Since the Sandy Hook tragedy in Newtown, Conn., autism and Asperger’s Syndrome have become a national topic of conversation. Media reports speculate that gunman Adam Lanza had autism, as a result adverse reaction towards people with the mental disorder has crept up.
Patch asked Dr. Kellie Edwards, an expert at the Behavioral Institute of Atlanta, in Sandy Springs, to explain the conditions and sort out fact vs. fiction.
“Some children and adults who have autism also have an intellectual disability whereas Asperger’s has normal intelligence or sometimes high intelligence,” Edwards explained.
"Thoughts of harming others is not something that is associated with the autism spectrum. People do not need to be afraid of individuals with autism spectrum disorders."
According to the Center for Disease Control about 1 in 88 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder. Edwards said the rates were 1 in 10,000 in the 1980s.
“One of the myths about autism is these individuals cannot attach to anybody or get close to anybody, which is absolutely not true. There are attachment disorders, that is a completely different set of disorders,” Edwards said. “As matter of fact there was a child in the Sandy Hook shooting who had autism and he died in his teacher’s arms. And he was very connected to her.”
Edwards explained that autism and Asperger’s syndrome are two different forms of the same disorder. “Austim involves delays in language, social and behavioral impairments. Asperger’s has just social and behavioral impairments but not language.”
In May 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders will remove the Asperger’s category. Both autism and Asperger’s will fall under the autism spectrum disorder ranging from the most impaired low functioning individuals to individuals with high IQs but are socially awkward.
Behind the Myths
Edwards said, “Typically people with autism are not interested in interacting because they prefer to be solitary but that doesn’t mean they wish harm on anybody else. They just prefer to be on their own. Sometimes social situations [create] a lot of anxiety because they don’t know what to say, or they are afraid they are being judged."
“They don’t read social cues very well,” Edwards said. “They don’t read body language very well. They might say the wrong thing and it comes across as rude and they don’t mean to sound like that. So they end up being socially withdrawn."