That’s not how people with Asperger’s think!

Every time I hear of yet another ‘mass shooting’, my heart misses a beat and I hold my breath waiting for the words that I know will often follow.

“Carried out by a killer who was a loner; isolated; bullied, etc., etc.” Then followed by the words I dread but I just know are next…“and diagnosed with a ‘condition’; a ‘disease’; or ‘suffers from a form of Autism.” It is then I exhale and my heart sinks.Massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School-Atmosphare

Over the past few days, many people have been trying to piece together why 20 year old Adam Lanza carried out the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. A number of those are reporting that he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, perhaps using the diagnosis as a way to justify his actions.  However, it is also clear this young man  had numerous mental health issues, which in turn must have  impacted on his ability to deal with a confusing world.

First of all, let’s make one thing very clear. Asperger’s syndrome is not a mental health issue. It is a complex neurological difference where those diagnosed process information differently. It is not a disease nor do people suffer from it. It is true that some people with a mental illness can have Asperger’s or Autism, as they can also have ADD, Schizophrenia, Depression, ODD or numerous other conditions –but Asperger’s Syndrome and mental illness do not go hand in hand. They have nothing to do with each other!

My 27 year old son, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s in 1997 when he was 12 years old is now a University graduate and in a loving relationship. He is understandably upset by the press and the public’s attempt to link Autism Spectrum in any way with the shooting.

He said “We just get to a place where those of us with Asperger’s are beginning to be understood, then something like this happens and I wonder if people will judge and make assumptions about me?”

“I can understand how he might have lost his temper; I can understand how frustrated he could get if he was sad or angry because his parents were separated; and I can even understand that he may have lashed out at his mother because she didn’t understand that he was sad or angry about something. I can understand that thinking. What I can’t understand is why he would take a gun and do such a terrible thing, not only to his mother but also to innocent people and little children. That is not how people with Asperger’s think!”

If in fact Adam Lanza was diagnosed with Asperger’s or not, the reason he picked up three guns, including one semi-automatic assault weapon, killed his mother and then drove to the school and murdered innocent women and precious little ones aged only 6 and 7 years old, had absolutely nothing to do with the diagnosis.

I know many parents of a child on the autism spectrum lie in bed at night worrying about their child’s future… Will they graduate from school? Will they get a job? Will they get married and have children? Will they one day snap and do something unbelievably terrible? I can reassure you that no, your ASD child will not one day pick up a gun and do something so terrible…Why? Because that is not how people with Asperger’s think.

There are no random thoughts in the mind of a person on the Autism spectrum. Every single action and behavior has a reason behind it. If our AS child is upset, angry, frustrated or stressed it is our role as parents and teachers to help them to understand their frustration and then help them to create strategies to deal with those issues. Once they learn that strategy, and become comfortable with it, they will use that strategy over and over again when needed.

More importantly,  the environment a  person living with Asperger’s grows up in has a major impact on their decisions, their anxiety and stress levels and the choices they make in life. They usually have a very high code of ethics; do not break rules; have a heightened sense of compassion and empathy and are also more likely to be the victims of violence, not the perpetrators.

What happened in Connecticut was brought about by a series of incidents that together have resulted in the actions of a very mentally ill young man. Personally, I am having a great deal of difficulty coming to terms as to why any mother would have a semi-automatic assault rifle in her home, let alone the amount of ammunition stock piled. Just the thought of it makes me feel so sad. Perhaps he thought using a gun to solve problems, when life didn’t make sense, was perfectly normal – because in his world it was?

What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary school is just so incredibly heartbreaking and confusing, I am not sure we will ever know all the reasons why Adam Lanza carried out this most horrendous act. However, I am 100% sure of one thing – being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome is not one of those reasons.

Sally Thibault - Food, Family & Life on the Spectrum


Sally Thibault, Speaker & Author

Aspergers Parenting Specialist


8 Responses to “That’s not how people with Asperger’s think!”

  1. Hello Sally, I am just like David. I am so heartbroken by the events on the weekend. I have always been an avid student of military history and also as a sideline about guns. On Sunday I threw away a lot of books dealing with guns. I didn’t want to take the chance with my boy. What happened was so wrong – no one will ever understand it. All those little lives destroyed. What can you say….

    Todd Cavanagh
    7:32 pm on December 17th, 2012
  2. The most important thing in your boys’ lives is you. As a father, it is the ‘who’ you are that will have the most influence on the ‘who’ they become. I think you are doing a pretty good job already 🙂

    8:35 pm on December 17th, 2012
  3. I have to agree with your son. It breaks my heart that lack of knowledge leads people to grasp for the one word “diagnosis” they may know and not take the time to truly understand it. I suppose it makes them feel more secure–despite being a “partial truth” (that he had Asperger’s may be fact but it is not the reason for this tragedy.)
    I studied Asperger’s as part of my post-graduate education in a neurological field and have many friends with this distinctive neurological “patterning” (sounds so much nicer to my ears than whatI usually read). This patterning is not a psychosis and does not belong in that “box” in our minds today. I pray that education makes this clear in the wake of what has happened.

    6:00 am on December 18th, 2012
  4. So true Krystl, the more education we can promote the better we all will understand. Thank you for being a great voice. Love the word ‘patterning’!

    7:57 am on December 18th, 2012
  5. I too was truly shocked and saddened by this event and then the subsequent information that the gunman had aspergers. I read that his mother was a gun enthusiast and took her son to the shooting range to teach her son how to shoot. I watched a news video where a former babysitter (male) had been instructed to never leave the boy unattended, not even to go to the bathroom himself (the sitter that is). My first thought that there was definitely more going on with this boy than just aspergers. But how very, very sad. I have friends on facebook that are wondering whether the anti psychotic drugs he was possibly on were to blame. We will probably never know the truth. Just as with the Batman movie shooting event.

    Jen S
    4:15 pm on December 22nd, 2012
  6. Today I have been reading & making my way through your web seminars. I am very glad my sister passed this link on to me. Especially after I read through your “that’s not how people with Asperger’s think”. I have finally achieved getting my son into a small local rural mainstream school & we have worked hard at being open & approachable to the parents / students regarding Connor’s difficulties. When this horribly tragic situation occured & then the media reporting of the Aspergers diagnosis…it made me a little nervous as to how we will be treated once school begins again. I am glad to find something that helps me to communicate what I believe. so Thank you Sally.

    1:35 pm on January 15th, 2013
  7. Apologies in the delay in responding to your comment Jen, Yes, I agree with you. We too have discussed the issue of whether anti-psychotic drugs were involved, there is way more to both those stories than meets the eye!

    1:58 pm on January 15th, 2013
  8. You are very welcome Jodi, yes it is the type of news that just sends chills through every parent raising a child on the spectrum, because of the judgments of others… AGAIN!! It’s those who read a little and only hear what they want to hear that are concerning. There are so many armchair experts xo

    1:59 pm on January 15th, 2013

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