Adam Lanza Asperger's Syndrome: Was The Shooter Mentally Disturbed?
Did Adam Lanza's Asperger's increase his tendency towards violence? That is one of the countless questions that parents, teachers and friends are asking today in the wake of the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. on Friday morning.
As a devastated town tries to make sense of an inexplicable massacre of 20 children and seven adults, a picture of shooter Adam Lanza is emerging. Most schoolmates and neighbors depict a shy and awkward loner who carried a black briefcase to his 10th grade honors English class, sitting near the door so he could quickly leave after the teacher was done.
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Police investigating the case said that Lanza had been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism characterized by social awkwardness. Since information about the diagnosis has surfaced, many have assumed that there is a tie between Autism and violence. But psychologist Elizabeth Laugeson, an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, told USA Today that's not the case. "There really is no clear association between Asperger's and violent behavior."
Though there have been no major studies linking Asperger's and violence the assumption by many Newton, Conn. residents has been that anti-social behavior created an aggressive streak. Typical symptoms of Asperger's include the inability to pick up on social cues from others. A smile, frown or laugh will largely go unnoticed by a child with Asperger's, unless the child is trained to spot ups and downs in emotions.
As a result, some doctors say that patients with Asperger's appear to lack empathy for others because they can't understand emotions. Desperately searching for a motive and answers to why a 20-year-old man would begin a massacre by shooting his mother in the face at the family's $1.6 million home, parents at the Sandy Hook Elementary School grasped for a connnection between the syndrome and violence.
Family and friends say that Adam Lanza's problems became far worse when his parents divorced after 18 years in 2008. Librarian Shelley Cudiner told the Daily Mail: "He was always weird but the divorce affected him. He was arguing with his mother. He was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode."
"You definitely noticed [a problem]. He was needy, his neighbor Justin Germak, 17, said. "He struggled to be social."
"Everyone just assumed he was a smart kid and that's why he didn't like talking to people all the time,' Peter Lalli, 20, who graduated with Lanza in 2010, told the New York Daily News.
Students who were at the school during the shooting described a chilling scene in which they heard someone say "put your hands up." "We were in the gym, and I heard really loud bangs,'' a 9-year-old boy told The New York Times, as he stood outside sobbing. "We thought that someone was knocking something over. And we heard yelling, and we heard gunshots. We heard lots of gunshots. We heard someone say, 'Put your hands up.' I heard, 'Don't shoot.' We had to go into the closet in the gym. Then someone came and told us to run down the hallway. There were police at every door. There were lots of people crying and screaming.''
Another student at the school told an NBC affiliate in Connecticut: "I was in the gym and I heard like seven loud booms, and the gym teachers told us to go in the corner and we huddled. We all heard these booming noises, and we started crying. So the gym teachers told us to go into the office where no one could find us. Then a police officer told us to run outside."
"Newtown is a quiet town,"Lisa Bailey, a Newtown resident with three children in the town's schools, told CBSNewYork.com, "I'd never expect this to happen here. It's so scary. Your kids are not safe anywhere."
The Sandy Hook Elementary School has approximately 600 students. The town of Newtown is just 80 miles northeast of New York City.
Newtown Mayor Boughton reached out to people on Twitter, saying: "We have increased our police presence at all Danbury Public Schools due to the events in Newtown. Pray for the victims."
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