Statement of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) Related to the Sandy Hook Tragedy
The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, an independent Federal advisory committee that provides advice to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on activities related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD), has issued the following statement regarding the tragedy that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012:
The events of December 14 in Newtown, Connecticut shocked and saddened people worldwide. All of the members of the IACC express our deepest sympathy and support for the families and community affected by these terrible killings. Some news reports suggested the gunman had Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Because this tragic event has shaken so many, the IACC wants to ensure that continued speculation about the gunman's diagnosis does not hurt others in the community. Our committee has collectively prepared this statement to address public concerns and questions about the implied association between autism and extreme violence directed at others.
There is no scientific evidence linking ASD with homicides or other violent crimes. In fact, studies of court records suggest that people with autism are less likely to engage in criminal behavior of any kind compared with the general population, and people with Asperger syndrome, specifically, are not convicted of crimes at higher rates than the general population (Ghaziuddin et al., 1991, Mouridsen et al., 2008, Mouridsen, 2012).1, 2, 3
Officials do not yet know whether the person associated with the school shooting in Newtown had been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, another developmental or mental disorder or disability, or multiple disorders. We may never know what undiagnosed conditions or motivations he may have had. Whatever his diagnosis, this individual's acts are not representative of people with developmental or mental disorders or disabilities, very few of whom are violent or dangerous towards others.
While a rare event, the impact of violence is a tragedy for all of those involved. These devastating events remind us of the importance of providing the best care and support for those challenged by developmental or mental disorders or disabilities. We do know that individuals with autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger syndrome, do better with the appropriate medical, educational, mental health and community supports in place. The IACC strongly supports the development and expansion of those services and believes that more research is needed to identify predictors of violence, and to develop appropriate prevention and treatment strategies.
3 Mouridsen SE. Current status of research on autism spectrum disorders and offending. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders. 2012 Jan-Mar; 6 (1): 79-86.
If you are concerned about violence or possible symptoms of mental illness in a family member or yourself, contact a health care provider or your local health department. You can also contact the treatment referral line at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit the online treatment locator.
Information about coping with stress after a traumatic event can be found at
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) "Coping with Violence and Traumatic Events"
- National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) "Children and Violence"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) "Coping with Stress"
- American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) "Talking to Children About Disasters"
- American Red Cross "Recovering Emotionally"
- American Red Cross "Helping Children Cope with Disaster" (PDF – 472 KB)
- American Psychological Association
- American Psychiatric Association
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee is an independent Federal advisory committee that provides advice to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on activities related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Members of the committee include representatives of Federal agencies involved in ASD research and services, as well as members of the public who are on the autism spectrum, parents of children with ASD, representatives of leading research, service and advocacy organizations, and other community stakeholders. The IACC develops and annually updates a Strategic Plan to guide ASD research efforts and publishes an annual Summary of Advances in ASD Research and the ASD Research Portfolio Analysis Report. More information about the membership and activities of the IACC is available at: http://iacc.hhs.gov/.
Please note that the IACC is an independent Federal advisory committee, and as such, the views expressed by the IACC do not represent the views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or other Federal agencies and Departments.