Saturday, December 15, 2012

Shooter was autistic kid

The NY Times gives this advice about the Connecticut school shooting:
Listen to their fears. Dispel rumors. And be honest, sharing as much detail as a child is able to handle.

Therapists who treat childhood trauma said on Friday that parents talking to their children about the mass shooting should address the news directly and soon, allowing the child to lead with questions and concerns. Parents can no longer control what their children know by simply turning off the television. Many children will know what is happening from mobile devices and social media; now is the time to turn those devices off, these experts said.
The finger pointing has begun, and the public may expect psychologists to identify people for reduced civil rights. FoxNews reports:
Ryan Lanza, 24, brother of gunman Adam Lanza, 20, tells authorities that his younger brother is autistic, or has Asperger syndrome and a “personality disorder.” Neighbors described the younger man to ABC as “odd” and displaying characteristics associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Some people used to claim that autism in kids is caused by parents not teaching them to have empathy. That theory has been rejected, and the experts do not know how to teach empathy to kids. The NY Times reports:
How do children develop prosocial behavior, and is there in fact any way to encourage it? If you do, will you eventually get altruistic adults, the sort who buy shoes for a homeless man on a freezing night, or rush to lift a commuter pushed onto the subway tracks as the train nears?

Nancy Eisenberg, a professor of psychology at Arizona State University, is an expert on the development in children of prosocial behavior, “voluntary behavior intended to benefit another.” Such behavior is often examined through the child’s ability to perceive and react to someone else’s distress. Attempts at concern and reassurance can be seen in children as young as 1.

Dr. Eisenberg draws a distinction between empathy and sympathy: “Empathy, at least the way I break it out, is experiencing the same emotion or highly similar emotion to what the other person is feeling,” she said. “Sympathy is feeling concern or sorrow for the other person.” While that may be based in part on empathy, she said, or on memory, “it’s not feeling the same emotion.”

By itself, intense empathy — really feeling someone else’s pain — can backfire, causing so much personal distress that the end result is a desire to avoid the source of the pain, researchers have found. The ingredients of prosocial behavior, from kindness to philanthropy, are more complex and varied.

They include the ability to perceive others’ distress, the sense of self that helps sort out your own identity and feelings, the regulatory skills that prevent distress so severe it turns to aversion, and the cognitive and emotional understanding of the value of helping.

Twin studies have suggested that there is some genetic component to prosocial tendencies. When reacting to an adult who is pretending to be distressed, for example, identical twins behave more like each other than do fraternal twins. And as children grow up, these early manifestations of sympathy and empathy become part of complex decision-making and personal morality.

“There is some degree of heritability,” said Carolyn Zahn-Waxler, a senior research scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who has done some of these twin studies. But she notes that the effect is small: “There is no gene for empathy, there is no gene for altruism. What’s heritable may be some personality characteristics.”
The experts do not seem to know more that what you could figure out yourself with a little common sense.

Update: A comment points out that I failed to connect the dots. Research has shown that women are more empathic than men, and, somewhat paradoxically, that kids gain empathy when the dad is involved. He gives this explanation: "Since men have more emotional boundaries, being around them forces you to respect them and develop empathy." The rise of single moms has been a disaster in many ways.

Update: A reader sends a USA Today story with more divorce details:
NEWTOWN, Conn. — When Nancy and Peter Lanza divorced three years ago, Nancy Lanza got more than $200,000 a year in alimony and primary custody of the teenage son who last week committed one of the most gruesome crimes in U.S. history. ...

Nancy Lanza, 52, filed for divorce Dec. 9, 2008, in Stamford, Conn., saying "the marriage has broken down irretrievably and there is no possibility of getting back together." The couple had already separated and Peter Lanza was living in an apartment in downtown Stamford. ...

In the divorce, Nancy Lanza asked for a fair division of property, alimony, child support, support for the boys' college education and joint legal custody. The divorce became final on Sept. 23, 2009.

Peter Lanza, 54, is tax director and vice president for taxes at GE Energy Financial Services in Stamford, according to his Linked-In profile. He previously worked as a senior tax manager at Ernst & Young.

He has since married a university librarian and lives in Stamford.

The couple agreed that Adam Lanza, then 16, would live primarily with his mother, but that his father would have "liberal visitation and vacations." Court papers indicate Adam had lived in Sandy Hook since birth.

At the time, Peter Lanza earned $8,556 a week. Lanza agreed to pay annual alimony in 2010 of $240,000 with increases each year. In 2012, Lanza paid his ex-wife $289,800. After 2016, Nancy Lanza would get annual cost-of-living increases based on the 2015 alimony payment of $298,000 a year until Peter Lanza retires.

Peter Lanza agreed to pay the entire cost of his sons' college and graduate school education. In addition to college expenses, Peter Lanza also agreed to provide a car for Adam. Nancy Lanza would cover insurance and maintenance.
So she filed for divorce, and got the house and $240k a year. Sweet deal, except for making a fatherless boy who later murdered her.


John said...

I have learned that children learn empathy from men more than they do from women.Since men have more emotional boundaries, being around them forces you to respect them and develop empathy.

I'm sure you can fill in the rest for yourself regarding single mother epidemic, autism, and the products of this arrangement.

Anonymous said...

Rory Miller, one of the best security experts out there today, has stated in his writing that he believes he would probably be diagnosed as having an "autism spectrum disorder" today, as well as the fact that both of his children are autistic. The Connecticut shooter acquired his weapons from his mother, whom he had murdered. There is only one way to prevent murders such as the one that happened in CT yesterday. So as not to take up too much space...

George said...

John, excellent point. I updated the post.

I agree that some of these school shooters would be deterred if they had to worry about a school official having a gun.

Anonymous said...

In my experience on the web, I absolutely do NOT agree that women have more empathy than men.

Women, as far as I can see, repeatedly fail to empathize with men or boys, they will also put themselves ahead of their children as well (kids of either sex). If you disagree, why in divorce are her interests ahead of her children, and screw the dad.

If you want a sex that seeks justice, look to men, not women. women can only 'empathize' with another woman.

I hope that your milage varies., I would prefer to be wrong - but I am not.

George said...

One can have empathy and be selfish at the same time. People with too much empathy tend to be poor at seeking justice, so I agree that men are better at seeking justice.

Anonymous said...

This incident is a clear-cut example of what happens when a single mother raises a child. This tragedy would not have happened if he were living with his father.

Anonymous said...