Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 14, 2014
Terry Gross interviews Andrew Solomon who interviewed Peter Lanza about his deceased son/murderer Adam Lanza. Mr. Solomon concludes that the diagnosis of Asperger’s Disorder narrowed the field for the parents that they did not think of Adam as a potential mass murderer. Mr. Solomon argues that diagnoses both help and hinder the understanding of a child. Although I have deep respect for Mr. Solomon, I think he missed the point. Adam Lanza’s behavior may not be the result of psychopathology or trauma. It may be an unknowable part of his motivational system, that he killed innocent children and then himself. The relationship of violence to psychopathology is never clear. Adam’s “Asperger’s” diagnosis does not narrow the field to say that he is or is not going to be aggressive towards others.The diagnosis did not stop the parents, the therapists or the teachers from postulating his potentially violent future. Apparently, the extent of his violence was shocking to all. As I have said many times in these posts, violence should not be shocking. As human beings, we all have the urge to become aggressive, and so destruction is part of the human condition. I am in no way saying that the professionals or the parents should have been able to predict his behavior, but I am saying that whenever anyone is off center, when their mental state tilts too far in one direction, then violence is always a possibility. The fact that we can’t forecast the future does not mean we should be shocked by it. Adam Lanza’s violence was one of the saddest days in recent US history; that is certain. To say that his diagnosis prevented further understanding of his mental condition does not capture the complexity of the human brain. I thank Andrew Solomon for taking the time to interview Peter Lanza, as Mr. Solomon helps us develop compassion for the parents of these very unstable and unpredictable offspring. Yet, he claims that he learned how diagnoses take away from deeper inquiry. By my way of thinking, deeper inquiry is an ongoing process, not related to a diagnostic label. This inquiry never stops, no matter how long or how intensely I work with patients.