Rob Bernstein, a Dobbs Ferry based educational therapist who specializes in autism and Asperger’s syndrome, has been getting a lot of phone calls lately. Some of them are from parents of children with Asperger’s, others from family and friends, educators and health care professionals.
All of the calls, however, were spurred by reports that Adam Lanza—who shot and killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Before killing himself on Friday—had Asperger’s.
“The parent, whose 11-year-old child I’m treating, came to me and said that sometimes her son gets violent with his brother and asked if she should be concerned that he had the ability to commit murder,” explained Bernstein, a resident of Ardsley. “Parents are scared for their own kids. That is more important to parents right now, then any new stigma that might come along with having Asperger’s.”
Bernstein’s answer to the mother was no. This is because her son is receiving cognitive treatment that will change his behaviors over time and improve his Asperger’s.
According to the Mayo Clinic:
Asperger's syndrome is a developmental disorder that affects a person's ability to socialize and communicate effectively with others. Children with Asperger's syndrome typically exhibit social awkwardness and an all-absorbing interest in specific topics.
Bernstein says that individuals with Asperger’s are often loners, but incredibly intelligent and aware of their condition and how they are perceived as “awkward” or “weird.” Asperger's is considered a milder form of autism, which the Mayo Clinic says cannot be cured but can be treated by teaching those with the disorder how to interact successfully in social situations.
One of the next phone calls Bernstein received was from his 22-year-old son who admitted that the next time he came across someone with Asperger's he would wonder if that person could be violent. It then dawned on Bernstein that if his son was thinking this way, then the majority of the population might also be thinking this way.
“The whole country has one question in mind—how to prevent this from happening again,” said Bernstein. “Profiling isn’t the answer.”
Bernstein said it is unfair to assume that people with Asperger’s syndrome are violent and that parents of children with Asperger’s are becoming concerned over how their children will be perceived and if they will face discrimination.
“We don’t want to be prejudice against this population, but there’s an issue that has to be addressed and everyone knows that,” said Bernstein. “The reality is that there is no one saying that there is a cause and effect between Asperger’s and violence. When the media comes out and says there is no association between Asperger’s and violence I want to agree with you, but there’s an asterisk.”
The asterisk is that those with Asperger’s are prone to “extreme behavior” according to Bernstein.
“I would say extreme behavior is common, which could mean a lot of things like stopping speaking to someone all together,” said Bernstein. “But violence could also fall into that category. What we don’t want to do is take kids who can’t make eye contact or one who is a loner and try to pigeonhole them and restrict them or just give them drugs to calm them down.”
Though violence may fall under that category, is still doesn't mean that means someone with Asperger's is capable of murder. According to Huffington Post, Lanza knew his mother was trying to commit him to a psychiatric facility and she is the one who taught her children to shoot guns and would take them to shooting ranges. News outlets are also reporting that Lanza was obsessed with violent video games, like “Call of Duty,” guns and military equipment.
Bernstein says those who have Asperger’s and those who care for individuals with Asperger’s should make sure that proper treatment is sought. For Bernstein, treatment for Asperger’s is more of an educational issue and less of a medical issue and says treatment should teach socialization skills and use cognitive means to actively changes the way the patient’s mind works, thus improving their condition and actions.
Robert J. Bernstein Educational Services is located at 369 Ashford Ave. in Dobbs Ferry. Bernstein is inviting parents who have questions or concerns about their child to contact him at (914) 330-3393, as he would be happy to answer all questions.