Asperger’s Syndrome and Violence: Let’s Stop the Finger Pointing

The recent events of violence this past week on the streets of Isla Vista, Calif., near the University of California at Santa Barbara, has 20752460_sleft scores of people shaking their heads in horror.  A media talking point noted that  the gunman was troubled and had been diagnosed as having Asperger’s syndrome.

A headline already anticipated an inevitable and reasonable reaction, “Asperger’s Syndrome To Be The Scapegoat For The Santa Barbara Shooting Like Adam Lanza?” Inquisitr asks[1]
Is there really a connection? There is an important saying in statistics: correlation does not imply causation. What this means is that just because some of the recent gunmen had a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome does not mean that people with Asperger’s are more likely to be killers, or even violent.  That would be equivalent of saying all Caucasian male teens are more likely to be killers, since most of the high profile mass shootings on campuses over the past 10 years have been Caucasian, and male and teen.  But just because that fact is true does not mean that you can point your fingers at young male Caucasians. Or people with Asperger’s.


Asperger’s syndrome is a diagnosis for people and children who are on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum.  Although as a specific category, the term “Asperger’s Syndrome” named after Hans Asperger who coined the term, has been deleted from the newest diagnostic manual, DSM-5,  it still has a strong following among parents and grown diagnosed children who refer to themselves as “Aspies”.  Aspies, are people whom you may know who are decidedly quirky. Different and obsessive, they may be excessively devoted to a narrow range of subjects and may struggle with interpersonal skills.  But just because they are socially awkward and obsessive does not mean that they are robotic.  Aspies feel things very deeply and the way they show their emotions may be non-conventional.  That still doesn’t turn them into killers.  An angry and vengeful Aspie is just as likely to turn to violent revenge as your next door neighbor’s son; in other words, the possibility exists but is random.  There is no research to suggest that people diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome are more violent than any other group.


In the wake of a traumatic disaster, there is a huge desire to finger point.  With hurricane Sandy, it was the finger pointing at global warming. With 9/11, it was finger pointing at Muslims. And with violent shootings on campuses,  are we going to point to students with Asperger’s? The fault of course lies with the individual gunman ….and the rest of us as well.

Hear me out:


There are 2 radical changes that need to happen in the USA:

1.  Expand mental health services:  as the numbers of kids with atypical disorders are expanding, the availability of mental health services must also expand.  The World Happiness Report of 2013 notes that even in countries which have available mental health services, the vast population of those who need these services are largely under-served.  We must make treatment available, not just for the identified child but also parenting support for the parents of that child.  It is inconceivable that mental health treatment or lack of it is left up to the individual parents, who largely have no clue how to help when they are struggling with their diagnosed child who is atypical.   We must lobby to increase support of all mental health practices.  There is no question that most interventions in the form of any type of psychotherapy can greatly help provide troubled people with improved coping skills and increased resources.

2. Practice radical kindness:  The truth is, there is more diversity among us than sameness, yet people are incredibly exclusionary.  This begins from the earliest ages.  Embrace those who are different, those who are socially awkward or not physically beautiful. Invite with an open heart those who are handicapped, intellectually weaker or neurologically atypical.  Teach your children to open their hearts to those around them who are of different skin color, different abilities and different social interests.  Teach by example.  Invite over a family who has a child who is struggling.  Talk to a person next to you in class who looks a bit quiet.  Remember that everyone is struggling for the same things: to be accepted, to be seen and to be appreciated. We can learn to become a more welcoming society if we only open our eyes to those who are struggling.  Bullying,  exclusivity, elitism and ostracization  are issues we can tackle, as adults, as parents and with and for our children.  We can do this.


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