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Expert: Asperger’s Unfairly Scapegoated For Newtown School Massacre

President Of NJ Non-Profit Says Diagnosis Has 'No Bearing' On 'Heinous Crime'
Newtown School Shooter Adam Lanza (credit: CBS 2)

Newtown School Shooter Adam Lanza (credit: CBS 2)

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Tragedy In Newtown

EDISON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The head of a New Jersey non-profit vehemently disputed the notion that Asperger’s syndrome drove Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter Adam Lanza to commit Friday’s massacre.

“I don’t think that whatever caused him to do this had anything at all to do with Asperger’s,” Lori Shery, the president of the Asperger Syndrome Education Network, told 1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg.

1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg Reports

Those who knew Lanza described him as a bright, but painfully awkward young man. Some even said he had Asperger’s syndrome.

“Whether or not that’s true, it has no bearing on the heinous crime that he committed,” Shery said.

Shery believes the condition is being unfairly scapegoated and that those who have Asperger’s are typically passive and never driven to violence.

“People who are on the autism spectrum need understanding and acceptance, they don’t need to be ostracized and they certainly don’t need to be blamed,” she said. “We don’t see violence in individuals with Asperger’s syndrome.”

Kim Stagliano is the managing editor of Age Of Autism, a daily newsletter about autism spectrum disorders.

“I think until we see proof that he was formally diagnosed by a professional with Asperger’s, the conversation can really only be harmful to families who have children and adults who are anywhere on the spectrum right now,” Stagliano told WCBS 880 on Monday.

Stagliano wrote on her website Monday, reacting to a person described as a family friend of the Lanzas telling CBS News’ “60 Minutes” that Nancy Lanza said her son had Asperger’s.

“It may have been a way for a mother to explain something that’s very difficult to explain and she didn’t realize she would end up in this position where we would be having a conversation about his formal diagnosis. Diagnoses of any condition are personal and private and here we are talking about it,” Stagliano told WCBS 880.

LISTEN: Age Of Autism Managing Editor Kim Stagliano Weighs In

Stagliano has three daughters with autism but said she is an advocate for all autism spectrum disorders.

“I don’t want people to hear Asperger’s and think mass murderer,” she said. “If anything, people with Asperger’s tend to adhere to rules, adhere to laws. They prefer order so this anarchy that Adam Lanza created is anathema to what typically would be an Asperger’s diagnosis.”

She said she would be interested to see what medications Lanza may have been taking so medical professionals could try to determine if they played any role in triggering the rampage.

“We really do need to look at the medications. Pharmaceuticals tend to be left out of the equation and I think they may be a very big part of it,” she added.

Much is still unknown about what drove Lanza, who killed 26 children and adults at the elementary school Friday morning, to commit the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.

Lanza took college classes when he was only 16, a spokesman for Western Connecticut State University said Monday.

Paul Steinmetz, spokesman for the Danbury school, confirmed that Adam Lanza earned a 3.26 grade point average while a student there. He dropped out of a German language class and withdrew from a computer science class, but earned an A in a computer class, A-minus in American history and B in macroeconomics.

He participated when called on by the teacher in his evening course on introductory German, according to Dot Stasny, who was one of about a dozen other students in the class in the spring of 2009. She said she and a classmate once invited him out to a bar but he declined, saying he was only 17.

“We attributed him being quiet to him being so much younger than the rest of us,” said Stasny, 30. “I assumed he was this super smart kid who was just doing extra course work.”

Stasny said she saw him later when he came in as a customer at a video game store where she was working. She said she shared a laugh with him about how difficult the German class was. She told him she failed one of the exams, and he mentioned he got a D.

“I just remember him as a nice, quiet kid,” she said.

Gretchen Olson, who shared an introductory German class at Western Connecticut with Lanza, said Monday she also believed he was quiet because he was so young “in a class of 20-year-olds.”

“We never really knew much about him,” she said. “We said hi to him from time to time. He smiled sometimes.”

Lanza was among a small group of 16-year-olds among the school’s 5,000 undergraduates, Steinmetz said.

Police are also working to better understand the Lanza family dynamics.

His parents, Nancy and Peter, divorced in 2009. They had joint custody of Adam, but he remained with his mother.

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(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)