Although the diagnosis is not certain, reports have circulated that Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old Sandy Hook Elementary School killer, had Asperger's syndrome. That has led to concern among those with the condition that they will be perceived as mentally ill potential murderers. Experts say there is absolutely nothing to suggest that those with Asperger's are unstable or prone to violence.
Asperger's syndrome is not a mental illness; it is an autism-spectrum disorder. People with the condition are typically intelligent, but often have trouble communicating because they cannot correctly interpret social conventions, such as body language or the ability to tell when someone is making a joke. Lacking many social skills, they sometimes are seen as awkward, rude or simply odd.
Those with Asperger's are typically bright and creative, with excellent memories and problem-solving skills, but this doesn't always help them fit in. According to the Asperger's Association of New England, friends of those with the syndrome "often see a highly intelligent, talented individual, and cannot comprehend why the person … struggles during routine social or organizational experiences."
If Mr. Lanza did indeed have Asperger's, he displayed some of its characteristics: Smart enough to enroll in college at age 16 and earn high grades, he was nonetheless a painfully shy loner with few close friends.
But experts are united in stating that there is no evidence linking Asperger's syndrome with violence. Psychologist Elizabeth Laugeson, an assistant clinical professor at UCLA, told the Associated Press that "it's far more likely that what happened may have more to do with some other kind of mental health condition like depression or anxiety rather than Asperger's," adding that those with Asperger's "tend to focus on rules and be very law-abiding."
It may be a long time before the medical and law enforcement communities know what conditions caused Mr. Lanza to go on his shooting spree. But one thing is certain: If he had Asperger's syndrome, that wasn't it.