Sandy Hook massacre and the ASD canard

[On screen] One Adam Lanza, age 20, shot and killed his mother, and then went to the Connecticut grade school where she taught and gunned down over two dozen more people, 20 of them children. He subsequently took his own life. No manifesto, no suicide note, no obvious motive.

Note that no “assault weapons” were involved: he used two handguns, and left a third weapon (a .223 rifle) unused in the car.

Our hearts and prayers go out to the bereaved and we wish a speedy and full recovery to the wounded.

Ace is all over the story. The usual predictable politicization by gun control advocates (and the power and control freaks posing as same) he masterfully rebutted with stories about a 2009 school slaughter in Leipzig, Germany (despite extremely tough gun control laws) and of a knife-wielding maniac slashing 22 students in China.

But also he left a prescient comment: he notes that the surviving brother told authorities the shooter “is autistic or has Asperger syndr0me”, and mentions “Which, of course, will hopefully not demean other people with autism or Asperger’s.”

The comment was prescient, in that the usual airheaded mediots (but I repeat myself) are starting to blame it on, you guessed it, Asperger’s. The pseudonymous “Elise Ronan”, who has two sons with Asperger’s and blogs extensively about it, has some choice comments on her twitter timeline.

Obviously, by the inane “logic” of Piers Morgan, I could “prove” that CNN journalists are likely to go on “Dick Quest” in Central Park with meth in their pockets and ropes tied around their other heads, but let’s get a little more serious.

This isn’t the first time this type of claim about ASD was made: last time I can recall was about the Amy Bishop “Tenure denial massacre” which we covered here at length (see sidebar). In fact, hers was almost a textbook case of narcissistic personality disorder, probably with some other cluster B disorders thrown in.

I would not categorically exclude that she is also on the “autistic spectrum” (which runs left of “neurotypical” from “geek” over “Asperger’s” to autism), for the simple reason that science academia is probably the single most congenial environment for people with ASDs.

Elise reports that on Good Morning America, somebody claimed that people with Asperger’s “lack empathy”. This is a very common misunderstanding among laymen. To use a musical analogy: a person with Asperger’s may be as musical as anybody but is hard of hearing. A person who truly “lacks empathy” would have no concept of music. And yes, I would not want to feed all the musicians who have gotten hard of hearing (including, sadly, my other half). But nobody would seriously argue that Beethoven’s late works were “amusical” because he was stone deaf at the time he wrote them?!

To put it another way (I, sadly, have personal experience in these matters). To a sociopath, other people’s concerns simply do not exist, other than perhaps as potential levers for manipulation for their own benefit. To a narcissist, other people only exist as potential sources of ‘narcissistic supply’ or competitors for same. To an “aspie”, the emotions of others are as real as for a “neurotypical”, but opaque. They have no trouble identifying (with) abstract concerns or specific material needs of others, but have extreme difficulty “reading” the emotions of others, not even at the level a neurotypical is able to. It is like the difference between having trouble reading a book because of poor eyesight, and being utterly uninterested in any book.

A commenter at “Ace” has a much more plausible theory.

criminologist & behavioral analyst
casey jordan

– will continue to be called a school shooting, but that is not what it was

murderer known as: a family annihilator
(wants to destroy those they love)
– school was a theater for his massacre because it was his mothers workplace
– but, not direct connection to the school
– the rest of the killing is to get attention
– and, he wants everyone to know, if he is going to die, that everyone knows his name and how upset and how disgruntled he was

UPDATE: Elise Ronan takes no prisoners: “And so it begins, blood-libeling those with autism [spectrum disorders]”

Blog plug: Raising Asperger’s Kids

And now for something completely different:

One of my tweeple, aspergers2mom, runs a very interesting blog about her experiences raising two sons with Asperger Syndrome. If you have children or relatives with AS, autism, ADD/ADHD, or PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified), you will find a lot of good stuff there. And if you have friends/significant others who just drive you up the wall with their geekishness, the blog may also be helpful: the line between a real serious geek and a mild AS case is quite blurry. (Like with many things psychological, the difference between a personality trait and a personality disorder — or an intellectual idiosyncrasy and a developmental disorder — is mostly a matter of degree rather than kind.)

Check out today’s post especially. Thanks so much for sharing, Elise.

Amy Bishop redux: her husband knew about the gun after all

Dan Riehl (TypePad trackback URL)draws my attention to this post:

er husband denied knowing where she’d gotten the gun, he said previously, and (oddly, since she’d killed her brother with one) didn’t think to ask. Turns out, it seems, that it was his gun, which he’d asked a friend to purchase for him a couple of decades back, when he was “having trouble with a neighbor.” The weapon was purchased in New Hampshire, because of Massachusetts’ waiting period, so apparently needed somewhat urgently at the time, but ready to hand when once again other people’s reality threatened to intrude.

“She said it was no way she was there, no way it happened. ‘I wasn’t there.’ That kept being a reoccurring thing throughout the interview,” Gray said.

Bishop’s attorney has said that that she doesn’t remember the shootings, and she herself said the shootings “didn’t happen” in her only public comments since the killings.

“What about the people who died?” a reporter asked as she was led to a police car hours after the killings.

“There’s no way. They’re still alive,” she responded.

What she means to say is that it’s simply too inconvenient for her that they died when she pumped bullets into them. (Thanks to Sarah W.)

See the right sidebar for links to our earlier posts on Amy Bishop.

By the way, I get a nontrivial number of Google hits for “Amy Bishop Asperger” and variants thereof. I know a thing or two about “aspies” and I can tell you there’s nothing Asperger about Amy Bishop’s deeds or behavior. A textbook case of extreme NPD (narcissistic personality disorder), probably with borderline disorder thrown in, is much more like it.

(Grossly oversimplifying: To a narcissist other people count as nothing except as sources for narcissistic supply. To an “aspie”, other people and their needs and wants are quite real — their emotions are just very (to extremely) hard to read. I will return to this subject in a separate post, time permitting.)

WSJ profile of Temple Grandin

Via Ann Althouse, here is an excellent profile of professor Temple Grandin (who suffers from high-functioning autism). The profile is marred by one repeated embarrassing typo: spelling “Asperger” as “Aspberger”. Ann Althouse wonders if that was Cleopatra’s last meal.

A few choice quotes:

‘Who do you think made the first stone spear?” asks Temple Grandin. “That wasn’t the yakkity yaks sitting around the campfire. It was some Aspberger sitting in the back of a cave figuring out how to chip rocks into spearheads. Without some autistic traits you wouldn’t even have a recording device to record this conversation on.”

Heh.

As many as one in 110 American children are affected by autism spectrum disorders, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed than girls.

[…]

People on the “[autism] spectrum” tend to be just as obsessed with things and the way things work as they are uninterested in social relationships. And, as Ms. Grandin observed, people interested in things make important advancements—particularly in engineering, science and technology.

Which is not to say she romanticizes this disorder. […] What sets Ms. Grandin apart is that she knows what autism feels like, and, unlike so many others with the disorder, she can articulate it.

Last week, the American Psychiatric Association unveiled its proposed revisions to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), the bible of the field. Up for revision are Aspergers and autism. The association recommends scrapping both and replacing them with the umbrella label of “autism spectrum disorders.”

“From a scientific standpoint, Aspergers and autism are one syndrome,” Ms. Grandin says, reflecting the scholarly consensus. “Aspergers is part of the autism spectrum, not a separate disorder.” But “the problem is you have a whole lot of people that have labels and identify with the label.”

There is, she says, a “strong genetic basis” for autism, and she has a “very typical family history” that includes anxiety and depression on both sides of the family, intellectual giftedness, lots of food allergies and engineers (“my grandfather was an engineer who invented the automatic pilot for airplanes”). This is why, she says, “there tends to be a lot of autism around the tech centers . . . when you concentrate the geeks, you’re concentrating the autism genetics.”

Many talk of an autism epidemic—has there been a spike in autism lately? “You know the geeks have always been here. They used to call them geeks, nerds and dorks. Now they’re getting labeled [Asperger]s—there’s just a point where it’s just normal personality variation.”

Of course, pretty much every psychological or (in this case) cognitive disorder is just a more extreme version of personality traits that can be found in “normal” people.

[H]er advice [about raising children with Asperger’s or high-functioning autism] is simple: It’s about hard work. Young children need 20 or 30 hours a week of one-on-one time with a committed teacher or mentor. Money, Ms. Grandin says, should not be an obstacle. If you can’t afford a professional teacher, find volunteers through your church or synagogue, she says. Parents need to teach 1950s-style social rules “like please and thank you, basic table manners, how to shop.”

There have to be high expectations. She’s worried about the “handicapped mentality” that she thinks is increasing. “When I see these kids with 150 IQ and their parents want to put them on Social Security [disability], it drives me nuts.” These kids “will come up to the book table and start talking about ‘my Aspergers.’ Why don’t you talk about becoming a chemist, or a computer programmer, or a botanist?”

She continues: “It’s important to get these autistic kids out and exposed to stuff. You’ve got to fill up the database.” Silicon Valley and the tech companies are like “heaven on earth for the geeks and the nerds. And I want to see more and more of these smart kids going into the tech industry and inventing things—that’s what makes America great.”

Ms. Grandin lives in a simple apartment in Fort Collins, Colo., and has used the profits from her books to put students through school. “Four PhDs I’ve already done, I’m working on my fifth right now. I have graduate students at Colorado State—some of them I let in the back door, like me: older, nontraditional students. And I’ve gotten them good jobs.”

Now here is somebody I take my hat off for — or cover my head for, in Jewish culture 🙂 Read the whole thing, as they say.

Big Mike, a commenter at Althouse’s, offers a first-person perspective:

Asperger’s syndrome is not a disability. It merely means that one has trouble putting oneself in other people’s shoes, and viewing things from other people’s perspective. The ability of individuals with Asperger’s syndrome to read body language is impaired, and they tend to be socially inept.

(It has not escaped my notice that this perhaps sounds like a few of the regular commentators on this blog.)

But that’s nothing that can’t be learned, provided one understands what the problem is and is willing to study the human beings around you the way psych students in college study lab rats. High school is Hell, but by college an Asperger’s person should be able to get by and even thrive.

One can have Asperger’s and still be a champion athlete. One can have Asperger’s and still learn to work well in teams, though an Asperger’s person will always do better in situations that focus on individual performance. One can still woo and win a beautiful woman. We do have (oops!) brains that are better-wired for mathematics and the hard sciences, and we tend to be well above the norm as problem-solvers. Because we have had to study human beings more thoroughly than regular people, Asperger’s people can do quite well as a trial lawyer or actor (not that there’s that much difference one from the other).

But high school is really Hell.