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Expert: Autism Concerns Unfounded In Connecticut Shootings

The reasons behind last week’s shooting in Connecticut that left 20 children and seven adults dead may never be known for sure, but an expert at Virginia Commonwealth University is confident that autism was not the cause.

“There is no association between autism and violent behavior,” said Dawn R. Hendricks, Ph.D., director of training for the VCU Autism Center for Excellence (VCU-ACE) and an assistant professor in the VCU School of Education Department of Special Education and Disability Policy. “Those who knew Adam Lanza have said he seemed emotionally detached. While people with autism may display their emotions differently, they still experience the range of emotions you and I do. They still have friends, love people and get married.”

According to some reports, Lanza may have had a form of autism spectrum disorder called Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a developmental disorder that impairs a person’s ability to interact socially with others. “Not caring about or understanding consequences is not a component of Asperger’s Syndrome,” Hendricks said.

Since the shooting, the center has received calls from parents of children with Asperger’s, asking for more information about the disability. Parents have also called to stand up for their children and ask how they can help educate people about Asperger’s.

“Many families who have a child diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome are learning about the characteristics and their child’s specific strengths and needs as they go along,” Hendricks said. “They are educating extended family members, neighbors, friends and even school personnel every day. It is unfortunate when erroneous information is spread through the media, undoing the efforts of these parents and creating stereotypes that are harmful and false.”

Research, Dr. Hendricks said, shows the percentage of incidents of violent behavior in individuals with Asperger’s versus the general population is approximately the same. And people with Asperger’s are more prone to be bullied or picked on, which Dr. Hendricks said often causes them to retreat because they are unsure how to react or stand up for themselves. “They become even less social and spend more time at home.”

The VCU-ACE is a university-based technical assistance, professional development and educational research center for Autism Spectrum Disorders in Virginia. It is dedicated to improving services to individuals with autism spectrum disorders and to the implementation of evidence-based practices in schools and the community.