Saturday, December 15, 2012

Autism, empathy, and violence: One of these things doesn't belong here

Some news coverage in the last 24 hours has mentioned autism in the context of the tragedy in Connecticut, particularly referencing Aspergers or "high-functioning" autism. Talking heads have brought up the "empathy" factor when discussing autism, and I'd like to set some of the record on that straight.

Empathic ability comes in two forms. One is the social ability to recognize the emotion someone is feeling by following social cues, subtle vocal fluctuations, and other nonverbal communications. Psychopaths, for example, might be quite good at reading people, at applying this cognitive empathy and then possibly exploiting it. Autistic people, on the other hand, generally tend not to be that great at this kind of recognition in non-autistic people. After all, the hallmark of autism is difficulty navigating this territory and registering the meaning of a nonverbal language that is unfamiliar to them. Worth noting, non-autistic people also seem to struggle with reading the nonverbal communication of autistic people. It can also be difficult for autistic people to automatically place themselves situationally in the other person's shoes and intuit the emotion the other person feels, although again, non-autistic people seem to struggle to do this for autistics. Autism does not, however, preclude a person from understanding a clear communication about emotion.

The other form of empathy follows on the recognition of the emotion, whether the message comes through verbally or nonverbally, intuitively or not. That's the form in which you not only can intellectualize the person's emotion but also can internalize and feel what they are feeling, known as emotional empathy. The gap for psychopaths comes in here: They seem to lack this emotional empathy. But whatever deficits autism might carry in terms of recognition, it makes up for in terms of the shared feeling. My experience has been that once an autistic becomes aware of the other person's emotion, the feeling comes without a social construct, naked and in full, unmodulated. Certainly, the expression of their feeling can be more intense. Research shows that people with Asperger's are not that great at cognitive empathy but that their emotional empathy does not differ from people without Asperger's, whereas children with conduct disorder show the reverse pattern.

My 11-year-old son is diagnosed with Asperger's, soon to be simply "autism," thanks to impending changes in the DSM5. He is a rowdy giant of an 11-year-old who loves tumbling play with his brothers, but his spirit couldn't be more gentle. When he finds a spider in the house, he carefully gathers it in a tissue and places it outside, alive. He can't bear to watch people crack tree nuts, like pecans, because being something of a tree nut himself, he feels pain on behalf of the nuts. He is so attuned to all of my nonverbal communication that he will recognize and respond to a fluctuation in my mood faster than anyone else in our house, including my husband.

He knows about the Dec. 14 shootings in Connecticut. When he learned about them, his first response was to turn away in the chair where he was sitting, drooping his head over the back. He stayed that way for many long minutes, quiet and still. When he turned around again, my child who rarely, rarely cries, had tears in his eyes. And then, his first urgent concern: That we break from homeschooling and go get his brother, our youngest son and in first grade, from school ... now. And as we drove to the school to pick up his brother, whom I badly wanted to see and hug and hear, my oldest, autistic son voiced what I'd already decided: "Let's not tell him what happened. That's not something he needs to know. It would make him too anxious and scared." Perspective-taking and empathy, you see.

Planned, social violence is not a feature of autism. Indeed, autistic people are far more likely to have violence done against them than to do violence to others. No one knows as of this writing what drove the Connecticut shooter to kill 20 children and 7 adults, point blank, although obvious candidates are rage, hate, a huge grudge against humanity, and some triggering event. But if he turns out to have been someone on the spectrum, I'd like to remind everyone that autism is not an explanatory factor in his actions. And that autistic people like my son are fully, fully capable of empathizing with those who were the target of them.

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ETA, 12/18/12: For anyone who doesn't find my links to studies and summaries addressing these issues sufficient, I refer them to this article by Amy Harmon, at the New York Times, in which autism expert Catherine Lord describes data showing that the autism population is less likely than the general population to engage in planned or extra-familial violence or to use weapons. Also, I am disallowing comments that make unsupported claims that various infamous persons were on the autism spectrum or that engage in armchair diagnoses in general, so don't even bother.

67 comments:

  1. As a sibling of a brother with autism, severe autism, I find your words true and resonant. Much is still to be learned about the cause of this tragedy, however, with autism being thrown around the rumor mill, I worry about the evolution of public opinion to believe that autistic individuals may be a "danger" to society, which is entirely unfair. Thank you.

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  2. I adore that boy of yours. Please give him and his brothers hugs from all of us, if they'll take them.

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  3. This is heartwrenchly true, and needs to be widely circulated~~Before, sadly, many unenlightened people draw false conclusions from very litte concrete evidence~~

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  4. Yes! Yes! Yes! I could not have said it better myself, and believe me tonight I was going to try. As a woman with ASD who mothers at least one child with it, everything you wrote describes my experience. Thank you for writing this - if only our sound bite society will listen!

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  5. Thank you for your wonderful post! I hope more people read this. Sharing this on FB. Hope that's ok, if not, please let me know!
    Elizabeth

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  6. Shared on Google +, thanks for writing this!

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  7. https://sites.google.com/site/gavinbollard/about-aspergers/dsm-iv-criteria-for-autism

    https://sites.google.com/site/gavinbollard/about-aspergers/dsm-iv-criteria-for-aspergers

    The DSMIV-TR diagnostic features identify a difference of emotional indifference to others in autistic disorder as opposed to Asperger's syndrome.

    The research you identify backs up what the DSMIV-TR has identified since 2000 in the diagnostic features section of the descriptive text in the DSMIV-TR, and possibly before, but I don't have access to the 1994 diagnostic features from the DSMIV.

    According to current statistics from the CDC, individuals identified diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome comprise 9% of the Autism Spectrum population studied, so it does not appear to be an accurate suggestion that the diagnostic feature identified as an emotional indifference to others in the diagnostic text, describing autistic disorder, in the diagnostic features section of the DSM-IV-TR, is not a substantial impairment in ASD's as a whole.

    From the Asperger's Disorder DSM-IV-TR Diagnostic Features text:

    "Lack of social or emotional reciprocity may be present (e.g.,not actively participating in simple social play or games, preferring solitary activities, or involving others in activities only as tools or "mechanical" aids)(Criterion A4). Although the social deficit in Asperger's Disorder is severe and is defined in the same way as in Autistic Disorder, the lack of social reciprocity is more typically manifest by an eccentric and one-sided social approach to others (e.g.,pursuing a conversational topic regardless of other' reactions) rather than social and emotional indifference."

    From the Autistic Disorder DSM-IV-TR Diagnostic Features text:

    "Lack of social or emotional reciprocity may be present (e.g.,not actively participating in simple social play or games, preferring solitary activities, or involving others in activities only as tools or "mechanical" aids)(Criterion A1d) Often an individual's awareness of others is markedly impaired. Individuals with this disorder may be oblivious to other children (including siblings), may have no concept of the needs of others, or may not notice another person's distress."

    2nd part of comment below:

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  8. 2nd part of comment:

    Samuel Baron Cohen's research identifies this difference described in the DSMIV-TR among the two disorders, with some of those with Asperger's syndrome having more difficulties with "Cognitive Empathy" as opposed to "affective"/emotional empathy, but some of those with Autistic Disorder having substantial difficulty with both types of empathy.

    This is not likely going to change much in the DSM5 diagnostic features for ASD. There will likely be a range of difficulties described in social-emotional reciprocity from pursuing a conversational topic regardless of other's reactions (cognitive empathy impairment) to social and emotional indifference of others (cognitive and affective/emotional empathy impairment)

    While there is a strong position to argue that clinically significant impairment in emotional empathy is not a common diagnostic feature of Asperger's syndrome, both from a diagnostic manual standpoint and a scientific research standpoint, there is not a strong position to describe the spectrum as a whole, without diagnostic features of both types of substantial impairments of empathy, because they are identified in the diagnostic manual and in scientific research.

    The DSM5 has come to the conclusion that criminal activity and/or violence is not a necessary component for anti-social personality disorder. A deficit in emotional empathy for others does not dictate that someone is going to be a criminal or engage in violent behavior. There are many other factors beyond a deficit in emotional empathy for all, some, or one person in particular, that can motivate a person to engage in criminal and/or violent activity, with or without a labeled disorder.

    That's a stereotype that needs to be worked on. Some people falsely assume that all or most people identified with these innate and/or environmental empathy deficits described as diagnostic features under diagnostic labels for disorders have a destiny for criminality and/or violent behavior.

    However, I think one should also be careful not to indicate a potential stereotype that there are not substantial difficulties in cognitive and affective/emotional empathy among some individuals as a whole on the autism spectrum, because there is therapy that can help some of these individuals in their relationships with others, if the difficulties are properly assessed and identified.

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-justice-and-responsibility-league/201011/how-managerial-psychopaths-use-emotions-manipulate

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    1. There are actually 3 types of empathy. Emotional, cognitive, and compassionate. So yes, some autistic people have low levels of emotional empathy and cognitive empathy, but this doesn't mean they have low levels of compassionate empathy.

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  9. My son had a similar reaction. He had gotten out of school early from exams. He sat very still for a minute and said "I want to go get my brother at school." This is the child who will not kill a bug, who won't eat a smiley face cookie. He is the sweetest soul I have ever known. I fear that this will be one more reason for his peers to make fun or be mean to him.

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  10. I believe Simon Baron-Cohen's hypotheses about autism and empathy are completely misguided and inaccurate, and are responsible for a lot of unfounded prejudice against autistics. I hope a new generation of researchers can undo the harm he has done.

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    1. Those individuals who were originally assessed as having Autistic syndromes by both Kanner and Hans Asperger's were assessed with a lack of empathy. Deficits in empathy in individuals assessed with Autism have been identified since the 40's. That is were the general stereotype came from.

      Simon Baron Cohen has identified subgroups on the spectrum, namely some of those individuals with the Asperger's diagnosis, that have substantial difficulties with Cognitive empathy, but do not have substantial difficulties in Affective/emotional empathy. Cohen was the first to describe these two different types of empathy in this manner. As a part of the result of SBC's work, individuals diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome are commonly identified without substantial problems with emotional empathy as Emily Willingham describes above.

      As described and linked above the DSMIV has recognized these similar differences in the demonstration of empathy in the diagnostic features section of that manual since at least the year 2000. Simon Baron Cohen came up with different terms to describe the two types of empathy described in the DSMIV-TR, that are easier to discern, when they are fully defined.

      If it was not for Simon Baron Cohen's efforts it is possible that even though some individuals on the spectrum are identified as having more difficulties associated with empathy than others, they still all as a whole would be referred to as "lacking empathy", the same as how they were described since the 1940's, instead of some on the spectrum delineated as not having substantial problems with emotional empathy and instead described as having substantial difficulties with what Cohen describes as cognitive empathy.

      I would suggest that Cohen has received a little too much credit for an issue that is approaching a century as a commonly described phenomenon/stereotype associated with Autism, and not enough credit for defining the diversity of the issue inside the spectrum.

      Not only that but as far as professionals go, he was one of the first professional research scientists, in the year 2000, to provide a paper in support of the general ideology of neurodiversity among people on the spectrum with the hypothesis that some are not inherently disabled by what he terms a condition instead of a disorder.

      Instead, he suggested some could thrive in the environments that suited their inherent strengths instead of their challenges. That is similar to what Hans Aspergers suggested in his 1944 paper, "Autistic Psychopathy", where he acknowledges the lack of the demonstration of empathy and does not delineate differences in empathy like Cohen does, but never the less, suggests that "Autistic" people fill their roles in society, perhaps better than anyone else.

      Both Cohen and Tony Atwood studied under Uta Frith, the individual who first translated Hans Asperger's work in an authoritative English publication. Along with Lorna Wing, these individuals are the pioneers of continuing the description of an Autistic Syndrome described by Han's Asperger's as one with potential strengths and challenges.

      http://www.larry-arnold.net/Neurodiversity/Mission/disability.htm

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asperger_syndrome#History

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  11. As a parent of a son on the spectrum I cannot think of a group that is less likely to perform the kind of devastation we saw at Sandy Hook. If people are saying that these perpetrators are on the spectrum then all I have to say is that they were misdiagnosed. This shooting was not random- it was a planned execution, as was Aurora, as was Columbine. If people are blaming ASDs then they are completely ignorant. We need professionals to stand up- to go on media outlets, in print, etc and squash this! We have not worked to hard to spread tolerance and understanding for Autism to have it turned into a witch-hunt!

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  12. Emily, just beautiful!

    The example of your son says it all.

    I appreciate your clear articulation of the mutual difficulty autistics and non-autistics have in understanding the inner life of the other. I suspect autistics are better at it, because we've been forced to learn in order to get by in the world. All of that makes your contrast with psychopathy much more real. There is a missing register there. It has nothing to do with being autistic or not.

    We are all human, and concern for each other is our commonality. Autism does not protect one from having an aching heart.

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  13. I have an 18yo, previously diagnosed with Asperger's. To him this was just beyond the pail. He's a pacifist, never been in a fight. Last night, his hope was that people would just shut up about guessing.

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  14. As the mother of a very sweet child with asd I could not be more grateful for your clarity and eloquence. I am especially impressed by your forbearance towards those who have (ironically) demonstrated their own lack of empathy by perpetuating misleading and harmful stereotypes about people with autism spectrum disorder.

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  15. Well said. You are an informed voice of moderation.

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  16. Well written from the heart, and joy to read.
    I want to make special note that I feel this was written in language I feel the general public can digest concerning the types of empathy discussed here. This is no small feat and one many professionals have fallen sorely short of. Bravo!
    I'm a woman with Asperger's who has an adult son with Autism, and he is, alongside my Neurotypical daughter, my best friend. My heart goes out to you and your family as well as all families affected by prejudice.
    This is gold! "Research shows that people with Asperger's are not that great at cognitive empathy but that their emotional empathy does not differ from people without Asperger's,"
    Thank you!

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  17. My son with Asperger's, and also myself, when finding bugs in the house, will pick them up carefully and put them outside. I have to home school him because he will not fight back, even if he is attacked. He's the kindest gentlest soul I have ever known.

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  18. I'm wondering if the diagnostic criteria of "lack of empathy" would be better labeled as "lack of displaying empathy in the same way as other NT adults and children display developmental levels of empathy." I would never classify my son as having a lack of empathy, but as displaying it in different ways--often distress, or inappropriate (according to us NTs) words or phrases......

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  19. Thank you for writing this...I was waiting for the negative backlash to start...if one person on the spectrum does something bad then they all will! What tosh, but how many of the uninitiated would think that? We need to get the truth out there, so i will be retweeting your comments.

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  20. This seems to be a part of an organized media campaign against certain groups of vulnerable people. Doesn't it seem a bit odd how these events correlate to the promotion of treatments?

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  21. With tears in my eyes, I thank you, Emily, from the bottom of my heart for this post. As an Aspie, myself, and mom of 4 more, this means the world. Well said.

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  22. Thank you for this, from one Aspie mom to another. You described our kids beautifully. I hope this will help others to understand the HUGE HUGE difference between autism and sociopathic behavior.

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  23. Well said, indeed! I am a special educator and as part of a team of professionals have helped identify students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I have also had the duty and great pleasure to deliver special education services to some of those same students. In my experience, these students have been very caring, warm, and loving towards others in their own gentle ways. In fact, Michael wouldn't even read aloud certain words or passages in text which he deemed unacceptable. I said, "Mike, why didn't you read those few sentences?" He said, "because it was talking about something bad happening. I don't like that so I'm not going to read it."

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  24. It was not so very long ago that we enlightened Americans were burning epileptics at the stake (for being possessed by Satan) and drowning schizophrenics (for being witches). Thank you, Emily, for reminding us--by sharing your personal experiences--that we must move forward, not backward.

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  25. Asperger's can be a label, most easily used by those who have no real authority to diagnose. There is most certainly a spectrum of behaviours. Until Science can both measure and explain causative mechanisms. In this recent tragedy the focus should be on gun control laws, guns can be classified, tracked, licensed and controlled to a much grater extent than individual personalities.

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  26. Yes, people shouldn't make the mistake of associating violence with autism. There are so many gentle and kind autistics, especially if they have good family support. However, autism can be accompanied by social isolation, depression and suicidal thoughts. According to Lankford, rampage shooters often suffer from depression and suicide. His autism, compounded with a personality disorder, and poor family support could have been a causative factor in Adam's pathology. The issue of autism and suicide needs to be dealt with, and support services should not end when the child ages out of the system at 18. Ref: Lankford, Adam. (2012). A Comparative Analysis of Suicide Terrorists and Rampage, Workplace, and School Shooters in the United States From 1990 to 2010.

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    1. Sure, those things you list could be factors, but we don't know *one thing* that's been confirmed about that man's pathology, if any, and not an iota of confirmation about any of those factors. Speculation is not useful and can be extremely harmful when involving a specific condition or label, stigmatizing the huge, nonviolent majority who also have that condition or carry that label. As of this writing, we have no confirmation of any kind to justify referring to "his autism" in this case. And the vast majority of people who commit suicide take only their own lives.

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  27. It is prudent not to speculate. It would be tragic if the popular media perpetuated harmful misunderstandings about autism to the public. I'd like to hope people are smart enough not to mistake and correlate an instance of violence with a group of people, but time and time again I see it happen. However, we are intelligent people, deeply affected by a tragedy and I don't think its wrong to ask why this happened. While we may never know what motivated him to kill, we have evidence on rampage shootings and can ask constructive questions that may go towards prevention and public health measures. Since 1990, 81 suicide attacks that occurred in the US: 12 terrorist strikes, 18 rampage shootings, 16 school shootings, and 35 workplace shootings. Over 88% of them have demonstrated fully self-controlled and self-harming suicide attempts. Evidence supports the hypothesis that suicide is at the very root of the problem. Raising awareness about suicide is not out of the question here. We dont know if he was formally diagnosed with autism or even misdiagnosed. But, as we speak there are many people on the spectrum that openly discuss experiences of depression and suicide, many who suffer in silence about social isolation and bullying, and many cases of autistic persons whom have committed suicide. If any good can come out of a terrible tragedy, I would hope that people recognize how mental health is a public problem and that providing the funding and resources to help at risk populations (including NTs and everyone) should be a top priority.

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    1. I didn't say it was wrong to ask. But we shouldn't speculate. We should seek evidence to answer the question, if it can even be answered.

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  28. Maybe his autism was not the cause, but an antipsychotic medication he may have been taken. This kind of violent adverse reaction is a possibility, has been known to happen. Akhatisia.

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    1. Pure speculation. I've not seen any reports that he was taking any medications.

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    2. What antipsychotic medication are you referring to? That is not the usual nature of an antipsychotic. It can be an effect of improperly prescribed antidepressants in the SSRI and SNRI class, usually prescribed for "depression" when that is not the correct condition. In this case, we don't know anything about this young man. The only thing I have gleaned from the rumor mill is that his mother had indicated he was becoming more threatening to her recently and might need to seek additional help for him.

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  29. My Aspie daughter kicked a teacher once. Is she violent? I guess I'd have to say she was that day , but she was lashing out during a meltdown. The teacher didn't know what to do during a meltdown and tried to restrain her. Her act was not premeditated. She would never seek out someone and commit an act of violence against them. Her meltdowns were acts of frustration in the moment like the tantrum of a younger child, never something planned out in cold blood. This was something completely different.

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    1. Yes, it's very different from the calculated violence involved in this recent incident.

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    2. Jeanette, yes, there is a world of difference between a lack of impulse control and premeditation. My AS son is learning better impulse control for similar reactions "in the moment". But make no mistake--he is extremely empathetic. Once when he was in school they were watching a nature film about sea turtles hatching and crawling to the waters edge. One of the turtle babies met its fate with a hungry squid, and my son told me later he cried in class but tried to hide it because he didn't want others to see him cry. They are deeply feeling kids.
      Adam Lanza apparently had a condition where he couldn't feel pain. Not sure what that is all about, but it is definitely not Aspergers.

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  30. Some people have asked me if I have been diagnosed somewhere on the autism spectrum - truth be told, schizoaffective disorder is where the jury rests at this stage... however I would never hurt another being intentionally, and to kill or maim myself is probably more within my grasp of comprehension. I don't know whether I would want to be tested for aspergers anymore because of the stigma that will now surround being labelled in such a way :( My heart goes out to those who are affected by the backlash from this tragedy, hopefully they never have to defend themselves against labels such as psychopath or sociopath. Why is it that people will never allow kids to grow up outside the proscribed "norms"? It makes me so sad.

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  31. Love your post! My son (on spectrum) wont let us have a real Christmas tree because he doesnt want it to die. Your son seema like mine!

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  32. An excellent point, very well made.

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  33. The nature of reactive rage is fearsome in intensity with overwhelmed people. Aspergers kids and adults are no exception and, because of their extreme sensitivity to emotional conditions, it's hard to discern what may trigger a meltdown unless one is very close to them over time, or also high sensitive. These folks are the light of the coming world. They may be the only ones to save the human race due to their innate understanding of how humans and the world and cosmos work, beyond what science can discern. That said, rage is a dangerous state for anyone and, in highly intelligent people, can become a terrible weapon of destruction. No one ever said someone with Aspergers or Autism can't also be mentally ill which is a different condition entirely.

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  34. Emily- Pardon the duplicate entry. I realized this was a better place to put my comment. Thank you very much for your thoughtful article. As the mother of a 9 year old boy who also has autism, I am keenly interested in neuro-typicals getting accurate information about our special children.

    Jennifer www.jennifermccoy.net

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  35. You can say that again! This violence has NOTHING to do with any autism spectrum disorder. The type of mental illness here is something else. Just take a look at this kid on the spectrum from The A-Word. http://www.youtube.com/theawordautism/

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  36. Best article I've read in a long time.

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  37. Thank you so much for your article (and all the comments). My grandson has autism. He is highly functioning and the joy of our lives. He is exactly as many of you have described your loved ones. It saddens me deeply that anyone would/could link these gentle misunderstood souls with that of the disturbed young man in Ct. Thank you, to all of you who have shared, and to my grandson's beautiful and brave mommy who forwarded your post.

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  38. This mother of an 11-year old son with Aspergers thanks you for being a voice for our children.

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  39. Perfectly put, thank you for finding the words. My son has Asperger's as well and the lash back of this has driven me up the damn wall.

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  40. I too have an 11 year old with aspergers/asd, who is the huge-hearted heart of my heart and the dearest person i have ever known (not that his peers necessarily think so much of him - ugh), and we have been on media blackout. When I heard, just now, about this situation I googled it and found your post through slate. I just want to say thank you for putting into words what is in my heart. With love.

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  41. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I have an 8 year old with aspergers and a 6 year old nephew with full blown autism. This was very helpful to me at this time.

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  42. When the autism aspect of this tragedy was first mentioned, I posted on Huffington Post begging people to NOT associate autism with this violence. The only reply I received was from someone who proposed that all people with ASD be locked away since they (in his opinion) had a propensity toward violence like the shooter. I thank you, as the aunt of someone on the spectrum to continue to educate the public. The amount of misunderstanding - and ignorance - of autism is staggering. It is up to all of us who know autism to speak up and educate.

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  43. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I'd never read about the difference between cognitive and affective empathy. Incredibly helpful is describing my very high-functioning son who is devastated by this, thinking about all his small cousins around that age.

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  44. Thank you for the education. I have a grandson who apparently has Asperger's and have not really understood just what that meant.

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  45. Autistic people are all different in my experience. Some are capable of violence. I am glad you put your somewhat rosy view because it helps provide some balance in the public discussion, but....

    After thirty years of dealing with autism in our family and having psychiatric nurses in the family who work with people with an autistic diagnosis on a daily basis I am aware that this is a very complex issue and ultimately diagnostic labels do not help much. Autism is seldom the only issue.

    Thirty years ago autism was seldom recognised or diagnosed. Now it sometimes seems that the floodgates have opened. It may well be that Adam gets labelled "autistic" but that does NOT mean that all autistic people are likely to turn into Adam Lanza.

    Personally I would prefer that we take a much broader view of mental handicaps - even to the extent of discovering that we are all different in one way or another.

    Last point: someone mentioned parenting. Years ago the medical profession put autism down to bad parenting and I thought this myth had gone away. Many parents especially mothers, spend huge amounts of effort to help their problem child - and autism is a big problem. Today we are fortunate that there is more knowledge around so we stand a better chance. We can also appreciate the special nature of autism more. I don't blame parents who fail to raise an autistic child - it is one of the hardest things you can be expected to do, and many families break under the strain.

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    1. I am glad you find our personal experience "rosy." We are enjoying our lives and our son. Autism isn't a big problem for us as long as people don't insist on othering our son over it. Other than that, I have provided scientific data to support my observations about empathy and planned violence, and I don't quite see how those could be construed as "rosy."

      I did not say that autistic people are incapable of violence. I've linked to a description of research that Catherine Lord has done. The repeated phrase from ALL experts I've read so far--and I use it in this post--is that autistic people are no more likely than the general population, and indeed less likely--to engage in this kind of planned violence. Aggression from autistic people is "almost always" (to quote Lord) in-the-moment aggression as a response to the situation at hand and almost never involves a weapon.

      I am not sure how one fails to raise a child? If by "break under the strain," you are referencing alleged higher divorce rates among parents of autistic children, that is a myth.

      "Mental handicaps"? Really?

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  46. I was a little puzzled to find that as the killer was described aspergers was mentioned. Clearly whether intended or not people were going to link the killings and aspergers. I don't know why reporters felt it was an important point to add. To my mind it was just plain sloppy reporting, let us just stick in all the information we have into the report and let the great unwashed make what they will out of it. It has been a big unhelpful diversion for people trying to understand.
    School pupils with aspergers and especially those at the age where they are starting to ask questions and trying to understand why they are a little different from their peers don't need this kind of lazy reporting to muddy the issues.

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  47. Disappointed you decided not to publish my remarks.

    I had hoped your blog would be an open forum for people like myself with direct experience of autism and aspergers.

    As it is you seem to be pursuing a propaganda agenda for which I have little sympathy. For those of us with friends and family in the spectrum you show no respect. I hope your family situation turns out well but "WE" will all benefit from an open discussion. This is a complex issue and current knowledge is premature - as a medical specialist myself I know your scientific proofs are inconclusive and do not survive the Cochrane test. So you promote bullshit because it suits your agenda? Shame on you.

    I hope you are not fooling yourself. You are certainly not fooling me. When your child gets older you will realise the condition is not curable, however much you exert yourself. We have lived through it and should you want to discuss on a personal level then I am happy to help on a personal level. If what you say is true you will need help.

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    1. I didn't publish your previous remarks because they directly reflected content that I've stated I will not publish here. My personal blog is no more an 'open forum' for anything than is my living room.

      Not sure what a "propaganda agenda" is, and I couldn't care less about your level of sympathy. I'm also not sure how I'm showing "no respect" for people with friends and family on the spectrum, among whom my personal connections are legion. Your "shame on me" about whatever this alleged agenda is just seems ineffectual and bizarre.

      I have NO idea why you're mentioning cure or talking about my child and predicting I will need help if "what I say is true." I can assure that if I do need help, I won't be turning to random strangers on the Internet who tell me that I promote bullshit and who make dire predictions about my son. So thanks but no thanks, "medical specialist."

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    2. chris johnson, seems you completely missed the point of the post you're commenting on. I think the message here is that autism does not equate to lack of empathy, and that a diagnosis on the spectrum is not in any way predictive of the kind of awful violence enacted by the shooter in Connecticut. The writer made no mention of cures and in fact seems quite happy with her caring, compassionate son. Other parents may have a different experience, but your vitriol is unwarranted here.

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  48. On a possibly unrelated note, I want to thank you, Emily, for not giving press to the shooter's name. I read about the families of the victims (in the Fort Hood shooting) who were so broken-hearted that their loved ones' names were forgotten, yet the shooter's is not . . . ever. I don't mean to imply a lack of empathy for the shooter; I mean to demonstrated a respect for the wishes of the victims' families.

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    1. Thanks, Kristina. I deliberately have worked to omit his name as much as I can from everything I've written for the reasons you describe and to avoid a sort of perception of glorification, no matter how negative.

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  49. Your sentence about feeling coming without social construct is one of the most touching and insightful things I've read about autism. Many thanks for describing so eloquently something I've lived with for quite a few years now.

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    1. Thanks, Sasha. It's actually a reflection of how I myself feel once I've recognized an emotion in someone else.

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