HARTFORD, Conn. — The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission on Friday secured a promise from Peter Lanza to turn over at least some of Newtown shooter Adam Lanza’s treatment records, and heard from two of the state’s foremost autism experts on what the disorder isn’t, as much as what it is.
Peter Lanza “called me during the last presentation,” Sandy Hook panel chairman Scott Jackson said before the commission broke for lunch Friday afternoon. “I’m going to sit down with him in short order” to work out the parameters of a records release.
Jackson, the mayor of Hamden, said earlier Friday that Peter Lanza had reached out to him recently and promised to help the commission in its quest to better understand what drove Lanza’s son to murder 26 children and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, and to analyze Connecticut’s mental health system for gaps and breakdowns.
Peter Lanza’s commitment was one step on that journey Friday; another was hearing Dr. Fred R. Volkmar and Professor Matthew D. Lerner of Yale cite study after study showing no link between autism spectrum disorders and violent crime.
Adam Lanza “displayed a profound autism spectrum disorder with rigidity, isolation and a lack of comprehension of ordinary social interaction and communications,” a Yale psychiatrist involved in Lanza’s care concluded, according to state police records.
The recently released police reports revealed that Adam Lanza was seen at the Yale Child Study Center in his early teens and was once prescribed the antidepressant Celexa.
Volkmar, a child psychiatrist, professor of pediatrics, and chairman of the Yale Child Study Center, and Lerner, a psychology professor and researcher, said people with autism and Asperger’s syndrome are more likely to be victims than perpetrators. When people on the autism spectrum do commit violence, it’s almost always impulsive and reflexive, and in response to a situation that has overwhelmed them.
That Lanza apparently had an autism spectrum diagnosis and committed a calculated crime makes his case exceedingly rare. Lanza killed his mother before driving, heavily armed, to Sandy Hook School.
Someone with an autism spectrum disorder may struggle to control his emotions in a confusing situation, may exhibit poor judgment socially, and may inappropriately assign blame. They may become overwhelmed and agitated when stressed, but in most instances wouldn’t act out violently, Lerner said.
Jackson asked what the commission and the community can do to make schools in Connecticut safer.
Volkmar and Lerner said schools must be places of inclusion that respect and accommodate all of the children. All teachers should be trained to recognize and respond to bullying, and to communicate with children behaving in ways that isolate them from their peers.
Lanza had become increasingly isolated during the last two years of his life, and Volkmar urged the commission to strongly consider social isolation when looking at whether Connecticut’s mental health system adequately responds to children, teenagers and young adults in crisis.
Dr. Harold Schwartz, chairman of psychiatry at Hartford’s Institute of Living and a Sandy Hook commission member, asked how time spent playing video games and other solo digital activities contributed to that isolation.
Lerner said with the emergence of social networks, researchers are finding that many online relationships mirror the vibrancy of real-life friendships.
So when analyzing someone’s behavior online, it’s critical to look at quality and content, not just time, Lerner and Volkmar said.
Members of the Sandy Hook commission have said that it was vital for them to have more information about Adam Lanza’s mental health history, but it has been unclear up to now whether his family would release records to the commission.
Jackson did not say Friday whether any records provided by Peter Lanza would be made public.