Sinister Speculation part 1: Autism

When President Obama said,

“Our hearts are broken today, for the parents, grandparents, sisters and brothers of these children, and for the families of the adults who were lost,”

though speaking for America, he voiced that which people all around the world were feeling on hearing the news that so many people, twenty of them little children, had lost their lives to a gun man on a murderous rampage. Although the word “senseless” was on the lips of most commentators that did not stop many bringing in guests, or themselves speculating on the mental state and neurological make up of the murderer, Adam Lanza.

Most news agencies have produced their own “timeline” of events that day. Nowhere on any of them is the point at which they themselves began to, on the basis of hearsay, postulate that Lanza was autistic and/or mentally ill.

This gallop to be the first with new details regardless of their veracity, has only compounded and complicated the grief of autistic people and parents of autistic children. Paula C. Durbin-Westby, writes in her post,  Mother with Asperger Syndrome Grieves Sandy Hook Elementary Victims:

I just want to grieve without having to worry about a different set of children– children who are growing up on the autism spectrum, or with atypical neurologies, with mental health conditions, who are not prone to violence by virtue of having these disabilities, but who could be negatively affected by assumptions that “all these people are dangerous” or even that “all these kids are going to grow up to be no good.”

It’s troubling how her words echo those written not six months ago, by Kassiane S of Radical Neurodivergence Speaking,  in response to the unfounded rumours that Aurora cinema gun man, James Eagan Holmes, was on the autism spectrum. In her chilling post, Open Letter to the Media in the Wake of the Aurora Shootings, she writes;

We are not your scapegoat, and the trope of the dangerous neurodivergent is not only irresponsible, it is sloppy…Statistically speaking, we didn’t do it, and spreading the idea that we did has very real consequences that can mean life and death for us.

Preceding that statement is an “incomplete list of disabled people killed [most of whom were] Autistic or otherwise developmentally disabled.” The list itself comprises twenty five entries: mostly children.

The fact that another white male has taken innocent lives sits very uncomfortably with the media, it seems. Overwhelmingly, the  features these mass murderers have in common with one another is that they are white and male. Think James Holmes, Anders Brevik and Thomas Hamilton.  There is a drive to squeeze the murderer into another, smaller group – one less like the one occupied by those reading the news and constructing the narrative of events, so that we, the public, can more readily narrow down who it is we should fear.

We have to make sense of these massacres by assuming someone or something makes the perpertrators less than human. It is easier, for some, to explain away Lanza’s actions by assigning him to a group that is already stigmatised than to really examine how and why this happened or to accept that human will is, actually, unfathomable. Were it to emerge that Lanza was indeed on the autistic spectrum it would tell us little to nothing about what made him carry out his atrocious acts. The dehumanising of people with disabilities and mental illness has a long and creepy history. Judging by the reaction both in the media and on social networks, it has a very healthy future.

Further reading

Here are just a few pieces written by autistic men and women following this tragedy:

ASAN [Autistic Self Advocacy Network] Statement on Media Reports Regarding Newtown, CT Shooting

Liz Ditz of the Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism has begun collating posts relating to autism and the CT shootings. Gun Violence and the search for a scapegoat, autism edition

In Response to Connecticut

Mother with Asperger Syndrome Grieves Sandy Hook Elementary Victims

Plea from the scariest kid on the block

When Children Die, It’s Time to Grieve and to Reflect, Not to Scapegoat

About M O'Callaghan

I work at home, in Wales and am the proud mother of the adorable Pwdin of my blog. My son is autistic and (let's get it out the way) fully vaccinated. When he's asleep or at school, I contribute to various websites such as Vaccines Today and Seek the Evidence among others. Here at Skeptoid, I intend to write about products, therapies and practices being marketed to parents and families. Give me a bit of wiggle room on this one, though, as I have found that parenting pages and mum magazines promote much woo targeted at women which may well get a good going over from time to time. Follow me @MLOCallaghan
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27 Responses to Sinister Speculation part 1: Autism

  1. Hey, Dunning, Muhammad, the DC sniper, wasn”t white. Indeed, stereotyping such as yours was why it took so long to catch him.

    • Hey, socraticGadfly, I’m not Dunning – last time I looked he wasn’t a red head.
      You’re right the DC sniper wasn’t white but then he didn’t have a similar M.O. to anyone I mentioned in the article. He didn’t just go to a place and shoot a whole load of people gathered there as Lanza did at Sandy Hook, as Breivik did on Utoya, as James Eagan Holmes did in the cinema in Aurora or as Thomas Hamilton did at the primary school in Dunblane. As I recall, I didn’t have anything to do with the sniper investigation what with living on a different continent and all.

  2. Avicenna says:

    The DC Sniper was more like a serial killer than a spree killer.

  3. Thanks, M. I am continuing to collate (or “curate” in the new phrase) responses. There were many more over the weekend — and today.

  4. David Tyler says:

    Assigning blame is a favorite American past time. It seems to be a way of dealing with the unknown or senseless. Many people need to have an answer – it does not have to even be true. They cannot accept that things can happen without any rational cause. If there is uncertainty, an explanation is demanded. Unexplained events are unacceptable and blame for bad things must always be assigned. To say we do not know is never enough. Truth is a secondary consideration.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I was diagnosed with Asperger’s several years ago. Despite many suggestions that I come “out” I have declined. In my opinion, people equate it with “crazy” or “brain-damaged”. The news accounts have confimed my fears.

  6. oldmuley says:

    Also remember the DC sniper’s ultimate target was his divorced wife. His plan was to make her death look like another random shooting.


  7. Newtown Massacre…the MAJOR DISCREPANCIES LIST
    by Clare Kuehn
    1) As yet, we have not seen any concrete evidence that any child died.
    2) As yet, parents have not been allowed to see their children. (Photoshopped pictures do not count.)
    3) As of now, I have seen only one unambiguous statement from a grieving parent (Robbie Parker).
    4) According to the official story, Adam Lanza was found with his older brother’s ID, and it was not stolen. However, older brother Ryan – who officials say is very cooperative – claims not to have even seen his brother since 2010. Where would Adam get this ID? And why does such use not qualify as a theft?
    5) According to the official story, Adam Lanza was wearing a black outfit with a mask and bulletproof vest. Why would he want to hide his identity, and why would he wear a bulletproof vest, if he planned to kill himself?
    6) The medical examiner asserts that all wounds were caused by a rifle or other long weapon, and police/FBI say that the school was littered with .223 (rifle) casings. But Adam Lanza was found dead in the school with only handguns – a rifle was found in the trunk of his car. But then he could not possibly have been firing the rifle, and could not have committed the murders. Who did?
    7) According to the official story, the killing was tightly confined to two classrooms. But then why were so many children told to close their eyes while leaving the building?
    8 ) Joanne Didonato, the principal’s secretary, called in sick on Friday – something she rarely does. So presumably, she must have been awfully ill. Yet she then felt well enough to give an interview. “Of all days,” she said, emphasizing the strange coincidence.
    9) The hospital went into lockdown and cleared four trauma rooms, but received only three patients, two of them dead children (according to the official story) and one mildly wounded adult.
    10) Why were there such persistent reports that Mrs. Lanza was a kindergarten teacher, and that she died at the school, when the new official story is that she was not connected to the school and was killed at home?
    11) What happened to the report that Adam Lanza’s girlfriend and another friend were missing in New Jersey?
    12) What happened to the woodsman in a black jacket and camo pants who was arrested and handcuffed outside the school? He actually shouted to parents, “It wasn’t me.” Who was he and what was he doing there?
    13) What happened to the dark van or SUV that the police surrounded in the parking lot, or the maroon sedan with a blown-out back window they were on the lookout for?
    14) The official story is that Nancy Lanza was a gun collector who obeyed the law. But since 20-year-olds are not permitted to buy guns or ammo or carry guns in Connecticut, why would she give her “autistic” son access to both guns and ammo?
    15) Why were parents told on Friday that “if you haven’t been reunited with your child by now it’s already over”? Does anyone imagine that real parents of real children would simply say, “Okay, the show’s over, let’s go home now”?
    16) Would real parents of real children really be satisfied with (possibly photoshopped) pictures of their children? Wouldn’t they demand to see their children one last time firsthand?
    17) According to the official story, 28 people died but only 1 was wounded. The dead included 20 small, squirmy children – difficult targets even for professionals. How could Adam Lanza achieve such amazingly deadly accuracy, in such a short length of time?
    18 ) A child asserts that he/she heard someone say, “Put your hands up,” followed by the reply, “Don’t shoot.” This indicates that the police took a suspect into custody inside the school. But if that was Adam Lanza, how did he kill himself after that point?
    19) Another child asserts that he/she saw a man pinned down to the ground with handcuffs on. Again, this indicates that the police took a suspect into custody. If that was Adam Lanza, how did he then kill himself?
    20) When Ryan Lanza was falsely identified as the shooter, who deleted his Facebook profile and created many others in his name?
    21) Is it reasonable for a geeky 20-year-old to carry two pistols and hundreds of rounds of ammunition while wearing a bulletproof vest and a mask?
    22) Why did the police say on Friday that they were going to leave the bodies rotting in the school until Sunday, then Saturday morning announce that they had spirited the bodies away in the middle of the night? Perhaps to ensure that the transport, if any, would go unrecorded on photos or video?
    23) Why won’t police tell us where they found the Henry repeating rifle, the Enfield rifle, and the shotgun?
    24) Did the school have one or more security cameras? What do they show?
    25) Why did a police officer specifically mention, on radio, that “they’re coming at me through this wood,” followed by a fellow officer saying, “This is it”?
    26) One officer in the school said, “We’ve got one suspect down.” Who was that? Down in this situation generally means in custody(on the ground and cuffed), not dead.
    27) Why didn’t Adam’s uncle see anything out of the ordinary in Adam when the two saw each other in June?
    28 ) Why is Adam Lanza reported to be a loner when a teenager said (oxymoronically), “[Lanza and his friends] always gathered alone in a corner in school”?
    29) Why did police assign an individual state trooper to every grieving family, whether the family wants such “protection” or not?
    30) Why are Ryan Lanza and his roommates still in custody, and why are the police pretending that it’s for their own benefit?
    31) Is it a coincidence that Nancy Lanza’s brother is Kingston Police Officer James Champion, who lives next door to the former Lanza home?
    32) Since the alleged shooter’s father is VP of GE Capital, and (like “Batman shooter” James Holmes’s father) was scheduled to testify at the Senate Hearings on the LIBOR scandal, is there a LIBOR connection to this event?

  8. lilady says:

    The DC Beltway sniper wasn’t white, but he did have something in common with the young man who murdered his mother then murdered 20 children and 6 adults in the Connecticut school….the use of the same Bushmaster assault rifle. Assault rifles are the “weapons of choice”, loaded with 30 round magazines for “maximum effect”.

    The journalists who chose to make the ridiculous assumption that a diagnosis of an ASD is in some way associated with the committing of violent heinous crimes have once again, scapegoated people on the “Spectrum”. These same journalists have also claimed that people who have emotional disorders and a variety of mental disorders are “prone” to commit atrocious acts.

    I am saddened by these horrific murders. I am ashamed that my country is in the spotlight once again, because of lax and non-existent gun and assault rifle laws and the gun totin’ citizens who turn rogue and commit these crimes.

    We may never know how troubled the shooter was, but you have to wonder why his mother legally purchased the assault rifle and an assortment of semi-automatic pistols, took her troubled son to firing ranges for “target practice” sessions and chose to keep these weapons in her home.

  9. Yoni Fedler says:

    There is a variation on this theme, namely that the murderers were impelled by side effects of certain psychiatric drugs which might have caused, e.g. depression, aggression or paranoia. This argument doesn’t brand any particular group of people, but rather points a finger at the drugs themselves (and indirectly the manufacturers and the FDA). I think it may have some merits. Could any of your readers comment or suggest background material on this?

  10. lilady says:

    I don’t think that psychotropic drugs have been associated with the Connecticut shooter.

    The Beltway sniper who murdered 10 people was not on psychotropic drugs, but reading other articles about people who commit violent crimes, I see that their non-compliance with taking prescribed medication is often the “trigger” for their committing violent crimes.

    If we didn’t allow the Federal assault rifle ban law to “sunset” in 1994, the shooter’s mother couldn’t have purchased the assault rifle, loaded with multiple 30 shot magazines that her son used in the shootings:

  11. Erwin says:

    It seems that there are two things that are taboo when it comes to blaming anyone or anything: guns and ‘normal’ white men (i.e. neuro-typical,heterosexual men in a relationship, preferably married with children, with a job and a house). Everyone and everyone else is ok to be the scapegoat. But not those two.

    • Anonymous says:

      Are you stupid? Guns and “normal” white males are the FIRST things that the Old Media complex blames for ANYTHING! Especially if they can link it to right-wing or conservative aspects, such as the absolutely criminal rushing to blame the Tea Party for the Dark Knight shooting. You need to educate yourself on media bias and what the Old Media deems acceptable and taboo — for example, no one in the Old Media would ever rush to associate these shootings with Leftism, homosexuality, environmentalism, the Middle East, or other Leftist sacred cows.

      • leftist sacred cows like disability for instance? Right. I think I know of some Baptists you might get along with really well – they’ve been blaming this on homosexuality too

        • Anonymous says:

          Heeyyyoooo! I point out that the Old Media will never attack Leftist sacred cows, and you immediately associate me with Westboro! Guess that totally invalidates my point, right?

          Let me be as clear as possible. The OP said that “guns and straight white males” are somehow taboo when finding blame for mass killings and such. I pointed out that this is the opposite of the truth, since the Old Media (the largest voice in America, in case you haven’t been paying attention) CAN’T WAIT to blame mass killings on guns and people on the right, and would not blame it on Leftist sacred cows, INCLUDING BUT NOT EXCLUSIVELY HOMOSEXUALITY.

          You come along and say, “Oh, he’s blaming it on gays!”

          Including homosexuality among the list of Leftist sacred cows that the Old Media will NEVER EVER use for blame IS NOT THE SAME AS BLAMING THIS KILLING ON IT.

          Reading comprehension, anybody?

        • Anonymous says:

          I guess my reply to your post was deemed “unacceptable” by the Mods. Fair enough. Please reread my post and your response, and understand (in the most polite terms possible) that I am accusing the Old Media of blame bias. I did not, and am not, blaming Leftist sacred cows (such as homosexuality) of anything; I am blaming the Old Media for NEVER looking at those sacred cows.

          • why should they look at the “sacred cow” as you call it of homosexuality? For the sake of completeness? To appease homophobes – to include them in the discussions? Come on! Saying that Lanza may have carried out the massacre *because* he may have been homosexual is every bit as ridiculous as saying he did it *because* he may have been autistic or his mother may have birthed him in hospital. None, not one, of those avenues are causative of violence.

  12. Anonymous says:

    According to Steven Novella, his research indicated that, since these events are so rare (that’s right, rare) there are simply not enough data from which to draw any conclusions at all. Witness the almost simultaneous attack in China by a man with a knife.

  13. Anonymous says:

    For the thousndth time, assault rifles are, by definition, fully automatic machineguns. Machineguns are heavily regulated since the 1930’s. The media (and nearly everyone else, it seems) use the term since it is “scary” and “sinister.” These are simply rifles. Note that the biggest mass murder took place in a nightclub and the killer used a bucket of gasoline. There are simply not enough of these events to form a dataset from which we can draw conclusions.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Assuarl rifles are machineguns by definition. these are not machineguns. The “assault rifle” terminology was coined by media biased against firearm ownership. Since the dataset is too small to draw any conclusions, using the term “weapon of choice” is wild speculation. The guy in Norway had a different rifle. The guy at Virginia Tech had a pistol. A cuban man killed 87 people with a can of gasoline: As skeptics, we must be very careful not to let our opinions cloud the factual discussion.

    • Observations are not opinion. No one has suggested that this type of weapon is used in a 100% of massacres. You should have no trouble hitting that huge straw man if you’re using it for target practice

  15. Anonymous says:

    To address your phrase, “lax and non-existent … laws.” There are over 26,000 laws on the books in the United States. The killer broke several laws, not counting murder. He was not allowed to bring any firearm onto school property. More laws are not the answer. One thing which could have made a difference in this tragedy is armed security for the school. This is so obvious to me that I cannot understand the outrage that has been expressed in some quarters. Apparently, it’s OK to have armed guards at the bank, at the stadium, at the courthouse, and in the airport, but NOT in a school. To me, opposition to this simple idea is egregiously un-skeptical.

  16. lilady says:

    Your choice to defend the “lax and non-existent…laws” and suggest “armed security for the school”, had no impact at the Columbine High School in Colorado, where there was an armed security guard and where two young men armed with assault rifles and multishot magazines killed and maimed students and teachers. Colorado still has lax gun control laws…

    In New York State, which has strict gun control laws including a ban on the sale of assault rifles and multishot magazines, a convicted felon (he bludgeoned his grandmother to death with a hammer), set fire to homes in his neighborhood to “lure” fireman to the area. He murdered two of the firefighters and severely injured two others with the exact type of assault rifle that Adam Lanza used at the Sandy Point School.

    So, no…you’re suggestion (parroting the spokesperson from the NRA), to place armed guards at every school does not prevent school massacres. Nor do strict gun laws and the ban on assault rifles/multshot magazines in one State, prevent a determined psychopath from obtaining these weapons and magazines in another State or through an internet sale.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Is it acceptable to point out that the same elite media members who think armed guards at schools are a bad idea are the same people who send their children to expensive private schools with armed guards?

  18. Anonymous says:

    M O’Callaghan, is there something wrong with your reading comprehension?

    Read my posts. I NEVER SAID HOMOSEXUALITY WAS A CAUSE OF ANYTHING. I simply included it in a list of Leftist sacred cows. Why didn’t you grab environmentalism, another bias I mentioned, and claim that I am accusing the shooter of being affected by Global Warming, and then berate me for that straw man?

    You singled out homosexuality and intentionally misinterpreted my comment to associate me with the Westboro Baptist Church, thus nullifying my comment with guilt by association. Nothing you have drawn from my comment is anything close to what I actually said.

    If this comment is approved, let me restate my comment. The Old Media will always look for a causation that can be linked to conservatism, the Right, the Tea Party, or anything else not on the Left. They will always skip over Leftist sacred cows, such as veganism and marijuana, to focus on blaming violence on the Right. An example of this deliberate bias is linking the Aurora shooter’s name with a Tea Party member, even though there was no connection at all. I made this comment in response to Anonymous’s claim that white straight males and guns are never scapegoated in these events, when in fact they are ALWAYS scapegoated.

    See? No mention of homosexuality at all. Now, how will you read this comment?

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