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Media spread misconceptions

Posted on 02.06.2013

Autism not the cause of Adam Lanza’s attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School

After breaking news of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting paralyzd the nation with grief, many media outlets turned their coverage of the tragedy to address the question that everyone was asking: Why?

Why did Adam Lanza embark on a shooting spree that killed 20 innocent children and six staff members? What possibly could have possessed him to commit such a heinous crime?

After tragedies such as this, our nature, as humans,  prompts us to ask these kinds of questions and search for answers. We want logical answers for illogical events, even ones that nearly exceed our capacity to comprehend them. Our need for answers is justified, but in the case of the Sandy Hook shooting, the media unfairly jumped to conclusions in pursuit of these answers.

Post-shooting media coverage gave us an “answer”  for Lanza’s erratic murder-suicide spree, and that answer was his suspected autism or Asperger’s syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum. The problem with this answer is that it is completely inaccurate, unwarranted and just plain sad. Autism did not cause this man to so brutally end these lives.

By citing his autistic profile as a possible factor in the shooting, many reporters, although well-intentioned, were incorrectly associating autism with the erratic behavior of one individual. If Lanza did indeed have a form of autism, only ignorance would assume that his autism caused him to murder 26 innocent individuals.

To set the facts straight, autism is a “developmental disorder,” according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which is the legislation that currently governs special education. Contrary to the misconceptions that circulated after the media labeled Lanza as autistic, autism is not a mental disorder.

Autism spectrum disorder commonly affects both verbal and nonverbal communication skills, in addition to social interaction skills. There are currently no accepted legal, medical or educational definitions of autism that suggest a correlation with severe violence.

Anyone who works with individuals with disabilities or children receiving special education services can attest to these facts and definitions.

As a future teacher pursuing a license in mild intervention, I have been around and worked with individuals on the autism spectrum. From my experience, these individuals have been very sweet and non-aggressive. They do not deserve the bad rap that autism is currently getting because of the media’s incorrect assumptions and associations with the Newtown tragedy.

To date, absolutely nothing has been released about Lanza’a mental health, according to a recent article published by The Wall Street Journal. Mental health privacy laws have prevented the dissemination of this information.

We must keep in mind that the media’s profiling of  Lanza is the result of speculation and unconfirmed information from sources. We must face the fact that we may never know what was “wrong” with Adam Lanza or why he killed so many innocent people.

In the future, the media should be cautious when dealing with issues that can harm our perception of perfectly innocent groups of people, such as those with autism. As a whole, citizens and media alike, our nation needs to be more aware of disabilities and mental issues.


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