In the aftermath of a horrific incident such as happened in Newtown, Connecticut, there's always a depressing sameness to the coverage. Yesterday this nation's view of teachers was as "moochers", taking generous compensation packages and getting summers off. Today it's about the heroic teachers who gave their own lives to save the children in their charge
. In a few days, a week, a month, we'll go back to bashing teachers -- until the next tragedy, and there will be a next one, because this nation lacks the will to do anything to prevent it.
The next step is to try to isolate the gunman -- to turn him into some kind of "other" -- someone who could never live in OUR community, attend OUR local school, or be OUR child. To do that we have to put labels on him.
Yesterday on the local news they were talking about how the gunman was dressed all in black, as if an affinity for black clothing could automatically be extrapolated to somehow explain taking guns into a school for a massacre. I thought at that moment about Damien Echols
, another young man with an affinity for black clothing who spent eighteen years on death row as part of the West Memphis Three
for a crime he DIDN'T commit. It may very well be that kids who like to wear black clothes are more depressed than other kids, but for every kid who wears black and shoots up a school, how many millions more are there who don't?
Today, authorities are trying to come up with "clues." Here is one example of what we're getting so far
So far, little is known about the 20-year-old who barely had a digital footprint, and didn't even have a Facebook profile. That is surprising not only because of his age but because he appears to have been a good student who was really interested in computers and was part of a technology club at Newtown High School. One source tells the New York Daily News Lanza “was like one of these real brainiac computer kind of kids.” One thing everyone seems to be able to agree on is that Lanza likely had some sort of mental disability or developmental disorder. One law enforcement official tells the Associated Press Adam Lanza might have suffered from a personality disorder and the New York Times reports that several who knew Lanza in high school had been told he had Aperger’s syndrome, a high functioning form of autism.
It certainly seems he had several tell-tale signs of the disorder, often making those around him nervous because he was painfully shy and seemed to struggle to be social and form connections with people. It was evident Lanza “had a condition,” a neighbor tells the New York Post. “You definitely notice it,” he added. Lanza was “kind of, like, needy. I wouldn’t say antisocial, but struggling to be social.” One “family insider” tells the New York Daily News Lanza “was a deeply disturbed kid,” who “had major issues” and “was subject to outbursts.” A 25-year-old neighbor who sometimes watched Adam Lanza when his mother would go out with friends, said he was on medication, reports the Washington Post.
Several people describe Lanza as withdrawn and awkward but not threatening. “Overall, I would just call him a socially awkward kid, I don’t know, shy and quiet. Didn’t really look you in the eye,” a former neighbor said. “Just kind of a weird kid, maybe.”
He was dark and disturbed, a deeply troubled boy from a wealthy family who unnerved his neighbors and classmates.
Mass murderer Adam Lanza, 20, was a ticking time bomb, people who knew him told the Daily News.
“This was a deeply disturbed kid,” a family insider told the Daily News. “He certainly had major issues. He was subject to outbursts from what I recall.”
Lanza, who friends and officials said suffered from Asperger’s syndrome or a personality disorder, had a tortured mind.
He was socially awkward and at times unstable, but also extraordinarily bright.
“He was smart,” the insider said. “He was like one of these real brainiac computer kind of kids.”
A “longtime” family friend said Lanza had a condition “where he couldn’t feel pain.”
“A few years ago when he was on the baseball team, everyone had to be careful that he didn’t fall because he could get hurt and not feel it,” said the friend. “Adam had a lot of mental problems.”
A few weeks ago, the Magazine section of the Sunday New York Times had an article about Ashlyn Blocker
, a Georgia teenager who has a genetic mutation that causes her to not feel pain. A rheumatologist studying her hopes to study her adolescence under the theory that someone who can't feel physical pain may also not be able to feel emotional pain either. I wonder if Adam Lanza perhaps had a similar condition and also had supposedly intelligent professionals wondering if his condition made him some sort of potential real-life Dexter Morgan
My heart hurts when I read stuff like this because of the way it feeds into the kind of middle school stereotypes of kids who are different that makes growing up hell for those of us (and yes, I was one) who navigate childhood knowing that something about us makes us different from other kids and we don't know why. Many kids have trouble forming connections with people, for any number of reasons. Sometimes I wonder if we're labeling kids too much, calling kids "autistic" and explaining away shyness or just being different as "Asperger's." I don't doubt that these conditions exist, but I wonder if we're stigmatizing kids who are quirky or smart or otherwise different by labeling them with brain disorders.
My mother used to scream at me when I didn't want to go out to play but was happier alone in my room making dollhouse furniture out of construction paper and transparent tape. I was always happier reading than playing with other kids. I wrote little books about Snoopy and the Red Baron. I had one friend -- a boy -- who was also a quirky kid who enjoyed drawing things like a dog lifting its leg and peeing all over the Manhattan skyline. Today a drawing like that or a dollhouse full of meticulously-assembled reproductions of Danish modern furniture made of paper would be regarded as "evidence" of a mental disorder.
As a depressed high school student, I wore a poncho and my hair over my eyes every day. I had few friends and spent many lunchtimes alone reading sad poetry I'd copied into a blank book. When I did have friends, they were weird kids like me -- and there were precious few of them. Later on I got into a theatre group in town which pulled me out of myself a bit, but I don't think I really stopped hating who I was and what I was until I was well into my thirties. I wasn't really alone, there were plenty of kids like me. Back then, with no internet, you'd find them in ones and twos in your local school or community. Today it's easier for such kids to find each other, though it appears that Adam Lanza didn't.
I wonder sometimes, when every time this happens, the same words pop up in the news articles trying to make sense of the senseless: Brainiac. Quiet. Weird. Shy. These are words that should not have negative connotations, but when a socially awkward kid breaks and commits an atrocity like this, suddenly everyone who isn't captain of the football team or a cheerleader is automatically suspect. I'm so glad I'm not growing up now.
Over the next few days, the news media will write more about Adam Lanza, and the stories they'll write will have the same tone of trying to turn a kid who was "different" into a monster. Because it's much easier to try to put Adam Lanza into which YOUR kid can't possibly fit, so we can delude ourselves that it can't happen here.
And the quirky kids -- the kids who wear black, the kids who would rather read or paint than play sports, the kids who want to read about the Buddha instead of about Jesus, the kids who like to wear hats from the 1940s, the kids who look for scratchy old blues records at garage sales, the kids who write poetry and would just as soon sit and think as play video games -- will continue to be looked askance at by both other children and ignorant adults who never got over their own skepticism of the difference. A few of them will simply break -- and we'll go through the same drill again.
Labels: mental illness, people who are different, quriky people