This year, Christmas Day arrived as a bittersweet respite following twelve days of tears and heartbreak and wrenching sorrow. Last week, when I wasn’t working or wrapping and labeling Christmas gifts, I watched television coverage of the funerals of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. In newspapers, I studied pictures of the women and children whose lives ended so tragically, reading the stories of each one. It felt like something I could do—to put faces to names—to honor their beautiful lives—to not look away.
I also studied two pictures of Adam Lanza, the shooter. In one, he was 13, wearing a bright blue shirt and a smile. A more recent picture—most associated with the Newtown massacre—shows a pale, skull-thin, unsmiling Adam staring straight into the camera. News stories about Adam and his family are disturbing. Most attempt to solve the puzzle of why Adam committed such an incomprehensible act, and to place blame. Instead, they have only raised more questions—and dangerous speculations.
The relentless focus on Adam having Asperger syndrome (characterized by social impairment) and conjectures that it led to his violence is making me crazy. Nowhere in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ criteria for Asperger’s is a predisposition to violence or rage. And yet professionals, “arm-chair psychologists,” and newscasters have been alarmingly hasty in making this conclusion. Even as a psychologist 30 years in the field, I would not begin to assume I could ever diagnose Adam Lanza. We will never know what exactly went on in his mind or what transpired in the hours before he began his violent rampage—and for that we should be grateful.
This past Saturday was the Christmas party for heARTwords, a writing workshop my husband created for adults with disabilities. Participants range in age from teens to fifties. Their disabilities include cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, seizure disorder, blindness, Autistic Disorder, and Asperger syndrome. As I looked around the room at the smart, friendly, talented, and joyous partygoers, my heart ached for those who do not know the happiness of inclusion.
Asperger syndrome is among the fastest growing developmental disabilities—never has there been a greater need for education and compassion. My fear is that reckless speculation of the sort surrounding Adam Lanza will create more victims, when those exhibiting symptoms of Asperger’s will be categorized, ostracized, bullied—or worse.
It is normal in the wake of such a tragedy for us to want to make sense of it—to understand what is unfathomable. But, just as in the aftermath of Christmas, it is impossible to recreate the pristine present from torn paper, crumpled tissue, and broken ribbons—we cannot contain our rage and sorrow and fear in a tidy package. To heal, we must move forward and resist the urge to carelessly label what we do not comprehend—lest we add more victims to the already immeasurable list.
For more information on Asperger syndrome and a very personal perspective, please visit the website of my dear friend David Finch: www.davidfinchwriter.com
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