Lessons from Isla Vista
By Jenny Palmiotto
First and foremost, my thoughts and prayers go out to those directly touched by the recent tragedy in Isla Vista. Like many, my heart sank when I first learned of this senseless act of violence. Feelings of shock and outrage flooded me as I learned how this lonely young man plotted this heinous crime as retribution for the social life that he felt he could not access. As the details unfolded, my sadness deepened when I heard that Elliot Rodgers had a diagnosis of Aspergers. This too was given as the diagnosis of the individual whom massacred many in Sandyhook.
Today, I spoke to a mother of a young boy on the spectrum and she shuddered in fear for both her child and the world’s opinion of her child’s diagnosis as an aftershock of this tragedy. As a person that treats individuals on the spectrum, many people with ASD do contend with high levels of loneliness yet this does not lead to homicidal thinking patterns, such as those exhibited by Elliot Rodgers. Although, I have not treated Elliot nor do I contend to know anything more than what the media has reported on his mental health conditions, it appears that Elliot may have had other co-morbid condition, perhaps in addition to being on the spectrum.
I feel compelled to educate those around us that being on the spectrum does not equate to acts of inconceivable violence. However, connection and relationships are so vitally important for feeling satisfied within one’s own life. Spectrum individuals often share a common difficulty with making and maintaining satisfying relationships. When individuals find themselves in a position of longing to connect and struggling to make those connections, internal discord and unhappiness may emerge. When individuals miss developmental markers like a first kiss or college tomfoolery, some may feel alone and anxious.
It is very clear that individuals on the spectrum want and need relationships. Thus, it becomes imperative for clinicians and parents of children on the spectrum to put relationships and increased connectedness at the forefront of treatment. We need to help those on the spectrum feel affectively connected to those around them at every stage of development. We need to find ways to help the individual on the spectrum feel high levels of resiliency within relationships, as many relationships have ups and downs. We need to help individuals on the spectrum create that sense of belonging and deep attachment to loved ones that is essential to our survival. We need to create meaningful connections between the community and those on the spectrum to combat loneliness and help individuals on the spectrum access quality care when necessary. We need to continue to educate others around us about what being on the spectrum is like, so that those with ASD do not have to hide their diagnosis for fear of misunderstanding. We need to make sure a tragedy such as this does not happen again.