Could the Talk of Autism and Asperger’s in the Newtown School Shootings Just Make It Worse?

I found this video about introversion via Mashable and it reminds me a lot of the TED Talk by Susan Cain on the same subject. I wanted to post this in the wake of the school shootings in Newtown in my home state of Connecticut.

Asperger’s Syndrome has been bandied about by the media as a possible explanation for the shooter’s motivation. (I will not name the shooter here.) While mental health must be part of the discussion,  I worry talk about these conditions could make things worse, not better, for the shy and withdrawn. A reasonable discussion could quickly devolve into demonizing this conditions and even stretch to introversion, resulting in backlash to “fix” or “cure” those who have them.

Asperger’s is not an illness & introverts are not broken

I am not an expert in Asperger’s so can’t say much about it except this: It is not a mental illness. People with Asperger’s are not sick and don’t need to be cured.

As for introverts, if you are one or know one, you know we can be quiet, preferring to be off on our own and sometimes lose the thread of what’s going on around us because we are “up in our heads.” There is nothing wrong with this—it is how we process information. Outwardly, some might mistake it for Autism or Asperger’s.

Leave me alone, I’m thinking AKA Introvert at Work

As the video states, introversion is seen as something wrong. Our school system stresses sharing and social skills while workplaces demand multi-tasking, people skills and group dynamics. Introverts often feel lost, disadvantaged, stressed and flustered. We are considered broken and many well-meaning people want to save us by pulling us from our shells. But as the gay community has said for decades, it is not a choice—we are born like this and don’t need to be fixed.

When you hammer a square peg into a round hole, pieces break off

What worries me is that as a society we are hammering a square peg into a round hole. Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory) and Abed Nadir’s (Community) social awkwardness are used for comic relief while other characters try to make them more social.  This is presented as normal, but in real life when a square peg is smashed into a round hole, pieces break off. Sometimes, they shatter.

When we think of Asperger's syndrome, Abed Nadir from Community springs to mind

When we think of Asperger’s syndrome, Abed Nadir from Community springs to mind

I’m not suggesting introverts will be pushed to become mass killers, but certainly those introverts who are pushed into socializing and then retreat further into isolation in order to recharge would be further ostracized, increasing the stigma on introverts. This 24-hour, instant gratification world is losing its appreciation for pondering and reflection. The world’s thinkers are labelled with pejoratives like “geeks” or “nerds” or “brainiacs”.

Let’s put it this way: imagine an extrovert who can talk to anyone, makes decisions instantly and is always moving forward at 100mph. Her manager thinks some of her decisions might lack a bit of reflection, so asks her to close the office door, take an hour and think over a few things. No one would be surprised if this woman got flustered, frustrated or pissed off.

Just like an introvert being told to “loosen up” or “just make a decision, already”.

But it might get worse than that.

Mass Murderers are “quiet loners”… so are introverts

The profile of mass murderers—from Columbine to Newtown—always seems to be the “quite loner.” But that could apply to any serious introvert (including me). So will introverts be viewed as not just broken, but dangerous?

With the media saying those with Asperger’s “lack empathy”, could the public begin to see serial killer Dexter as Asperger’s poster child?

Media “experts” have been describing Asperger’s as lacking empathy. That’s psychopathology, not Asperger’s. The difference between the two defies comparison. Yet after decades of the pop science in crime dramas, could the average person stop thinking of Abed or Sheldon when they think Asperger’s and instead think of Hannibal Lecter or Dexter Morgan?

Could this idea that those with Asperger’s are dangerous penetrate the pop psychology, with armchair experts pushing for even more efforts to “fix” introverts to not just help them, but so they don’t lash out and kill people? They might argue it’s not enough to stress interaction, verbalization and sharing, but prevent them from being alone or remaining quiet for too long. An “expert” on television even “warned” that a teenage boy spending too much time alone should be a warning sign he will commit violence.

Or, will we be ostracized further under a cloud of suspicion that the quiet guy in cube 1020A is too quiet and might just snap? While an introvert might not be the life of the party, we still appreciate and expect (like everyone else) simple affection and respect. Avoiding us will not help.

In case you think I have forgotten the victims

Please don’t take this post to be all about me. Or that I am suggesting the shooter was drive to do what he did because he needed more time to process his thoughts. I’m not. I’m from Connecticut. My heart is broken. I am as stunned as anyone else that rather than target his tormentors (as in virtually all school shootings) this monster targeted children.

I just hope in all of this we don’t overreact. Yet the disengaged public, barely paying attention, only catches a few talking points: “Too much time alone… video games… social awkward… school shooter.”

We don’t need to rush to a quick fix for this complex situation. Because a common thread to all of these tragedies we seem to have lost is the introvert trait of listening more. And by listening, we understand. Then we can act.

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2 Responses to “Could the Talk of Autism and Asperger’s in the Newtown School Shootings Just Make It Worse?”


  1. 1 popkarma January 3, 2013 at 11:20 am

    It could definitely make it worse and puts our children in jeopardy. The motives behind these crimes need to be examined from every angle. We need to understand the components of behavior to prevent these perfect storm situations.

    I wrote a post about 3 Ways To Help A Child Transition Back To School After The Holidays feel free to share it with your readers.
    Thanks!


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