Monday, December 24, 2012

Shooting coverage and Asperger Syndrome

With the recent shooting there has been a lot of spin put on demonizing the shooter.  Its easy to understand why, nobody likes a mass murderer.  But with the sensationalistic reporting and the focus on the shooter having psychological problems I've been bothered by attempts to gloss over who the guy was and present black and white ideas like "keep guns away from psycho people" and things like that as if that would have actually solved anything.  A lot of conclusions have been jumped to and a lot of bad reporting is happening.  I had a few thoughts.

There have been media reports that the shooter had "a personality disorder" or "undifferentiated mental problems" but the only specific information that seems to have come out yet is that he was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome.  First, Asperger Syndrome is not a personality disorder.  I'm not going to go into defining it now (as if that were even relevant with the DSM-V coming out) but reporting it so many different ways was kind of dumb to begin with-probably just a consequence of the news trying to get out the information faster than they could verify it.  Apparently they haven't even verified the autism spectrum diagnosis, that's speculation based on publicly observed behavior which has no more verification to its reporting than early reports this his mother was a school teacher, that his brother was the shooter, or that he was dressed in a military style outfit, none of which apparently was true but got reported anyways.

Second, it has been emphasized in some reports that Asperger Syndrome is not correlated with violent crime and that the violent crime in question would be more likely to be done by someone with depression.  I'm happy that some media outlets have taken the time to mention that violence with weapons is not specifically common in Autistics, but the reporting on that end was about as simplistic in a good way as the reports slanted at making him sound "psycho" were simplistically bad.  First, in any large population you will find people with more or less violent tendencies.  Saying that Autism disorders are not correlated with gun violence is like saying that the average joe won't steal your lunch.  A few average joes will steal your lunch, most won't.  Second, saying that the shooting would be more likely done by someone with depression ignores the fact that the rate of depression among people with Asperger Syndrome is pretty high.  I haven't been able to find solid statistics on suicide but from what I've found the anecdotal evidence with Asperger Syndrome also shows a high suicide rate.  I even found one website that said the suicide rate was likely under reported because the adults with Asperger Syndrome are often undiagnosed and therefore not showing up in suicide statistics.

In the reports about his mothers gun collection one nuance is getting left out.  One of Tony Attwood's books recommended watching out for any obsessions with weapons because that could be a warning sign that the child is thinking about taking revenge on the bullies in his/her life.  Since the gun collecting was already a family hobby its possible that this warning sign wouldn't have functioned.  That isn't to say that she shouldn't have had a right to own a gun collection or that having a child with a mental disability should disqualify you from gun ownership, its just a nuance that is overlooked in the reporting.  Granted, at 20 something the shooter wasn't exactly looking for revenge against 1st grade bullies.  My guess is that the kid had a really horrible experience  going through elementary school and wanted to go destroy anybody he could find at the school as a way of expressing his anger at the school he grew up in.  Most people talk about how horrible their middle school years were, I wouldn't know because I was home schooled starting about half way through my last year of elementary school.  However, I can remember one of my favorite things about switching to homeschooling at first was that I had a chance to simply relax and let go of a lot of anger and hatred that had been building up towards my peers.  Since all of the people who had teased or ignored me or simply failed to be able to be my friend were no longer part of my life I could simply let go.  It was a long time before I realized that the bad experiences I had in elementary school were largely caused by my being unable to cope with the social environment rather than it being an environment that was toxic in general.

My experience in elementary school was bad enough that I had stopped hoping to find new friends and I had several incidents in a row where I tried to befriend someone based on the fact that they had not made fun of me in the past and they started making fun of me as a result-apparently to teach me to show my distance so that their social standing wouldn't be hurt by my attention.  I pretty much had come to the conclusion that no matter what new people I met I wouldn't find any more friends beyond the few I already had.  I won't say that homeschooling solved my life problems- homeschooling was hell in some other ways and I'm not sure which set of experiences would have been more emotionally damaging over time- staying in public school or homeschooling.  By the time I left home I struggled with believing that in certain specific ways I was a worthless human being and didn't deserve respect from other people.  And that was somewhat up from my mid teens when I frequently believed I was completely worthless and didn't deserve to live.  The last pieces of that feeling of worthlessness didn't fall away until maybe a year or two before getting married.

A lot of reports are talking as if the shooter was a thoroughly evil psychopath who should have been obvious to identify and therefore treated through better public mental programs or prevented from owning any guns (which ignores the fact that they were his moms guns, not his).  And while murdering tons of little kids is definitely and thoroughly evil, I have trouble seeing the man behind the shootings as pure evil.  I tend to see someone whose life had been hell.  Someone who one day snapped and lashed out at his mother who may have been an angelic caretaker or an infantalizing-you'll-never-achieve-anything-demon-hiding-in-mommy's-social-respectability.  Or maybe a little of both, humans are complicated.  Having murdered her I suspect he kind of said to himself that as long as he was that evil he might as well take out as many people as he could in a place he hated before he killed himself.  Probably if he hadn't snapped on that day he would have eventually found some firmer ground for himself, life would have gotten better in some ways eventually.  Perhaps he could have done about anything, it sounds like the guy was brilliant.  If he had held on for just a little bit longer... but he didn't and he went out in a way that will make it harder to tell stories of people like him without stigma following them.  I just don't see the pure evil that makes good news headlines.  I see someone who maybe was a little bit or even a lot like me-that failed to hold on and reacted violently.  Its true there is nothing about the Asperger syndrome that makes you inherently more violent than anyone else, but if its true he had it we can imagine his life had some pretty hard knocks involved in just getting through the normal world on a regular basis.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing a point of view that I have held since I first heard of the shootings, along with a dose of your unique perspective. AS