Experts urge caution in linking shooter with mental illness
Updated 3:14 am, Monday, December 17, 2012
As the world wonders what demons caused 20-year-old Adam Lanza's killing spree, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy offered an explanation of his own Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation." "This is mental illness ... dressed in evil."
But what kind of illness? And how did it factor into Lanza's decision to gun down his mother and 26 others Friday in Newtown before taking his own life?
Marc Brackett, who, as deputy director of the health, emotion and behavior laboratory at Yale University in New Haven, focuses on social and emotional skills of school students, teachers and parents, said those questions are impossible to answer.
"The public is speculating, and until there's a lot of research done on his history and any kind of psychological makeup, it's all conjecture at this point," Brackett said. "The biggest thing for me is the earliest treatment possible for someone like this. Had there been signs, which there likely were, we need to act quickly. ... We can't (avoid) getting someone treatment -- that this may pass. It doesn't pass."
Still, media outlets grasping to make sense of Lanza's actions for stunned audiences are piecing together a profile of a brainy but aimless loner who perhaps had been struggling with an autism-related developmental disorder.
"I'm like, `Oh great, here we go,'" Newgass said. "To even at this point be saying the word `autism' is doing a disservice to everybody. ... One can be a loner without having autism. One can be really bright and a loner without having autism."
Newgass' 23-year-old daughter has an autism disorder.
"There are so many kids who have been diagnosed in the school system with an autism spectrum disorder. If we start bandying about `autism' along with this particular profile, I would hate to tar the community with that kind of brush," she said. "The vast majority of them are wonderful, loving, delightful human beings."
And, Newgass said, even if personal records surface for Lanza that mention autism, it is a complicated topic the media are likely to get wrong.
"We're all kind of holding our breath with what may come out and how it might come out in the press," she said. "He may have had some form of autism, but we need to look at the other issues, not the autism."
Lanza is the latest in a line of young men across the nation and world with gunpowder and blood on their hands.
"In general, boys are socialized differently than girls," Brackett said. "From early on, boys are more inclined sometimes to play with more aggressive games and are reinforced by their families in terms of playing them."
Lanza's mother, Nancy Lanza, would take Adam and his older brother target shooting and legally purchased the three guns found near Adam's body: a semi-automatic Bushmaster rifle and Glock and Sig Sauer handguns.
Michael Brody, a psychiatrist with the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, cannot understand why any parent or guardian aware their child is wrestling with a disorder would keep firearms available.
"Assault rifles? Handguns? What is that about?" he said.
Brody also said young adulthood presents its own unique pressures.
"Somebody in their early 20s has a lot to overcome and a lot to deal with," he said. "They have to start some type of career, some type of way of supporting themselves, choose somebody or be chosen by a partner in a more intimate type of relationship. It's a very stressful time."
Ultimately Brody expects investigators will uncover some inciting incident that sparked Lanza's rampage.
"The other thing that you usually see in a situation like this, there's usually a last straw," he said. "Something happened to set this young man off."
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