It came as no surprise to me that many people involved in high profile mass shootings suffer from mild autism (Asperger’s). What did surprise me was that so many people with TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) also commit such crimes. Indeed in a recent study (see later) of 239 killers, 28% appear to have autism and 21% suffered from TBI.
Indeed the name used by the Austrian, Hans Asperger, in 1943 for his newly identified condition was “Autistic Psychopathy”, it was only many decades later when his work was discovered for the English-speaking world by Lorna Wing in 1981, that the condition became known as Asperger’s. Wing did not like the term “Autistic Psychopathy” that Asperger had chosen, because she thought it would apply sociopathic (violent) behaviour to the lay public.
Wing recently passed away and the New York Times wrote a nice article about her.
Her paper, that first established Asperger’s syndrome, is here:-
Since this paper was published only in 1981, it is hardly surprising that so few older adults have been diagnosed with Asperger’s. Indeed it was a full ten years later, in 1991, that an authoritative English translation of Asperger's work was made by Uta Frith; before that Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) remained virtually unknown.
As we have noted before, Psychiatrists and Psychologists like to take their time; no Space Race or Manhattan Project in their little world. Still, half a century is pretty slow.
People suggesting an autism “epidemic” might take note that only 25 years ago, absolutely nobody bothered to diagnose mild cases of autism, they did not even have a word for it. Those of you still wondering why your doctor still knows so little about autism, might also take note.
Now I understand why there were no Aspies in my school, when I was a child. They had not been invented. I had assumed that Asperger’s syndrome was of the same era as the man himself, but Hans Asperger died in 1980.
I had no idea it took Psychiatrists, Psychologists, and yes, Doctors, half a century to absorb, accept, and begin to act on a new idea; all because Asperger spoke/wrote in that “extremely rare” German language. Incidentally, 50 million Americans claim German ancestry, not to mention that the British royal family is actually German; the House of Windsor is really the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, before some image building took place in 1917 during WW1.
So don’t raise your expectations of these people too high, for the next half century. Hopefully they have figured out Google Translate.
Here is the Pediatrician, Professor Hans Asperger at work in Austria; nice drawing on the black board:-
Asperger’s (Autistic Psychopathy) and TBI among Mass Murderers
In the recent study of 239 mass murderers almost 50% had either ASD or head injury /TBI, the other half suffered from “psychological stresses”.
At least the author has clearly read about Hans Asperger, he suggests a new diagnosis, Criminal Autistic Psychopathy, as a subcategory of Asperger's syndrome.
I will not dwell on the murder angle, other than to say that perhaps if people with Asperger’s were actively included at school, they would ultimately lead happier and more successful lives. The percentage that currently go on to have very violent thoughts, might not then do so, and the tiny percentage of those might not act on those very thoughts.
I should point out that I do not find it odd at all that the boy with Asperger’s in my elder son’s class keeps telling him “I will kill you and your parents”, to which Ted, now 14, says “but I won’t let you” and the response is “but I will wait until you are not there”. I am not seriously worried that he will do this, but if I was his parent, I would be very concerned that he says/thinks such things.
Fortunately there are no serial killers with Classic Autism, so no need to lock up Ted’s brother.
ASD, TBI & PTSD
We have come across TBI several times in this blog, and I note that many people coming to this blog are TBI sufferers.
Both ASD and TBI are associated various degrees of mood disorder. These feelings are driven by neurological changes that are usually ignored, or treated rather crudely with drugs that rarely seem to work entirely as intended.
I think the world of autism could learn much from the mood disorders that follow TBI.
Epilepsy occurs very frequently in both ASD and TBI.
The third condition that we might usefully consider is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This condition is also associated with severely affected mood. Army veterans returning from recent conflicts can be greatly affected by PTSD. We came across the military type of PTSD in the post about the hormone TRH. One of the many roles of TRH in the body seems to be linked to mood, and very specifically suicide. The US military is funding development of a TRH nasal spray to reduce the incidence of suicide. They cannot give antidepressants, like Prozac, because a well-known side effect is suicidal thought. TRH is included in my autism PolyPill.
People with Asperger’s do have an elevated risk of suicide, another reason to sniff some TRH, perhaps?
The Link between ASD, TBI and PTSD
The above conditions are very different, but they share some similar symptoms relating to mood disorders. By understanding the neurological underpinnings of the mood disorder in one condition, we might well learn something useful for the others.
The research into TBI seems to focus on better surviving the first few hours. We saw in earlier posts that by giving intravenously either statins, or the female hormone progesterone, in the Emergency Room, there was a marked increase in survivability. Progesterone and statins are both highly neuroprotective.
When Michael Schumacher had his TBI in a recent skiing accident, I was saying to myself “give him progesterone”, I very much doubt the French neurologists did. They probably do not read American/English research.
In the case of autism, very recent research has shown an excess of male hormones in the amniotic fluid of mothers who give birth to a baby that will later be diagnosed with autism. We also have seen how some people with mild autism treat themselves with progesterone to feel better.
Many years ago pregnant women were often prescribed progesterone and/or estrogen, now it seems to be limited to some women undergoing infertility treatment. Perhaps giving progesterone might reduce the incidence of autism?
Statins are a known treatment for cytokine storms and are included in my autism PolyPill.
Once back home, people recovering from TBI and PTSD do seem to face similar treatment to adults with autism; they get ignored.
Due to all the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, we do hear quite frequently about the consequences of untreated PTSD. There are also very many cases of TBI, resulting from motor vehicle accidents (cars, bikes, quad bikes etc), sports accidents (skiing) and shootings (particularly in the US). It seems that in many cases there can outwardly be a physical recovery, but personality has altered. As we have seen in this blog, all the various hormones and neurotransmitters are interrelated and so any neurological damage will have multiple knock-on effects. This will consequently transform, for better or worse, someone’s personality. I used to know a person once, who was about to marry for the third time. The second wife had been hit by a bus while crossing the street, and I remember how odd it sounded what he said next, “when she got better, she was a different person and I had to divorce her”. The change in personality makes perfect sense, we are all the result of the particular homeostasis our brains settled at. So some people are gregarious, others are loners, and a very small number become psychopaths.
If we more fully understood how the brain works, most types of mood disorder would likely be treatable. Since people with TBI and mild autism are now easily identifiable, there is yet another reason to accelerate this research. A frequent justification for the low expenditure on autism research is that “you don’t die from autism”. Well, the above research shows that plenty of people do die from autism, just not the ones you expected.
Just to give the full picture, sadly people with severer types of autism have substantially elevated risk of mortality in their early years, due to seizures, drowning and other accidents. There is research showing this, but it also shows up any time you see cause of death on the samples from brain tissue banks, used in autism studies. This is why it is very important to teach people with severer autism to be confident swimmers, however hard it might seem.