Is there a link between school shootings and ASD?

“It has been suggested that Chris Mercer, the shooter in the Oregon community college incident, had a developmental disorder (the same claim was made of Adam Lanza in the Sandy Hook incident). Are people with autism more prone to violence than the general population? What can be done to address any potential violent tendencies early before tragedy strikes? What are the pros and cons of medication in these cases? I have so many other questions… We have a teenager with Asperger’s who has exhibited aggression, not only toward us, but with a few of his classmates as well. So, I believe we are justified in our concern at this point. (FYI: We do not have guns in our home!)”

We have to careful about jumping to the conclusion that school shootings by people with Asperger’s or High-Functioning Autism are caused by their disorder. Violence is seldom an isolated problem and is particularly complex in teens and young adults with a developmental disorder. It is important to understand that violent behavior is not always associated with just one condition and can have highly varied sources.

An array of theoretic models has been proposed to understand violent behavior in people with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). There are promising (a) biologic models that suggest the behavior arises from alterations in dopaminergic reward mechanisms, and (b) cognitive models, suggesting that such acts are an outcome of conditioned learning.

Physical violence is often a response to a variety of circumstances and occurs in the context of diverse emotions. It has become fashionable to consider violence as clear-cut evidence of bipolar disorder, particularly when ASD individuals are distractible, restless, and have chronically decreased need for sleep. It is increasingly important to consider, however, whether features of bipolar illness appear together and depart from chronic baseline functioning.

It is also relevant if they are associated with pharmacologic (e.g., serotonin reuptake inhibitor) side effects. In addition, it is useful to know the circumstances preceding and following violent outbursts before selecting a medication. For example, when violence is a response to anxiety or frustration, the most helpful interventions target those symptoms and the circumstances that produce them rather than exclusively focusing on violent behavior.

Unfortunately, the request for treatment typically follows a crisis. But the press for a rapid, effective end to the behaviors may not permit the gathering of much data or discussion. Nevertheless, it is NOT appropriate to “always” begin with one medication or another. Moving to a more “surefire” medication too quickly may mean that the person on the autism spectrum takes on cardiovascular, endocrinologic, and cognitive risks that might be otherwise avoided.

There are reports in support of using serotonin reuptake inhibitors, alpha-adrenergic agonists, beta-blocking agents, “mood stabilizers” (or anticonvulsants), and neuroleptics for violent behavior. When a psychiatrist or other professional has the luxury of time, the support of family, and collaboration with staff where the individual is working or attending school, then an agent that is safer (but perhaps takes a longer time to work or is a little less likely to help) can be tried.

It does seem that those agents with a greater likelihood of success pose greater risks. The most evidence supports use of dopamine blocking agents (neuroleptics) for violence, but the side effects and long-term risks from these agents are greater than from most others agents.

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


•    Anonymous said… Generalising is not helpful in any circumstances. It is however frustrating.
•    Anonymous said… I can understand the difficulties of raising a child who has Aspergers. My son 15, is at times difficult to manage. I have asked him if he would like to home school, but said no. He has only one peer he associates with. He doesn't care to converse with others if they are not interested or can talk on his intellectual level. He is a respectful, God loving does take tough love at times, constant life coaching, Lots of Prayers. It's what we can only do. God Bless you.
•    Anonymous said… I don't think just because someone has a certain disorder makes them automatically prone to violence or school shootings. I don't like how the media just lumps each shooting on "well, he had a mental disorder" and try to place blame. But I do believe if all of these young men would have had better access to professional help and less access to firearms, we may have seen less of these types of shootings. We may never know if certain ones had a disorder they were struggling with but they certainly needed help in dealing with their thought processes & emotions if anything.
•    Anonymous said… my heart aches for you. You are doing your absolute best each and every day. I can hear it. Your actions will make a difference. They will.
•    Anonymous said… My son, who was diagnosed at age 5 with Asperger' almost 17. As a younger child he was not aggressive but as soon as his hormones kicked in we saw a different side to him. He has had a very hard time in our public school system and now is being home schooled. I fought very hard for him in the system but he still could not conform to what they wanted him to do. With all of this said....Over the years he has felt very rejected by his peers. He has longed to connect with them but despite all of his attempts..and there were has never happened. Recently he made a public post about his school's Homecoming Dance stating he wanted to go so bad but knew he couldn't get in since he didn't go there anymore. He proceeded to be inappropriate with his wording and after it was all over we found him being investigated as a threat. It was one of the worst experiences of our lives. I know that he would truly never hurt anyone however in the world we live in things like this cannot be overlooked. I do worry that the more isolated he is from his peers the more anger he will develop. Parenting an almost 17 year old Asperger's young man is the hardest thing I've ever done.
•    Anonymous said… There are all kinds of personalities with ASD. This is not a cookie-cutter issue. While it is true that aggression can go hand in hand with ASD during volatile meltdowns, it's not always true for everyone. My son has mood swings and meltdowns. Everyone does, even NT folks have breakdowns and their own meltdown versions. It goes deeper that ASD. There are correlating mental disorders at play here with these people that do these things. Some of those cases have been proven. Kids with ASD can be clever at hiding depression and their tendencies and obsessions. I think that's why a lot of these kiddos get past the suspicion of their parents. My son for one, has to be bugged and nagged in order to admit when something is bothering him. He is so lovable, even when upset, that he doesn't want to disappoint or upset us, his parents. I'm sure he's not the only ASD kiddo out there to do that.....
•    Anonymous said… Yeah let's put a stigma on them!
•    Anonymous said… Yes some aspies have anger problems however it is up to the parents to get help for their child. My son is 7 and is an aspie. He is not nor has ever been aggressive to anyone in his life. My son having autism does not make him a mental case. If these boys did have HFA they clearly had not be supervised like they should have been or this would have not happened. It is bad enough my son has to struggle everyday to just fit in and now you are trying to say we need to watch him for violence. I think these boys parents should be responsible for there children. They got the guns from somewhere.
•    Anonymous said… You dont have to have asperges to be angry I see much anger and more in the so called unafected people. Blaming is not on my grandson has asperges and yes he has outbursts like any other person on earth .The out bursts come from frustration he is 8yrs old we find asperges experts a great help .
•    Anonymous said… Bullying and harassing children with Aspergers is a very serious offence. Focus and keep an eye on the Bullies. Not the Aspies. They need to be protected. Bullies and Harassers needs more psychological attention . Bullies should be monitored and supervised in a daily basis and scrutinize their criminal behaviour.
•    Anonymous said… Every time there is a new shooting there I wait to see what condition it will be blamed on. Recently it has been ASD, previously it was ADHD and whatever else journalists and the public can come up with to pretend that the real issue doesn't lie in access to massive amounts of deadly weapons. If you want something/someone to blame, try the gun culture and not our ASD children who don't seem to be mass killers in such places that have stricter gun control laws. Yes, some ASD kids can become angry and aggressive but then again so can many neurotypical kids/people. This obsession to blame those with special needs is a deflection from the real concerns.
•    Anonymous said… I don't think Aspies has nothing to do with this issue when Firearms and other dangerous incidents are involve in recent school shootings.
•    Anonymous said… I think ANYONE who feels they do not BELONG are not HEARD or cared for can snap - if that is the link then we need to do more to be kind to everyone, appreciate the special traits of each individual. I know my son hated himself at school until we felt a school that worked with him and not against him, value his special talents. The anger in him has stopped and he is happy and feels accepted smile emoticon
•    Anonymous said… I think as a parent you do what you need to do for your child. Anger management etc can be useful.......................I do worry though that America will do anything to shift the blame. Your country allows this through allowing anyone to get their hands on a gun. I think we could do a lot by nurturing ALL children rather than arming them. As a mum to a teenager who has Aspergers, yes he gets angry (wouldn't you), yes, the world baffles him (wouldn't it you? ) Do I think he would ever intentionally harm anyone ? Absolutely not.
•    Anonymous said… Id blame medication more than autism.
•    Anonymous said… I'm fairly certain other countries have similar rates of ASD occurring, but not similar rates of mass\school shootings. Seems to be about something else to me!
•    Anonymous said… Like it's not a challenge as is for our kids to be accepted now blame the spectrum really come on !!! Stop finding an excuse for someone and realize that the spectrum isn't at fault for these gunman , hell a hunter is killing animals does he have Aspergers ???!!!! See the stupidity in blame game ?!! What's worse is the media even playing into it , hence kids repeating parents or parents letting kids watch news then turn around and go into school and pick on a child bc of Aspergers and then those children knowing that they have Aspergers coming home second guessing themselves or not wanting to go to school bc they don't want to be called a monster or a murder when they get older !! Our kids have enough issues seriously enough is enough a killer is gonna kill wether on spectrum or off period !
•    Anonymous said… So, are we going to bring on the assumption that because a school shooter "had" Aspergers, that all Aspies will be more prone to violent acts? I don't think so. I think these school shooters get the "autism" label so the media can pat them on the head and try to garner sympathy for them. These school shooters didn't have autism; they had pure evil in their blood.
•    Anonymous said… Thank-you for your kind and encouraging wordsJoanne Gibson and Isa! I know we are trying and doing our best to raise our children on the spectrum.
•    Anonymous said… This wasn't just an anger problem, this was a deep deated hatred for Christians. Raise your kids right and your wisdom will not leave them [paraphrase, Proverbs]

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