Health & Wellness

Asperger's Syndrome Not Linked To Killings In Newtown, Conn., Say Local Mental Health Professional And Sussex County Resident With Asperger's

A paper dove with the names of all the victims of the Dec. 14 shooting posted on it, and hanging in tribute in the entry foyer of The Springboard Shoppes in Newton, N.J. Credits: Jennifer Jean Miller

NEWTON, NJ - It has been more than a week since the massacre of 20 children, and six adults took place in Newtown, Conn. As the time has passed, and people around the world are mourning the lives lost, answers continue to be sought, and new details revealed, though many questions still remain unanswered.

Much is still unclear about the shooter, who originally was reported as Ryan Lanza, but was later apparently identified as Adam Lanza, age 20, Ryan Lanza's younger sibling (click here for the original article by The Alternative Press), a resident of Newtown.

Adam Lanza reportedly died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after taking the other lives that day.

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Ryan Lanza of Hoboken, N.J. was interviewed by police right after the shooting, and according to news sources, was released as a suspect. Reports also indicate Ryan Lanza said he has been estranged from his brother since 2010, and Adam Lanza dealt with Asperger's syndrome, and personality disorders.

The Alternative Press decided to explore further the topic of Asperger's syndrome, to verify if the condition could be linked to the violence that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

According to Wikipedia, Asperger syndrome (abbreviated as "AS," and also known as "Asperger's syndrome, and "Asperger disorder," is "an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. It differs from other autism spectrum disorders by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development. Although not required for diagnosis, physical clumsiness and atypical (peculiar, odd) use of language are frequently reported."

Reports in the media, especially a December 22 Associated Press article, have noted Adam Lanza rarely spoke publicly, typically wore the same outfit to school, pushed himself next to walls as other students would pass him in the hallways at school, and, even during a presentation at school, permitted his computer to speak for him, rather than presenting the material himself.

The same article alleges Adam Lanza had an obsession with computers, and was often sequestered in the family's basement room, which was equipped with couches, a flat-screen TV, computer, and video games. A former classmate of Lanza's in high school said Lanza once played the video game "Counter-Strike" with him, a game featuring terrorists, and counter-terrorists, and chose a military assault rifle and Glock to use during the game (a Glock 10 mm handgun, and a Bushmaster AR-15 were purportedly two of the weapons used by Lanza during the killings).

Adam Lanza's mother, Nancy Lanza, who was reportedly the first victim of the December 14 killing spree, is said to be the registered owner of all of the weapons used by Adam Lanza in the slaughter. Reports from ABC News indicate as well, Nancy Lanza directed Adam Lanza's steps in life in diffierent instances; a former babysitter has now come forward stating Nancy Lanza told him to never let Adam Lanza out of his sight when caring for him, requesting he not even use the bathroom when watching the boy. Hairstylists who used to cut Adam Lanza's hair every six weeks when he was a teenager, said his mother would always accompany him on the appointments, and instruct Adam Lanza when he was permitted to move in the chair; according to the stylist, he never uttered a word, and only stared at the floor tiles as they cut his hair.


Sussex County Resident With Asperger's Shares His Perspective

The Alternative Press interviewed Johnny Regan, a Sussex County resident, who was diagnosed as an adult with Asperger's syndrome in 1999. Previous to that, Regan, who said he is also a cancer survivor (a blood disorder, which he is now cancer free from for seven years), was told he was "neurologically impaired," before the Asperger's diagnosis. However, Regan has been able to hold down a job, including having worked 17 baseball seasons at Skylands Park as a scoreboard operator. Regan is also very involved in the Sussex County NJ Sports Hall of Fame (click here for a previous article by The Alternative Press), as the group's historian. At the recent induction dinner, he introduced one of the speakers from the podium, and spoke to many of the attendees during the evening.

Coincidentally, when The Alternative Press of Sussex County released the first article about the shooting in Newtown, Regan was a reader who reached back when a request for comment was posted on Facebook looking for comments about the tragedy, and indicated a friend of his lives in Newtown, Conn. When Regan first heard of the shooting, he said he immediately called his friend to check on his well-being, and learned his friend was safe, and, the friend's children were as well; they were too young to attend Sandy Hook Elementary School. Click here for the story.

Of the possibility of Adam Lanza having Asperger's syndrome, Regan commented, about the link some news outlets have attempted to make between Adam Lanza's supposed issues with Asperger's, and the violence committed. "It doesn't apply to everybody."

Regan said generalizations have been made between Asperger's syndrome, and what happened in Newtown.

"I'm not like that [violent] at all," Regan added.

Regan did acknowledge the tendency for those with Asperger's syndrome to "concentrate on one subject," and also said personally, he has  "been through a lot."


Violence Because Of Mental Illness A Myth - Myth Fuels Mental Health Stigma

Roger Cherney, the Manager of Behavioral Health Services at Newton Medical Center, disputes the rumors of Asperger's having been linked to the killings.

"The chilling fact is you don't have to be mentally ill to be violent," Cherney said. "There's nothing definitive between Asperger's, or any other disorder. It's a myth."

Cherney described Asperger's syndrome as, "sustained impairment in social interaction that starts in youth. It's one of the defining features."

Cherney said another defining feature can be the "restricted range of activity. They [those with Asperger's] can be acutely interested in certain subjects and goals with great intensity. Restricted focused activities are a hallmark."

This can create disturbances, and difficulties, from work and especially in the relationship domain, in which those with Asperger's may have difficulty interpreting non-behavioral cues, and gestures, which, in turn, can impact the development of peer relationships.

"There are some difficulties processing social cues in the normal give and take," said Cherney.

"Younger kids may have less interest in developing friendships," Cherney added. "They may have difficulties in establishing friendships. They may want to have friendships, but feel somewhat shy when relating to peers. Those difficulties could cause someone to be more depressed or anxious."

However, Cherney noted even children and teens without Asperger's syndrome, can struggle in social situations.

He said those with Asperger's syndrome can acquire skills in social relationships.

"Many of them [those with Asperger's syndrome] are successful in careers, marriage, and having children," said Cherney.

Cherney said with Asperger's syndrome being classified as a spectrum disorder, "these defining features can vary from person to person."

"It's better to intervene, and build predictable structure, and schedules in their lives," he said.

Cherney also suggested Physical and Occupational Therapies as helpful for those with Asperger's syndrome.

"Parent support and education can increase the likelihood of satisfactory expectations, and utilize a person's strength," he added.

Cherney described those with mental disorders as having the tendency to be more vulnerable, yet, when it comes to predicting if dangerous behaviors correlate with symptoms of disorders, "you can't generalize that way with any degree of validity."

Although Cherney indicated there can be certain types of disorders that can be associated with violence, the disorders do not predict it.

"It [violent behavior] tends to be over predicted," he said. "Several other things, science, and the art of predicting behavior, has its limits. Factors in the situation determine it as well."

Cherney said "causes are still pending," in terms of what exactly precipitates Asperger's syndrome, and "a lot of research is being done."

There are biological, and environmental pieces to the puzzle, which may interact, or on the other hand, may not develop at all, bringing about the many variations on the spectrum.

"To say Bipolar or Asperger's causes violence, puts it in a category, and it shows everyone's similar," said Cherney. "It's part of the stigma, it's part of the myth that people with mental illnesses are dangerous, and, it feeds the stigma when mentioning the condition."


About Asperger's Removal From American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic Manual

A recent controversy with Asperger's syndrome outside of its connection to Adam Lanza, is the removal of it from the fifth version of the American Psychiatric Association's "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," also known as "DSM-5." Asperger's syndrome will no longer have its own place in the manual, and instead will be lumped under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

The insurance industry relies on this diagnostic schema, Cherney said.

"It has always been a controversy when it comes to mental disorders, are they categorical or dimensional?" Cherney asked.

Forums online are abuzz whether or not this change may impact coverage of care in the future.

"Categorical schemes don't try to capture reality, where intensity or spectrum can shade one into the other," Cherney said. "This has created diagnostic disputes, and it's not settled."

The fourth edition of the DSM, the "DSM-IV," was published in 1994. Of the revision of the newest manual, and, who decides what is kept, and what is axed, according to the American Psychiatric Association's DSM-5 website, the planning stages for the upcoming version started in 1999; and between 2006 and 2008, the co-chairs to help bring about the revised manual were chosen, as well the task and work groups formed. Since then, field trials, and tests have taken place, and the draft put together.

The DSM-5 draft manual is scheduled for printing on December 31, and is planned for unveiling at the American Psychiatric Association's annual meeting in San Francisco, Calif., in May 2013.

In regard to the building process of the manual, Cherney said, "They [the creators] land somewhere by consensus in the building process. It doesn't mean everyone is in favor."

Wikipedia notes Asperger's syndrome was named by Hans Asperger, an Austrian pediatrician, in 1944, to describe four of his patients. The children had difficulties socializing, which Asperger called "autistic psychopathy." Yet, he also said his patients were "little professors," for their high intellectual abilities, and potential for achievement in their adulthoods.


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