Understanding Asperger's syndrome - are people with Asperger's prone to violence?
In the days following the tragic shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, it was reported that the shooter had Asperger's. This is troubling to those with Asperger's as the conclusion that many people jump to is that people with Asperger's are violent; in fact, people with Aspergers are no more and no less prone to violence than anyone else. So, what is Asperger's and what is it not?
What is Aspergers Syndrome?
Asperger's Syndrome is an Autism Spectrum Disorder (or sometimes called pervasive developmental disorders). Asperger's is a developmental disorder that generally affects a person's ability to communicate and socialize with others. Children with Asperger's syndrome are often socially awkward and may exhibit an all-absorbing interest in specific topics. However, unlike children with more-severe forms of autism spectrum disorders, those with Asperger's syndrome usually don't have delays in the development of language skills.
Symptoms of Aspergers
The symptoms of Asperger's syndrome vary and can range in their severity. Common symptoms include:
- Lack of social skills: Generally, children with Asperger's syndrome have difficulty interacting with others, are often are awkward in social situations, and do not make friends easily. Maintaining conversations can be difficult for them.
- Repetitive behaviors: Children with this condition may develop repetitive movements, such as hand wringing or finger twisting.
- Exceptional skills or talents: Many children with Asperger's syndrome are very talented or skilled in a particular area, often music or math.
- Unusual preoccupations or rituals: A child with Asperger's syndrome may develop rituals that he or she refuses to alter, such as getting dressed in a specific order. Deviations from these routines can cause stress for the child.
- Communication difficulties: People with Asperger's syndrome may avoid eye contact and have trouble understanding body language. They may struggle with "reading" other people, taking what is said very literally, or understanding humor. They have trouble seeing “grey” areas (a rule is a rule and variations are not acceptable).
- Limited range of interests: A child with Asperger's syndrome may develop an intense, almost obsessive, interest in a few areas, and have little interest an anything else. They may engage in one-sided conversations about their interest without noticing if the person they are talking to is disinterested, listening, or trying to change the subject.
- Coordination problems: The movements of children with Asperger's syndrome may seem clumsy or awkward.
What Does Asperger’s look like in Adults?
Like many other developmental disorders, autistic-spectrum disorders improve with age. Asperger’s syndrome in adults presents with difficulties in communication, social relationships and interests.
Essentially, Asperger's syndrome in adults causes behavior that can many describe as “quirky.” Bill Gates, Woody Allen, Bob Dylan, Keanu Reeves, and Al Gore are some of the many notable public figures who many experts believe show symptoms of Asperger's syndrome. There is also some evidence to suggest that Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton had Asperger’s as well.
Aspergers and Violence
So, are people with Asperger’s more prone to violence than others? Simply put, no. There is nothing in the definition of Asperger’s that talks about violence or committing aggressive acts. While those with Asperger’s may react very strongly to something in their environment, the reaction is typically more like a “tantrum” and not predatory (planning an attack or going after others).
Essentially, experts say there is no connection between Asperger’s and violence. People with Asperger's tend to focus on rules and be very law-abiding (goes back to their black and white and very literal way of thinking).
Those with autism and related disorders are sometimes diagnosed with other mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder. We need readily accessible programs in place to help people with these and other mental health issues.
What Can We Do to Help?
As a society, we can support people who move through the world a little differently than we do; understand what Asperger’s is and what it is not. If there is someone in your life that has Asperger’s, be sensitive to their differences and accept them for who they are. Basically, educate yourself about the disorder and don’t be fooled by inaccurate stereotypes.
If you have Asperger’s (or suspect that you do), it is never too late to get support to help you understand your condition and function well in a non-Asperger’s oriented world.
For more from Anne, visit Maternity Corner.