Thoughts on violence and Sandy Hook.

We spent our weekend in Atlanta visiting with extended family- but the story of the Sandy Hook massacre was never far enough from my mind. Every mother who loves her children knows her children- knows in some silent, unspoken way what their challenges and struggles in life might be. My heart breaks for Nancy Lanza and what she feared about Adam- how the way in which she tried to protect him was ultimately undone by her blind spot with respect to guns.

The news media keeps bandying an Asperger diagnosis (a.k.a. high-functioning autism) as if this explains the killer, Adam Lanza’s, motives and actions. Unfortunately, the media’s ignorance about Aspberger’s feeds into a generalized public ignorance at this point which does unspeakable harm to families with “Aspie” kids. Aspberger’s is not a form of mental illness- it cannot be medicated or fixed with pills; it is considered a “developmental disorder”.

While Adam’s withdrawal into this own world may be characteristic of Asperger’s, his controlled silence and shyness are not. Most Aspie kids tend to speak continuously on a topic of their choice- their social problems stem more from inability to recognize social cues than from shyness or avoidance. The likelihood that an Aspie child will turn into a killer is minute compared to the likelihood that they will do amazing and wonderful things in this world.

I am convinced that when the true story emerges, Adam Lanza’s medical record will reveal a diagnosis of schizophrenia or schizoid personality disorder. I am convinced that his mother, Nancy Lanza, kept him under close watch as this diagnosis became evident (schizophrenia usually emerges in the late teens and early twenties). I think she homeschooled him because the public system refused to provide the mental health resources he needed. I believe his reclusiveness was a symptom- not something imposed by his mother. I am convinced that she assumed the medications he was supposed to be taking made it safe to keep guns in the house. (Sadly, she was very wrong.) But I am also convinced that she loved him deeply, that she structured her life around his illness, that she was scared, that she felt him beginning to disappear, that she knew the world he inhabited was so different from her own that she couldn’t bridge the divide.

Schizophrenia is a complicated and torturous illness for those involved. Adam Lanza’s flat affect is more characteristic of schizophrenia than Asperger’s. In sum, here are characteristics of schizophrenia that lead me to believe this is what Adam struggled with (I am not a medical doctor, of course, and do not wish to anger any physicians who worry that I am treading on their turf):

  • Isolation
  • Showing little emotion
  • Flat, expressionless gaze of teenage years (compared with smiles of younger years)
  • Inability to carry on a conversation
  • Inability to cry or to express joy
  • Delusions of grandeur
  • Flat affect or speaking in monotone
  • Insensitivity to physical pain
  • Not responding much to other people
  • Inability to care for oneself
  • Reclusiveness
  • Hallucinations and breaks with reality

If you know someone struggling with this illness, remember that it is not their fault and that they are not “evil”- the way in which they perceive reality is just markedly different and makes it difficult to live in our “normal” world. The absolute best movie I’ve seen on the subject of paranoid schizophrenia is The Devil and Daniel Johnston. It should also be noted that those with schizophrenia are not more likely to be violent criminals or murders- they are just more likely to feel threatened by perceptions unrelated to what actually happens around them.

I think Adam Lanza’s connection to reality was severed and he acted on a hallucination or delusion. I do not believe having more prayer in schools would have made a difference in this outcome. On the other hand, exposure to violent video games and familiarity with assault rifles and weapons cannot have a good outcome in persons subject to hallucinations. The extent to which violence and the celebration of violence permeates our culture never ceases to disturb me. It’s time we started thinking about the longterm consquences of a culture in which God is equated with crueltry, bombs, and killing.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the families in Sandy Hook devastated by this nightmare, as well as to the surviving members of the Lanza family who are asking themselves what they could have done to prevent this.