With another mass shooting we have, sadly, speculation that the gunman was autistic. When the Sandy Hook tragedy occurred, I was a public member to the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) and we put out the following statement. While it is not directly related to the current events, I felt it worthwhile to put this out again.
The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, an independent Federal advisory committee that provides advice to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on activities related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD), has issued the following statement regarding the tragedy that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012:
The events of December 14 in Newtown, Connecticut shocked and saddened people worldwide. All of the members of the IACC express our deepest sympathy and support for the families and community affected by these terrible killings. Some news reports suggested the gunman had Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Because this tragic event has shaken so many, the IACC wants to ensure that continued speculation about the gunman’s diagnosis does not hurt others in the community. Our committee has collectively prepared this statement to address public concerns and questions about the implied association between autism and extreme violence directed at others.
There is no scientific evidence linking ASD with homicides or other violent crimes. In fact, studies of court records suggest that people with autism are less likely to engage in criminal behavior of any kind compared with the general population, and people with Asperger syndrome, specifically, are not convicted of crimes at higher rates than the general population (Ghaziuddin et al., 1991, Mouridsen et al., 2008, Mouridsen, 2012).1, 2, 3
Officials do not yet know whether the person associated with the school shooting in Newtown had been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, another developmental or mental disorder or disability, or multiple disorders. We may never know what undiagnosed conditions or motivations he may have had. Whatever his diagnosis, this individual’s acts are not representative of people with developmental or mental disorders or disabilities, very few of whom are violent or dangerous towards others.
While a rare event, the impact of violence is a tragedy for all of those involved. These devastating events remind us of the importance of providing the best care and support for those challenged by developmental or mental disorders or disabilities. We do know that individuals with autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger syndrome, do better with the appropriate medical, educational, mental health and community supports in place. The IACC strongly supports the development and expansion of those services and believes that more research is needed to identify predictors of violence, and to develop appropriate prevention and treatment strategies.
1 Ghaziuddin M, et al. Brief Report: Violence in Asperger Syndrome, A Critique. J Autism Dev Disorders. 1991 Sep; 21(3): 349-54. [PMID 1938780]
2 Mouridsen SE, et al. Pervasive Developmental Disorders and Criminal Behavior: A Case Control Study. Int J Offender Ther Comp Criminol. 2008 Apr; 52 (2): 196. [PMID 17615427]
3 Mouridsen SE. Current status of research on autism spectrum disorders and offending. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders. 2012 Jan-Mar; 6 (1): 79-86.