Autism not linked to violence

Published On: Dec 19 2012 02:19:36 PM PST
Residents pray near Sandy Hook Elementary School
SPOKANE, Wash. -

The Sandy Hook shooter was described by family members as socially disconnected, and having either Autism or Asperger's syndrome. Local autism groups worry people will start pointing the finger at the wrong problem.

The Northwest Autism Center helps educate teachers, nurses, and parents on how to connect and raise a person with autism. Employees never thought they'd be defending that population from something like this.

In the wake of Friday's tragic mass-shooting many people asked,wWhy? When information about the shooter and his past was released, sometimes people think they know the answer.

"It has to do with, being careful about making judgments on things we know nothing about," said Dawn Sidell, executive director of the Northwest Autism Center.

When the shooter, Adam Lanza, was described as autistic, Sidell was shocked.

"My stomach fell into my feet and my heart just was pounding," she said. "I can't even tell you how disturbed I was that that was what was being discussed as a motivation for such a horrific crime."

Sidell says even if the shooter was autistic, the developmental disability alone wouldn't have caused him to commit such a horrible act.

"Nowhere in the diagnostic criterion is 'planned violence' listed as a symptom or a consequence of that disorder," she said.

Retired clinical psychologist Dr. Paul Domitor agrees, and said it would be irresponsible and inaccurate to go after the autistic community.

"Studies show that that population is no more violent than the general population. So that's probably the wrong place to look," he said.

Sidell hopes what a  20-year-old did in Connecticut won't be taken out on a vulnerable group of people across the U.S.

"Imagining that there is an association causes great damage to the work that has been done to bring community awareness and appreciation for the skill level and the challenges that these individuals face," she said.