Developmental Delays Alone Do Not Result in Child Murders

Gun and appleI am a mother of a special needs child. I am a mother of a “typical” child. And I am also a psychotherapist. Just like every other parent on the planet, I feel emotionally eviscerated in response to the tragedy that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14. That afternoon, I could not wait to collect my children from school, to embrace my sons and husband, and just thank the heavens for our safety and cry together—all of us in acute shock and grief.

I think I cycled through three of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ four stages of grief (shock/disbelief, deep sadness, anger, and acceptance) multiple times within the first 48 hours. The remaining stage (acceptance) is a long way off. As with many parents in this country, this grief will continue to be a part of me. Meanwhile, we are faced with a multitude of issues ranging from gun control, mental health care coverage and screening, parenting practices, and a culture that celebrates guns and violence.

Of all the emotions that hit me in the stomach today, anger is sitting with me the most, and I feel compelled to discharge it in writing (followed by a power walk in the hills). I just read an article by a woman who is equating special needs with sociopathy. This is dangerous. Of all political discourses, I will not be silent on this issue.

It is extremely dangerous to assume that special needs children/adults with developmental delays are capable of doing the unthinkable and mowing down 20 innocent first-graders. True, Adam Lanza, the troubled 20-year-old responsible for last week’s massacre, was said to possibly have had autism spectrum (maybe Asperger’s or high-functioning autism); however, autism alone does not create an individual with premeditated violence. Some of the most loving, generous, caring people I have met struggle with autism and other developmental challenges.

At the crux of the issue is this: A person who plans to massacre other innocent people with premeditation may have one or more of the following: a psychotic episode (with hallucinations and delusions, untreated), a mood disorder (severe, and often with psychotic features, untreated), or a personality disorder (such as malignant narcissism and/or sociopathy/antisocial personality disorder). That individual certainly might have a co-occuring issue such as a developmental disability, but for heaven’s sakes, let’s not lump all special needs children together. Are we now going to look at every child who has attention-deficit hyperactivity as having the potential to kill peers? Mental illness is not the same as a developmental delay. Over-generalization is extremely dangerous.

We all want to know why this horrid tragedy occurred. But it is not because of a developmental disability. It might very well be from a combination of mood instability, possibly psychosis, and sociopathy (antisocial personality disorder). This I can say with confidence as a trained clinical mental health professional: People who murder people do not do so because of a developmental delay. They do so because of a chemical imbalance combined with personality disorder.

Please do not be quick to judge or draw conclusions about people who have developmental delays. We need to work together to reach solutions that contribute to educating the public, not breed further ignorance and blaming. As a country, we need to look at gun control and access to mental health care. We need to question parents who brag about gun collections and allow their children to accompany them to target practice. And we need to question our culture’s celebration of violence. I pray that this is a turning point in our country’s history—a turning point for progress.

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andrea Schneider, LCSW, Learning Difficulties Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jamie

    December 18th, 2012 at 3:20 PM

    Its silly to group all those with developmental delays or other disorders as being violent or murder-capable.Often it is a combination of several other bigger factors that push a person into doing something horrid like what happened recently.

    To know the difference,some basic knowledge is needed.And many people do not have that knowledge,they do not know things about mental health.If that is addressed,only then will such prejudices decrease.

  • Sarah

    December 18th, 2012 at 4:06 PM

    There is no answer as to why some commit violence against others.
    The fact that there could be developmental delays is no excuse.
    Does this mean that they have no idea that what they are doing is wrong because of this?
    I don’t believe that. If you walk into a school and murder innocents then you know that what you are doing is crazy.
    I am a firm believer in helping those with mental illness get the help that they need, just as nay of us who are sick have the right to access to health care.
    But to use it as some sort of justification is horribly and terribly wrong, and does little to help those who have lost loved ones.

  • Andrea Schneider

    December 18th, 2012 at 9:26 PM

    The point of the article is this: people who have developmental delays or challenges (ADHD, sensory challenges, autism, etc) NOT engage in premeditated murder. Period. Setting the record straight, and I am amongst a chorus of mental health professionals who are in concurrence. Thanks for your feedback, Jamie.

  • vanessa

    December 19th, 2012 at 3:02 AM

    reasons could be many.and without substantial evidence it would be totally unfair to paint all those with one condition as being vulnerable to commit such a crime.

    but this also shows that near and dear ones need to keep an eye on the behavior of those that have an already existing condition.and if there is anything odd they need to get could be harmful to them or others if they don’t act in time,just like what happened in this case.

  • Oliver

    December 19th, 2012 at 4:00 AM

    Look, I have gotten to the point where I do not blame the individual with a mental illness when something like this happens. This is blaming someone who may not have any control over the decisions that they make when in such a state.

    Personally for me, this is a problem with guns and weaspons being so readily available when there are clearly too many people who do not need or deserve access to this kind of machine. I realize that there is someone behind all of this who determines what actions he is going to take, but if they could not have the accessto the weapons, don’t you think that the numbers would go down?

    Either that or we are broken as the president said, and it will take more than removing guns from our lives to heal that.

  • susan

    December 20th, 2012 at 11:20 AM

    and to think that one of the first things pointed out is that the killer may have had mental health issues or autism- no prrof of that anywhere and would not hold close to what we know is the fact, that these people are generally not the ones perpetuating this kind of violent behavior against others


    December 20th, 2012 at 12:53 PM

    Not only do people’s perception need a reality check but also more professionals should come out with the truth. I commend you for having done exactly this by writing this article and we need more people joining in letting people know that the neighborhood child with a developmental delay issue is not danger to them or to anybody. If people think enough, they will see a murderer in practically every person around them, something which couldn’t be farther from truth.

  • Andrea Schneider

    December 20th, 2012 at 5:25 PM

    Thanks for all the great comments in support of special needs children…over generalization is dangerous indeed…our country ha much work to do in the new year…a peaceful and safe holiday to you all..

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