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Is there a link between school shootings and developmental disorders?

“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]

Please post your comment below…

Help for ASD Kids Who Are Overwhelmed by Social Situations

"Question: How to help a child with ASD to have enough confidence to engage in activities and with people that are outside his comfort zone?"

A common experience among children with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) is being overwhelmed in social situations. A child with social anxiety faces sensory overload as well as extreme feelings of nervousness around people. As a result, he or she feels uncomfortable participating in many everyday social situations.

Children with social anxiety usually interact easily with parents, siblings, and a few close friends. But noisy crowds, meeting new people, going to new places, or engaging in new and unfamiliar activities can be highly stressful. Instead of enjoying social activities, children with social anxiety dread them — and avoid some of them altogether.

Social anxiety can affect an AS or HFA child’s life in many ways. For example, it can keep him or her from reading aloud in class, volunteering an answer in class, or giving a presentation. He or she may feel too nervous to ask a question in class or go to the teacher for help. Social anxiety not only prevents these “special needs” children from trying new things, it also prevents them from making the normal, everyday mistakes that help them improve their social skills still further.  Social anxiety may also prevent the AS or HFA child from chatting with classmates in the lunchroom or on the playground, joining an after-school club, or going to a party.

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

What can parents do to assist their AS or HFA child in expanding his or her social circle?

Many moms and dads report that they simply wish it was easier for their youngster to make friends and to be less inhibited in social situations. If your youngster is experiencing social anxiety that is interfering in his life, there are several strategies you can employ to address this problem.

Here are 20 ways to help your AS or HFA child feel more comfortable in social situations: 

1. Most kids enjoy sleepovers as a special activity with their friends. However, some children on the autism spectrum report feeling afraid of going to others' homes for sleepovers. Many feel this way due to social anxiety and fears of separating from the parent. Parents can start to help their child feel more comfortable by encouraging sleepovers at a relative's house (e.g., grandparent, aunt, etc.). The youngster should be encouraged to talk about her specific fears about sleepovers so that mom and dad can help her deal with each of these fears directly. Also, moms and dads can encourage their AS or HFA youngster to invite friends to their house first for a sleepover so that she can become used to the activity.

2. Allow your youngster to feel and express his emotions – including anxiety – without the fear of reprisals.

3. If your child’s social anxiety is extreme, you may want to ask your physician about medication. This may be given for just a short time as your child learns ways to get comfortable in situations that have been difficult.

4. Build your youngster’s personal strength through praise and finding things at which he excels. Also have him do jobs around the house so he knows he is contributing to the household.

5. Parents can encourage their youngster to set up "play dates" with other children. Before the youngster leaves school for summer vacation, mom or dad can encourage her to get a list of all her classmates' phone numbers. The youngster can have a special address book or small notebook where her classmates can sign-in their name and phone number. During those summer days when there are no activities scheduled, she can refer back to the list of school friends' numbers to invite a friend over to play.

6. Don't continually reassure your anxious youngster. Let her learn by doing things on her own. Teach her to answer her own questions, and show you believe in her.

7. Exposure therapy is a good method for overcoming excessive anxiety around people. Starting with situations that are not too threatening, you might arrange for your child to practice surviving social encounters (e.g., asking a cashier how much something costs, saying ‘hi’ to the greeter at Walmart, reading a poem to everyone at the dinner table, etc.).

8. Keep your own fears to yourself, and let you youngster know it's safe to explore the world around him.

9. Dance, Boy/Girl Scouts, sports and other clubs are excellent places for AS and HFA kids to meet peers with similar interests. Parents should engage their youngster in a discussion of his interests and help him join a club to develop a hobby (e.g., music, art, model building, karate, etc.). (As a side note, it has been my experience that a lot of kids on the spectrum tend to love karate!)

10. You may want to ask your child to keep a diary of her thoughts as she goes through the day. Sometimes recording your thoughts about uncomfortable social encounters – and what you imagine other people may be doing or saying at the time – will help you develop a new perspective.

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

11. Set expectations for the anxious youngster the same way you would for any other kid; however, understand the pace may be slower, and it may require more work to get there.

12. AS and HFA kids are better able to enter a feared situation – and are less likely to avoid it – when they have a skill to help them relax before entering the feared situation. There are many relaxation CDs for autistic kids to help them learn the skill of progressive muscle relaxation using positive imagery. Through the use of the CDs, these kids can learn to relax themselves in numerous situations that cause them fear.

13. Host a neighborhood get-together, a cookout, a playgroup with both parents and kids, or a music group. These are ways to help AS and HFA kids practice being around peers and other grown-ups.

14. Set consequences for inappropriate behavior, but don't confuse anxiety-related behaviors with “misbehavior.”

15. Scripting is another method to help alleviate social anxiety. Your child can prepare, in advance, a script or some responses to use when placed in an awkward situation. This will help make those situations less threatening.

16. Work together with the other adults (e.g., spouse, teacher, coach, etc.) in your child’s life so he gets a consistent message across settings.

17. Let your youngster know that it is perfectly normal to feel a little hesitant about certain social situations, or meeting new people for the first time. Also, it is natural to feel a bit nervous about raising your hand in class to ask the teacher for help, giving an oral report to the class, or talking to a total stranger. This anxiety is normal, and it will go away the more your youngster practices the situations that he is most anxious about.

18. Role play social situations that have been difficult. For example, some anxious children refuse to call their friends due to fears that they will not know what to say. Role play these and other situations with your youngster (e.g., your youngster can be taught to say something like, "It would be great if you could come over to my house sometime next week! Do you want to get together to play, go swimming, or have dinner?").

19. Acknowledge and praise successes in social situations. Tell your youngster how proud you are of her specific successes. Let her know that you enjoy watching her have so much fun with her peers. Applaud her achievements in trying new things (e.g., making a phone call to order pizza for the first time, ordering for herself in a restaurant for the first time, etc.). Tell your youngster exactly what you like about her behavior, and you will likely see this behavior increase. Also, acknowledge “attempts” at social successes, whether the attempt was successful or not (e.g., “I noticed you tried to talk to your friend, but she was preoccupied with something else and didn’t hear you. Good job. Maybe try again later.”).

20. I’ve saved the best for last: Social skills training may be the greatest method for dealing with social anxiety. Your child can take classes or receive specific training to help him overcome certain fears (e.g., making good eye contact, walking in the school hallways between classes, coping with unstructured time such as lunch, etc.). Assertiveness training and learning positive body language can also be taught in social skills classes.

Over time, the coping methods listed above can help your AS or HFA child control the symptoms of social anxiety – and prevent a relapse. Remind your child that she can get through anxious moments, that her anxiety is short-lived, and that the negative consequences she worries about so much rarely come to pass.

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:


My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

Click here to read the full article…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

Click here for the full article...

Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

Click here to read the full article…

Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Click here to read the full article…

Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

Click here
to read the full article...

Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

Click here for the full article...

My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content