Wednesday, April 18, 2007

One Day in Virginia

By now virtually the whole world has heard of the mass murder/suicide in Virginia two days ago.

We, as human beings, try to categorize things to understand them. We search for meaning and for signals, that we may avert tragedy the next time. We want understanding of motives that would push someone to randomly kill innocents.

The one thing that I have not heard, that I have been fearing that I would, is the "A" word. Someone saying that the shooter was somewhere on the spectrum. Earlier this year we had the Odgren case, where a student with Asperger's fatally stabbed a fellow student. In the search for meaning in that case students with Asperger's were characterized as potentially violent.

In the aftermath of this tragedy in Virginia, I have heard the gunman described as basically non-verbal, as well as being totally socially isolated. In his only attempts at interaction with the opposite sex, he was totally inappropriate, engaging in behaviors that the women took to be stalking. One "expert" on mass murderers opined that the shooters total social isolation was a "red flag" that he was potentially very dangerous.

I am so sorry that the event happened. And so relieved (for now) that the "A" word hasn't been associated with it. Autism has gotten such a bad rap when it comes to violence.

School officials have no reservations when it comes to having children as young as 5 or 6 arrested by the police for acting out in class. I fear that they will call in police now to investigate all of those who are deemed to be "totally socially isolated".

I have no way of knowing whether the shooter in Virginia was on the spectrum. But I also have little doubt that, had he survived, his lawyers would have trotted out someone to say that he was, and that this was the "cause" of him acting the way he did.

I also know that when it comes to violence and autistics, that they are most often on the receiving end. But no one gets too upset about that.

People are calling Cho Seung-Hui "pure evil". I see him as a seriously disturbed young man who did a terible thing. Being disturbed does not excuse his actions. It does not even "explain" them.

Some things are beyond explanation.

I mourn for the victims of Monday's shooting.

Edit: After coming home today and seeing some of the material that the shooter had sent to NBC, it is obvious that he was anything but autistic. Possibly paranoid schizophrenic, but definitely not autistic.


kristina said...

And what is troubling is what might be? could be? a growing? popular (and inaccurate) connection between autistics and violence.

Sam I Am said...

Okay, so now I hadn't even thought of things that way and the implications. You made me think tonight when I was just cruising by to say hi.

Seems like forever ago that the Ogdren case occured. Why is it that we humans forget and move on like that. Gosh, so now I am eating my own words of acceptance. That maybe if the VT killer could have had acceptance by others for whoever he was in his early life, that if our world just had acceptance, not tolerance (we should never just tolerate people)for one another...would these things never occur? Thanks for your thoughts today.

Anonymous said...

We must have been on the same wavelength today - I also posted about the "A" word, but in a different context.

Good post! I was also thinking the same thing when I heard the descriptions. I hope the media won't go down that path.

Natalia said...

note, out of respect/solidarity for my schizophrenic friends back home... most schizophrenics are also not violent or dangerous. media would let us think otherwise.

Joeymom said...

I was reading the description of this young man this evening, and had the same wave of pure terror. Would he posthumously labeled autistic? Would would that mean for my son? He's going to have enough challenges in life, he doesn't need people thinking he might be violent or unpredictable.

By the way, welcome back. Missed you the last few days.

Club 166 said...


You are, of course, absolutely correct.



Thanks. It's great to be back.

Anonymous said...

I have no doubt he was autistic. The listening to the same song over and over and starring off for long periods are just some of the many autistic characteristics he had. Now we are finding out he had trouble speaking and learning to speak as a child.

Unfortunatly too many people want to reject an autistic when they do something bad... they are afraid other people will blame the autism. And they may be right. Some people aren't smart enough to realize that just because one person with autism does a violent act doesn't mean that all people with autism are violent. Each autistic is an individual.

jypsy said...

Just heard his great-aunt interviewed on CNN. She said he was autistic... (didn't quite catch the wording, either his parents were told he was autistic or his parents told the great-aunt that he was autistic)

Joeymom said...

Anonymous- what we are afraid of is that the general media puts forth a picture of autism as a horrible, terrible condition, and splashing all over the place that someone this troubled and violent is autistic will only deepen that impression in the general public. I already have trouble with people, including school personnel, thinking that Joey is mentally retarded, unable to cope with peers, and should be kept in a self-contained classroom due to "behaviors." Although "possibly violent" has not been specifically stated, the implication of keeping him seperated hangs in the air. All the positive things done by autistic people and even reported in media are eclipsed by the possibility of danger. Anything Other is potentially Dangerous.

Autism did not cause this kid to crack up. He clearly had other psychological problems that were left unaddressed and untreated. "Normal" people crack up, too.

Anonymous said...

Joeymom, I understand but I am
diagnosed as a high functioning autistic and I recognize his autistic characteristics. Originally I was misdiagnosed as schizophrenic because Drs are so stupid about high functioning autism in adults. I wish for once professionals would get a clue and understand more about us and help.

Club 166 said...

I think a lot of us recognized characteristics that were typical of autistics, but which also can be part of other syndromes.

And yes, obviously this type of violence is totally different than when an autistic (especially a young one) gets frustrated and acts out a bit.

But as Joeymom points out, nuances are quickly lost on the general public, and "Anything Other" is quickly ostracized, marginalized, and in some cases, actively eradicated.

Tibetan Star said...

Just wanted to say 'hello'...

Moi ;) said...

There are several articles online now about his being autistic.

AutismLink put a really good statement up - hopefully everyone who blogs on autism will put it up.

jypsy said...

I don't agree that AutismLink's statement is "really good" (or even good at all). I don't think it's good at all and possibly not even accurate - are they basing his Dx on unconfirmed statements in the media?

Anonymous said...

Family memebers have confired Cho was diagnosed with autism at age 8. I read AutismSpeaks statement and I do think they responded well. They pointed out he probably didn't get the help and support he needed early on. They also made a point to tell people not to stigmatize other individuals with autism and that it is unfair to blame autism.

Even today there are many professionals who lack understanding about autism. When I hear some of these psychologists evaluate Cho that becomes clear to me. They still want to blame autistic characteristics on "refrigerator parents", abuse, or psychosis.

Club 166 said...

Some of the statements attributed to family members use the word autism. Other statements attributed to the same family members don't.

Since it appears all of the statements are translated from Korean, I'm not sure exactly what the family members were indicating.

It would be nice if Roy Richard Grinker (who speaks Korean) could give us a translation of what the family members actually said.

Secondly, diagnosing someone is hard enough when they are alive and in your presence. It's a lot harder when you've never interviewed them and they're already dead. So I'll take any posthumous diagnoses with a grain of salt.

Finally, as others have pointed out, whether or not
Seung was autistic, he obviously had a lot of other issues going on, too. I'm just hoping not to have "psychotic killer" linked to a diagnosis of autism in the public's mind.

Anonymous said...

Everyone who is autistic has other issues... many times as a direct or indirect result of their autism. Depression, anxiety, and anger are examples of that.

While I understand the concern for being judged on one autistics actions, I also feel there is something missing when one focuses on that concern only. And that is, this young man had many of the same characteristics of many autistics and I am sure there are many autistics that share this kind of pain and what we should focus on is how to help people like Cho and anyone with autistic characteristics.

Club 166 said...

...what we should focus on is how to help people like Cho and anyone with autistic characteristics. ...

I agree that that should be a major focus. I think you would have to look far and wide to find those who would disagree with that.

But I also think that trying to ensure that all autistics are not further marginalized, ostracized, and eliminated from full participation in society as a result of incidents like this is also important.

The two concepts are not mutually exclusive.

Daisy said...

I've been out of the loop for a few days, and the possibility of autism in the shooter caught me by surprise. My initial impression was of a child struggling with the culture and the language of our country -- a struggle not uncommon -- but with the added pressure of being bullied continuously for years. I will have to read and research this aspect of the case.

Joeymom said...

Anybody have actual links to the statements by Autism Speaks and AutismLink? I am having trouble tracking them down. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Here is AutismLink

Club 166 said...

Thanks, anonymous.

This should make it clickable.


jypsy said...

Ok, so now, GRASP sends an email out stating "But it appears that there are now credible reports that the Virginia Tech shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, was at least once diagnosed with autism (one short report is below my signature)." And what is that "credible report"? Why, it's the AutismLink statement. Outrageous.

Autism Speak's link (I saw it asked for here but not given)is at

Anonymous said...

I would disagree that "everyone with autism has other issues" and that those issues are directly attributable to autism. (Huh? Circular argument.) It's quite possible to be autistic and content in this world without being a danger to oneself or others. I really hate that mainstream autism organizations are using this as an opportunity to press for "treatment" and "early intervention." Lost in all of this is the need for understanding and acceptance--surely the most important autism "treatment" there is.

Club 166 said...

Lost in all of this is the need for understanding and acceptance--surely the most important autism "treatment" there is.

Absolutely. If there were more people that were understanding and accepting, then I wouldn't be having half the problems I've had with the school system, and my son wouldn't end up having half the problems when he grows up that adult autistics do now.

Anonymous said...

Everyone in this WORLD has other issues... whether they are autistic or not. When a person is autistic, it is almost a given that they will at some point experience anxiety, depression, and feel alone because of their autism.

And I think to better understand and accept we start by being honest and not denying. This young man's autism could of been a part of why he did what he did. Of course I will point out again, for those who become defensive that autism does not = violence. I am autistic and I have never been in a fight in my life. But I can understand how someone who is autistic could go down that path because of their isolation, depression, and anger.

Maybe if Cho's roommates, classmates, teachers, and peers KNEW he was autistic and understood high functioning autism well they would of treated him less like some weird loner and understand that he has neurological differences.

Club 166 said...

...This young man's autism could of been a part of why he did what he did. Of course I will point out again, for those who become defensive that autism does not = violence. I am autistic and I have never been in a fight in my life. But I can understand how someone who is autistic could go down that path because of their isolation, depression, and anger. ...

I'm afraid this is where we have a significant difference of opinion.

There is a big chasm between being treated badly making you angry at the world and mass murder of innocents. And I do not accept that having autism makes one more likely to become a mass murderer.

It's not that I'm trying to deny anything or be dishonest. I just see nothing inherent in autism that makes one more likely to commit mass murder.

...Maybe if Cho's roommates, classmates, teachers, and peers KNEW he was autistic and understood high functioning autism well they would of treated him less like some weird loner and understand that he has neurological differences. ...

And doing so might have proved enough in terms of therapy to change his actions, but is highly unlikely. Cho was removed from reality, and I doubt that any amount of "understanding" in and of itself would have stopped him.

jypsy said...

Maybe if Cho's roommates, classmates, teachers, and peers KNEW he was autistic

Does anonymous *know* something that the rest of us don't?

jypsy said...

..or perhaps just *I* don't?

Anonymous said...

jypsy, I don't know what you mean by "know something that the rest of us don't".

I am giving my views and understandings from someone with high functioning autism, and as someone who is friends with others with autism and also as someone who is focused on this issue and learning and helping others.

It is not my desire to try to make the word autism somehow connected with violence or anything negative. At the same time I feel the need to be as open and honest as possible. Sometimes people disagree with me, even autistics disagree among each other about autism. That is ok. Our experiences are individual. And that is why I point out that autism doesn't = violence but that I could see that a person with autism could go down that path because of their autistic issues and how they as an indivdual deal with it.

jypsy said...

I mean... you seem to be saying you "know" he was autistic. As far as I'm aware this is an unconfirmed rumour. Has his Dx been confirmed?

(FWIW anonymous, I'm an autistic woman with 2 autistic teenagers)

Club 166 said...

Which autistic issues make one likely to become a mass murderer?

Just because one becomes frustrated and angry with how one is treated, does not a mass murderer make. People that are mistreated throughout their life may become depressed, angry, and bitter, but they don't become mass murderers without other mental health issues not related to autism.

Anonymous said...

jypsy, I usually have a pretty good sense of other autistics because I am one. When news reports came out about Cho's family saying he was diagnosed in '93 with autism it just confirmed what I pretty much could already tell.

Most autistics have some sort of mental illness. Over half to 80% of autistics alone have an anxiety disorder and/or depression. So mental illness is common in autistics. Something like 1/3 of autistics have some form of epilepsy(which can cause a psychosis).

As far as schizophrenia goes it doesn't appear to be any more common in autistics than the general public BUT it is not uncommon for professionals to misdiagnose an autistic with schizophrenia. One important distinction is that schizophrenia generally hits around the ages of 18 to 25. While some people develop schizophrenia as young as the age of 7 people certainly are not born with the characteristics.

We have heard from Cho's family that even as a small child he wouldn't speak or respond to even his family. This tell me right off we are not speaking of schizophrenia or psychosis being the cause of his flat expression or lack of social skills but rather autism.

One could try to say he msut of killed because he was mentally ill but then we run into the same problem we do with autism. Not everyone who is mentally ill kills. Not everyone with schizophrenia kills. Not everyone with psychosis kills. And certainly not everyone with autism kills. It's much more complex than that. But certainly if someone who kills has schizophrenia, autism, or whatever it most likely played a part in why they did what they did.

Club 166 said...

Anxiety disorders and depression don't make you into a mass murderer.

The psychosis sometimes associated with seizures usually manifests as elation, anxiety, or depression, not the desire to kill more than 30 people you don't know. And Cho's psychosis was prolonged, not temporary, as he spent at least more than a month planning and preparing for his spree.

It is absolutely true that being schizophrenic doesn't make you a mass murderer, either. And schizophrenics, like all people with mental health issues, are more prone to be victims of violence than to themselves be violent. But some schizophrenics have psychotic breaks where they lose touch with reality and may become violent. This is NOT a part of autism.

If someone was turned down for a date by the prom queen in high school, and subsequently becomes a mass murderer, does that mean they're related? Why, if Cho had autism (and, importantly, no one has proven Cho did), does that mean it would have anything to do with him becoming a mass murderer?

Anonymous said...

Club 166
Someone doesn't have to be psychotic to be a mass murderer or to go on a rampage. Built up anger and rage can and have driven people to do the same thing. Infact, most people who kill are NOT psychotic.

Were the Columbine killers psychotic? No. They were too ticked off kids.

Club 166 said...

I don't get it.

Are you saying Cho was not psychotic? As he railed on about Mercedes, caviar, and being crucified like Christ?

And are you saying the Columbine killers were autistic?

Why do you keep trying to associate autism with mass murder?

Anonymous said...

There is nothing to tell me Cho was psychotic. He sounded like an enraged autistic who spent too much time in his own world and obsessed with violence.

The Columbine killers had no such autistic diagnoses and no autistic characteristics so no I don't think they were autistic. Nor were they psychotic.

I am not trying to associate autism with all mass murders. Please don't put words in my mouth. I am saying Cho's autism... which caused him to have trouble communicating, relating, and empathizing with people no doubt played a part in his actions. This is a young man who never bonded with people, not even his own mother. A family member says he never spoke or even hugged. Like some of his classmates said... it isn't really all that surprising.

Club 166 said...

I did not say that you were trying to associate autism with all mass murders. My apologies if you took it that way.

But you persist in saying that Cho's autism (if indeed he had it) was at least part of the reason that he committed the murders. It follows from your statements that there is something intrinsic in being autistic that makes one more likely to commit mass murder. That I do not buy.

From Wikipedia on psychosis:

...Psychosis is a generic psychiatric term for a mental state often described as involving a "loss of contact with reality". Stedman's Medical Dictionary defines psychosis as "a severe mental disorder, with or without organic damage, characterized by derangement of personality and loss of contact with reality and causing deterioration of normal social functioning."[1]

People experiencing a psychotic episode may report hallucinations or delusional beliefs (e.g., grandiose or paranoid delusions), and may exhibit personality changes and disorganized thinking. This is often accompanied by lack of insight into the unusual or bizarre nature of their behaviour, as well as difficulty with social interaction and impairment in carrying out the activities of daily living. ...

Viewing his tapes he made, Cho sounds much more in line with psychois than autism, though I can't say for sure that his actions aren't representative of psychopathy, which again from Wikipedia is seen as:

...A psychopath is defined as a person having no concerns for the feelings of others and a complete disregard for any sense of social obligation. They seem egocentric and lack insight of any sense of responsibility or consequence. Their emotions are thought to be superficial and shallow, if they exist at all. They are considered callous, manipulative, and incapable of forming lasting relationships, let alone showing any kind of meaningful love. They typically never perform any action unless they determine it can be beneficial for themselves. ...

...It is thought that any emotions which the primary psychopath exhibits are the fruits of watching and mimicking other people's emotions. They show poor impulse control and a low tolerance for frustration and aggression. They have no empathy, remorse, anxiety or guilt in relation to their behavior. In short, they truly are devoid of conscience. However, they understand that society expects them to behave in a conscientious manner, and therefore they mimic this behavior when it suits their needs. ...

So, whether Cho had a psychotic break or was a psychopath, I can't say (and I don't think anyone can, definitively). But both of those sound much more likely than that his autism contributed to his actions.

daedalus2u said...

I see a number of comments something to the effect that "maybe if his roommate, teachers, other students, etc, etc had" "known" he was "autistic"/ "mentally disturbed"/ "having a hard time"/ "psychotic"/ "a loner", "etc", they would have treated him differently.

All I can say is WTF! What is the "default" way that you treat someone? Like a POS? It sure sounds like that is how he was treated. For years. By nearly everyone. There are lots of crocodile tears now, people saying they would have treated him differently if they knew it was going to turn him into a murderous killer. Huh? Ya think?

CC said...

At first autism didn't occur to me to explain this young man's demeanor as described by fellow students, but when I saw the interview with his great aunt I wondered if he had been autistic, but untreated.

Now I see that this possible diagnosis has actually only recently been suggested.

I don't know much about autism; could anyone tell me--can someone be autistic and still be able to talk the way he did on the video? Is it possible that he had multiple mental illnesses?

What a muddle his mind must have been. I feel so sad for him. It must have been a truly horrible, tortured descent into madness that caused him to feel that he had been driven to do what he did.

I know two adult autistics, though I don't know much about them, and one of my coworkers has a young son who has recently been diagnosed with autism. All I know is that no two autistics have the same set of symptoms.

Club 166 said...


You are right, in that autism can present with many seemingly different types of manifestations. That is why it is a "spectrum" disorder.

None of the classifications of autism contain "mass murderer" or even "propensity to violently attack others" as a diagnostic criterion.

Cho may have been on the autistic spectrum, as he had a history of difficulty with social skills and communication. There are other disorders which are more likely to be his primary diagnosis, such as antisocial personality disorder and paranoid schizophrenia. But as Cho is no longer here to be interviewed and observed, we will never know for sure.

As far as I know, he was never treated for ANY psychiatric problem.

For further reading on this, I suggest Kevin Leitch's blog entry on this, as well as Kristina Chew's.

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