Asperger's families worry school shooting will trigger backlash

Autism expert: Shooter not typical of others with diagnosis

SAN ANTONIO - An advocate for local families living with Asperger's Syndrome said that many people are worried the Newtown, Conn., massacre will trigger a backlash against their children.

"That's really scaring them," said Pamela Espurvoa, who has a 16-year-old son with autism and also heads a support group for families like hers.

The shooter in the rampage, Adam Lanza, reportedly had been diagnosed with Asperger's, a mild form of autism, as a child.

"I don't want anybody to now start being afraid of my child or to look at my child suspiciously and say, 'Could they do that?'" Espurvoa said.

Dr. Patricia Harkins, a board certified developmental pediatrician, said children's with Asperger's "should not be looked at as potentially violent."

Harkins said perhaps Lanza had other problems as well because violence is not inherent in autism.

"In fact, people in the autism spectrum are much more likely to become victims than they are perpetrators," Harkins said.

Espurvoa said she advocates on their behalf to help families, educators and law enforcement better understand the behavior that is typical of the developmental disorder.

"A child with autism may get aggressive or blurt out or say something or be non-complaint with an adult," Espurvoa said.

Espurvoa said that is where early intervention and learning how to de-escalate those behaviors can be helpful.

Harkins said those with varying degrees of autism are incapable of the planning that went into the Newtown shootings.

"Absolutely there should not be a backlash," Harkins said. "Asperger's does not explain this kind of violent reaction."

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