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Asperger's and Violence: Experts Weigh In

Asperger’s and Violence continued...

As head of the national board of forensic medicine in Sweden, it’s Kristiansson’s job to try to figure out why people sometimes act in violent ways.

She says most people who commit crimes do it for some kind of concrete reward -- money, for instance, or sex, or drugs. That’s not the case in people with autism spectrum disorders.

“In these cases, it’s very, very different. The motive for the crime is different. The motive of the crime is to communicate that you yourself are very offended. Other people have treated you in a very bad way and you want revenge. You want to communicate that on a very global level to lots of people,” she says.

“This behavior is completely impossible to understand because it’s so horrible. A psychopath would never commit such a crime,” she says “because a psychopath commits crimes that he receives some benefit from, and he would not commit suicide after a crime.”

“In Sweden we have had such offenders who really wanted to communicate to other authorities that they are very offended and very frustrated, but due to their autistic traits, they didn’t have the ability to communicate that verbally, so instead they take some kind of non-verbal communication,” she says, referring to the case of Peter Mangs, a 40-year-old with a diagnosis of Asperger’s who was charged with shooting more than a dozen people, most of them immigrants, from 2009 to 2010.

“Asperger’s subjects may have special interests. He had a special interest in shooting and guns and so on. So he had a license for lots of guns,” she says, referring to Mangs.

When people with Asperger’s become fixated on weapons, it can lead to violence, she says.

“It could be fires or fire-setting. We have even seen an interest in explosives that had very problematic effects and offending behavior,” Kristiansson says.

When a Child With Autism Is Violent

Amy Lutz doesn’t buy the idea that people with autism may turn to violence as a way to communicate. Lutz is the president of the EASI Foundation, which stands for Ending Aggression and Self-Injury in the Developmentally Disabled, a new nonprofit she started to help parents with violent children.

Lutz has a 13-year-old son with autism who was once so aggressive that he was admitted to a residential treatment program for a year so doctors could stabilize his rages.

“I didn’t want to become that mom who was beaten to death by her son,” she says, referring to the case of Trudy Steuernagel, who was killed by her teenage autistic son.

Lutz says that in her experience, her son’s rages were unpredictable. She says they happened in reaction to something in his environment or to some chemical imbalance in his brain. They were never predatory, as the shooting in Connecticut seemed to be.

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