatric disorders at the time they commit acts of violence.
  3. Also, there is no evidence that Asperger’s - alone - contributes to violent behavior. In fact, due to their lack of social skills, general naiveté, and odd behavior that gets them bullied and ostracized from their peer-group, Asperger’s teens usually end up being the victim rather than the perpetrator.
  4. Lastly, in the Sandy Hook tragedy, Adam Lanza’s violent attack was preplanned and deliberate. But there is no evidence or any reliable research that suggests a linkage between autism and “planned” violence. Aggression and violence in people on the autism spectrum is reactive, not preplanned and deliberate. For example, sometimes Asperger’s kids will get violent because they are sick or frustrated and unable to communicate how they feel.

To imply or suggest that some linkage exists between school shootings and Asperger’s is wrong, and it’s harmful to more than 1.5 million law-abiding, nonviolent and people who live with autism each day.

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