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Saturday, December 15, 2012

The pigeonholing of Adam Lanza
Posted by Jill | 11:45 AM
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.”

Here's another:
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.

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Anonymous Shayari said...
Gun control laws is the answer to curtail future shooting sprees. As BJP in India GOP in US goes on obstructing the US Govt and President from enacting laws. Inspite of such massacres

Blogger Ramona Grigg said...
Beautifully written, and a poignant repeat of what so many of us went through as kids and adolescents. I was a loner, too, happier to be reading in a quiet place than engaging in sports or chit chat or makeup sessions. I wasn't exactly a complete misfit and I didn't have anger problems, but whenever I see the same unfair descriptions as you note here, I cringe.

All kids who think and act differently aren't in such a howling rage they become mass murderers. We really have to stop putting kids in narrow slots and just let them be who they are.

Sharing this. Thank you.


Anonymous Anne Powles said...
Very well said. It is our need to put people who do such awful and sad things into the "other " box as so we can feel separated from such events. More of the "them and us" mentality that makes so many of us have and makes us so sadly comfortable.

We should feel great sorrow for those poor children and teacher, both those who died and the others who are suffering. But we should also feel sorry for all involved. My heart goes out too, to the brother and father of the perpetrator.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Like it or not, the deed calls out differentiation. I suspect that we will get nowhere near to understanding this kid. What to make of carrying his brother's id into an event contemplating his death; killing his parents first; exotic guns titled to the mother; purchase of body armor? I acknowledge that the reporting is still pretty speculative.

Anonymous The WP said...
Every time there was a mass murder of one kind or another in this country, my husband (z"l) used to always say, "he was a nice guy, kinda quiet, kept to himself," as if it were the universal description of a mass murderer.If he were here, he'd certainly say this say thing about Adam Lanza.

OBVIOUSLY, this person was deranged. Was he a screaming lunatic, apparently not. Was his mother? Possibly...since she owned all the guns.

Our mental health system has been gutted to be sure, but we don't even have a sane gun policy in place to say "we did what we could to keep guns out of his hands" because We, the People didn't. We, the People are too fucking afraid of the NRA to put a stop to them.

Until then, there will be more. Breast beating is not going to help the dead kids or the families. Getting off our asses and demanding that the NRA sit down and shut the fuck up is a beginning.

Blogger Patricia said...
I was a misfit too. If you look at the pictures of these murderers
You can see that they aren't the most beautiful or popular kids. I do believe your right about the bullying issue. They are in a way "antisocialized" by the behavior of others they have to tolerate, because it is ok in this culture to just trample over people who are not like us in a "race to the top" or whatever rationalization we use to abuse others. I swear it is all about the puritannical, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and everyone out for themselves culture we live in. It's a disgrace.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
I do find the effort to stamp "misfit" on every forehead of a killer, after the fact very alarming. The "not one of the rest of us" bullshit is part of the problem, the inability to actually honor personal differences instead of making it a "cut out of the herd" moment that goes on and on and on needs addressing.

And the media morons just use it as an angle to spectacular stories. In a society where getting a hold of such lethal weaponry is not an option, this story would not happen at ALL; I get sick of the distractions based on how allegedly "messed up, dark, dangerous" the young man was instead of talking about why such murderously efficient weapons were within ANYone's reach.

Blogger The New York Crank said...
All the theories - he was "different," "he was shy," he was a loner," "he was on Ritalin," "he smoked marijuana," "he worse black," are merely attempts to draw attention away from one main thing all these kids absolutely and unequivocally had in common:

He had a loaded gun.

Yes, we need to do something about mental health in this country. But for reasons other than preventing mass murders.

If we decide to isolate those who some "expert" perceives as dangerous, an iffy art rather than a hard science, we will imprison or otherwise restrict the innocent with the potentially guilty, meanwhile missing other mass killers who don't seem to meet the criteria of the experts until they blow away their victims.

There's only one way to get rid of mass murders. Get rid of the guns. Get rid of the bullets. Some reader on my own blog complained that if we achieve that, someone will simply kill a lot of people with gasoline and a match. Maybe. But that will be harder to do. And forcing people to resort to gasoline, or truck bombs make it easier to catch people in the act, before anybody dies.

No guns and bullets means no shootings. It's that simple. And that clear.

So when is this country going to move on that?

Very crankily yours,
The New York Crank

Anonymous Desi Shayari said...
Every now and then there are mass murders. So the solution is to make strict Gun control laws.
I am feeling great sorrow for those poor children and teacher. We should also feel sorry for all involved.May God bless their soul.