Asperger’s and Violence

The shooting last month at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was so incredibly tragic, so incomprehensible, that it generated much talk about motive. And much of that talk centered on Asperger’s syndrome.

Asperger’s is a form of autism. It causes the brain to work differently from that of people who don’t have the condition.  Those people are referred to as “neurotypicals.” Because they are in the majority, their brains are considered “typical.”

There were conflicting reports as to whether Adam Lanza, the shooter, had a formal diagnosis of Asperger’s, or whether it was speculation based on his reticent, nonsocial manner. In any case, he was definitely an oddball.

One can’t help being grateful to the media for running articles, essays, interviews, and blogs all pointing out that there is no connection between autism and violent behavior. Obviously Lanza had a multitude of problems, some of which led to his final, horrible act. But it wasn’t due to Asperger’s.

Oddball does not equal violence, which is something many, if not most, people don’t understand. This blog, whose overall theme is “No Justice for Aspies,” was inspired by the fate of James Ryo Kiyan. Unknowingly and unintentionally, Ryo harassed a coworker until he lost his job and ultimately his life, all due to a lack of understanding (including his own) about autism.

There is nothing wrong with an Asperger brain; it’s just different. Ryo had an IQ in the genius range, and was frustrated because he didn’t know what to do with it. His goals changed constantly and led nowhere. At college his goofy sense of humor was appreciated and enjoyed. After those days ended, he had almost no friends and no lasting relationships

He was in his forties when he realized his passion for maps. With that, he spent several years studying for a career in the field. It was a fairly new technology that made use of computers and satellites. Finally prepared, he landed the first job he applied for, with the Sullivan County (N.Y.) Division of Planning and Environmental Research. At last, after several decades wasted, he was on his way. He even had a few friends, or people he thought were friends. For the first time since college, he felt happy and fulfilled.

And then he ran afoul of the neurotypical world. For those who have followed this blog since its beginning, this is all a recap. To keep it short, Ryo thought he had a friend in a coworker, Miss Mall. He even dared think it might someday go beyond friendship. To Miss Mall, he was only a colleague, older than she, a little bit odd, and any relationship was far from her mind.

It’s true that he made a nuisance of himself. In his Aspergerian way he thought their friendship was more than it was. Being socially impaired, Aspies don’t see things as other people do.

It all began with his search for an apartment. Miss Mall offered to help and the two had lunch together. He enjoyed her company and planned what he thought would be a pleasant follow-up. It had to take place at her apartment because he shared a home with his mother. He offered to rent a movie and cook a meal at Mall’s place.

He could see at once that the idea appalled her. What she thought he intended, we don’t know. She may already have been leery of him because, as a person with Asperger’s, he was “different.” She told the authorities that she felt “uncomfortable” when Ryo looked at the books in her apartment. To most of us that would seem a non-threatening activity. It’s likely that she already felt uncomfortable because he was “different,” and she did not know what to expect from someone who was “different.”

He, being autistic and therefore socially awkward, could not relate to her view of things, or have a clue as to what went on in her mind. All he wanted was a friend. He kept after her, trying to apologize for his offer, which he acknowledged was inappropriate, at least in her eyes. He understood that much. He wanted her to understand that he understood, and he wanted to keep the friendship that he thought existed. She, in turn, wanted to keep things “professional.” In other words she wanted nothing more to do with him socially, but couldn’t say it. People with Asperger’s are not into nuances and euphemisms. They need things spelled out—or, as one therapist put it, “clear and concrete.”

Because it wasn’t put clearly and concretely, he continued in his effort to mend the fence, to explain that he meant no harm. Instead, his persistence itself made her feel threatened. She began carrying a knife and pepper spray and took her complaint to the powers that be. They, with their own lack of understanding as to the nature of autism, first suspended him for several weeks, then put him on trial, and finally dismissed him from the work he loved.

As Ryo himself said later, a simple mediation session would have explained everything to both sides, thereby ending the problem and saving the county much time and money. He suspected they really just wanted to be rid of him because he was “different.” In an earlier post I quoted Ryo’s cousin, Sharleen Inouye, who saw that difference in a more positive light: “His reality was different from the norm, but that was what made him unique.”

In that statement, Sharleen sums up the essence of autism: His reality was different from the norm . . . That is something most neurotypicals don’t grasp, along with the fact that a different reality does not automatically add up to violence. The frustrations of being autistic can sometimes result in explosions of anger, but it’s the quiet, sneaky, normal-appearing sociopaths who are far more likely to hurt someone. That has nothing to do with autism.

Ryo spent a year trying to find another job. In despair that he would ever lead a normal existence, he finally gave up and ended his life.

Recently I came across a quote by John T. Maltsberger, M.D.: “There’s no suffering greater than that which drives people to suicide; suicide defines the moment in which mental pain exceeds the human capacity to bear it. It represents the abandonment of hope.”

The only violence was to himself, because he had lost all hope. Even then, he chose a quiet way out.

25 thoughts on “Asperger’s and Violence

  1. Dear Caroline: I am an adult woman with Asperger’s. This is the first time I have read your blog. I was very touched by the story of your son and his tragic suicide. Like your son, iI have a high intelligence but problems forming relationships.When I was in college I had an experience very, very similar to what your son endured. I was accused of being a stalker and suspended from college, without due process as at that time I had no idea what my legal rights were. I contemplated ending my own life, and in many ways I committed a slow suicide of giving up on life, at an early age, by surrendering to despair, loneliness and unbearable sadness. Although intelligent and well educated, I spent my life either unemployed or underemployed. It was not until middle age that I was diagnosed and during the past several years I have tried to pick up the pieces of my shattered life.I know what grief is because I have lost my parents, and nothing really lessens the pain, but perhaps you will be comforted by knowing that your son was not alone and there are other adult aspies out there who have also undergone these experiences. Most of us turn our anger and pain inward and destroy only ourselves or, occasionally, those around us. Unfortunately, no one notices when we only harm ourselves.

    • Dear Charli,

      I am so glad to hear from you. Your story does indeed sound like Ryo’s, even to the unfounded accusation and dismissal. Your comment serves as an affirmation of my post. I can only hope enough people read them both so it does some good.

      Caroline

  2. I agree, autism doesn’t correlate with violence!

    “his persistence itself made her feel threatened” because persistently going after someone, after she or he expresses disinterest, *does* correlate with violence.

    “He could see at once that the idea appalled her. What she thought he intended, we don’t know. She may already have been leery of him because, as a person with Asperger’s, he was ‘different.'”

    *Or* maybe she was leery of him because he invited himself over to her place instead of waiting for her to invite him.

    • It is a fact that people with Asperger’s generally have what’s known as “social disability.” It’s hard for them to understand what goes on in other people’s minds and they can often be clumsy in social situations. He couldn’t invite her to his place, which he shared with his mother (think how awkward that would have been), so he did the best he could. It never occurred to him to wait until she invited him. Perhaps he suspected she wasn’t going to. He, of course, since they had been getting along so well, assumed that she felt as friendly toward him as he did toward her. Only her reaction tipped him off that he had goofed, and that was why he kept after her. He wanted her to understand that he never meant to upset her, that he had no evil or untoward intentions. The reason I know all this is that he told me what was happening at the time.

      • Suppose there was a mediation meeting.

        If, after the meeting, Miss M. Still didn’t just want to be Ryo’s friend then would he and you have finally accepted that?

        Or, would Ryo have kept after her to keep explaining why he thought she should be his friend and to keep arguing against whatever reasons she still had for not wanting to be his friend?

      • Since he told you what was happening at the time, then why on Earth did you not tell him that he was goofing, instead of leaving him to wait for her reaction to tip him off?

        He might still have his job today if you had bothered to *teach* him the right things to do, instead of encouraging him when he was doing the things that made him deserve to get fired.

        You know, teaching him to not behave so stubbornly.

        Teaching him that certain actions look and sound just like stalking.

        Teaching him that other people can’t read his mind directly, they have to guess his intentions from his words and actions.

        Teaching him to not ignore direct orders from his employers.

        Teaching him to not invite himself over to his coworkers’ homes.

        Teaching him to take no for an answer, especially when it’s in a restraining order.

        You keep excusing him for not figuring out those on his own – but what’s *your* excuse for not *teaching* him those directly enough and clearly enough for him to understand?

    • What this story really illustrates is how a simple misunderstanding between two people from different “cultures” (Ryo, an aspie and Ms. Mall, a neurotypical), can escalate into tragedy. Everyone has heard the expression “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” and here is an example. Ryo was behaving in a fashion that, to him, was perfectly proper. He was trying to make amends for the offense that his past actions had inadvertently caused. He did not see himself as a stalker.His co-worker, coming from a different perspective, felt threatened. From her point of view, men that persist in trying to speak to a woman after they have been told to stop, have bad intentions. The real shame is that this whole episode was “criminalized” whereas a process of mediation might have brought the two parties together and advanced the understanding of both.

      • You said it better than I did. Thank you, thank you. Ryo himself thought a simple mediation would have explained everything to all parties. Unfortunately, the county officials wanted to do it their way, at great expense to the county.

        Caroline

      • “From her point of view, men that persist in trying to speak to a woman after they have been told to stop, have bad intentions. ”

        That’s not just from her point of view either.

        It comes from observing the actual real world too, including knowing how often people who persisted after other people after they have been told to stop *did* hurt those people who told them to stop…

      • Ryo was a reasonable person. He would not have persisted once he understood that there was no future in it. She wasn’t making her feelings clear enough for an Aspie to get, and he thought he still had a chance. That’s where a mediation session would have helped.

      • “Ryo was a reasonable person”

        No, Ryo was emphatically NOT a reasonable person.

        Miss M asked him to go away.

        His employer told him to stay away from Miss M.

        His employers formally disciplined him for FAILING to stay away from Miss M.

        Folks on the spectrum are very literal, yes? Don’t deal well with ambiguity, yes?

        How, exactly, were any of the above “ambiguous”? They weren’t. NOT A SINGLE BIT.

        Ryo was EXPLICITELY told to stay away from Miss M. He refused. He pestered. He terrified her.

        (You know, like Joseph Jason’s son Daniel? Whom Joseph insists “meant no harm”?

        Joseph insists Daniel’s actions that include, but are by no means limited to, are “harmless” and “innocent” and “like those of a 13 yo child”:
        – violating of multiple no contact orders to contact his ex was “harmless”
        – calling the ex 400x in a 48 hr timespan, immediately upon being released from jail for stalking/harassing her
        – sending photos of his (Daniel’s) erect penis covered in (so gross) excrement to the ex and her employer was “no biggie”
        – threatening to rape the granddaughter of a judge in open court
        – making sexually charged remarks at women in the courtroom
        – threatening to kill his lawyer and a government lawyer
        – loitering outside of his ex’s workplace, in violation of multiple court/no contact orders

        Ummmm, I’m quite certain it’s illegal for even 13 yo kids to send naked pictures to a workplace, threaten to kill people, call people 400x times in 48 hrs after they’ve been EXPLICITELY told not to, etc. Nor is any of that stuff regarded as “harmless” or “kids’ stuff”… those actions would be CORRECTLY interpreted as signs a kid was disturbed and needed help).

  3. “He couldn’t invite her to his place, which he shared with his mother (think how awkward that would have been)”

    Awkward, maybe, and much less rude than inviting oneself to someone else’s place!

    “so he did the best he could.”

    No he didn’t. That is not better than inviting her over to his won place no matter who else lived with him.

    “It never occurred to him to wait until she invited him”

    Wow. When I was a child, my parents taught me that it’s rude to invite yourself over to someone else’s house. Did nobody teach him this very basic rule of politeness? Of course rude behavior is “different,” but it’s still rude no matter how different it is from polite behavior!

    “Perhaps he suspected she wasn’t going to.”

    …so, perhaps he suspected *she didn’t want* him at her place and *he still* invited himself to her place. Yeah, I can see why that was not safe for her.

  4. I think Lissa has raised excellent points in her posts. Why is the target to blame for somebody else’s conduct? No, mediation wouldn’t have worked.
    Nothing else worked. I recently became the target of an Aspie man in my workplace, at my new job. Within 24-hours of my hire he had latched on to my life with a vengence and tracked my every move. Truly frightening. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. He wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. He laid in wait for me if I used the ladies’ restroom, would follow me if I used the copier, etc. and stood 1″ behind me, stared at me all of the time, would come up behind me as I was working to stare at me, said and did inappropriate and unwelcome things. It was frightening. When I refused to go to a going-away lunch because he was going to be there, my boss fired me. (The police said I was 100% correct to avoid this bizarre stalker and to not feed his obsession with me by not attending. Attorneys said the same.) It now involves three law enforcement agencies, two government agencies and attorneys. Help is out there — get some if you need it (including if you’re an Aspie).

    • I don’t think you understand what mediation is. Mediation is a session between the two parties in question and a neutral third party of one or more persons who listen to both sides and try to help them understand each other. You are assuming that Ryo behaved maliciously. A lot of stalkers do, but in his case the persistence came from trying to mend what he saw as a rift in their relationship due to social clumsiness on his part. The mediation never happened because the Sullivan County government preferred to (as another commentator put it) “criminalize” Ryo’s behavior rather try to settle the problem peaceably to the benefit of both sides.

      I am sorry you had trouble with your stalker but the circumstances in this case are different. Your stalker does seem to have had malicious intent. A lot of men get their jollies from persecuting women. It’s most unfortunate. I often wonder how and why people get like that.

      On Thu, Apr 4, 2013 at 2:31 AM, carolinecrane

      • Grace is telling you what that behavior looks like to someone who doesn’t live with the person doing the behavior and isn’t the mother of the person doing the behavior.

        To someone who wasn’t Ryo and wasn’t even his mother living with him, Ryo’s motives did seem to have had malicious intent too.

        None of us have ESP. The only things we have to figure out what someone else means are what he or she does and what he or she says.

        Ryo deserved no right to expect other people to ignore what he did, ignore what he said, and still somehow figure out what he meant in his mind. That’s because *no one*, not one single person on earth, deserves the right to expect that (that is, Ryo deserved equal rights with the rest of us instead of being entitled to an extra right that the none of the rest of us deserve).

  5. Hi Mrs. Crane:
    1. I do understand what mediation is. I work in law and I was stalked by an Aspie in a law office.
    2. I don’t think mediation is the right tool to use with obsessed Aspies. I
    think they need therapy to address their own issues with specialists who
    can work with them and teach them appropriate boundaries and social skills.
    3. When someone has told a person to leave them alone, including an Asperger’s person who has been told that, it means just that. To escalate and pursue someone even more is wrong, is self-serving, is aggressive, is criminal and is harassment.
    4. In life, behavior is truth. It is malicious to pursue someone, for any reason,
    that doesn’t want to be contacted.
    5. My stalker (a former co-worker who has Asperger’s) will also claim that
    his conduct is “harmless” and not “malicious.” Everyone that I’ve tried his conduct out on and duplicated for them (including men) — has been
    creeped out and scared by it. Even men say it’s bizarre and frightening. No
    kidding!

    Hi Reader:
    Spot on post. Thank you.

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