Monday, January 22, 2007

Asperger's Association Responds To Tragedy at Boston Area High School

In the wake of a fatal stabbing at a Boston area high school, the Asperger's Association of New England issued a statement today that sought to reassure the public that "physical violence is not at all typical of people with Asperger Syndrome" while also providing support to teens with Asperger's and their families.

The statement came after a 16-year-old boy with Asperger's was charged in the stabbing death of a 15-year-old classmate at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School in suburban Boston. The teen, John Odgren, faces charges as an adult under Massachusetts law. He pleaded innocent in court on Friday in the stabbing death of James Alenson.

If you live in the Boston area, you know this tragedy was a big topic of discussion among families of every kind at suburban gatherings all during this past weekend. For parents of kids with Asperger's and other autism spectrum disorders, there was a doubled-over feeling of grief and concern. There was the unspeakable horror at the news -- a child's life lost in a senseless act of violence. And there was the additional concern about the public's response to the knowledge that the teen charged in the crime has this serious disability.

The Asperger's Association statement follows in that vein. It says, in part:

Our hearts go out to both families, and to the entire school community.

Physical violence is not at all typical of people with Asperger Syndrome (AS). AANE has worked with thousands of families, teachers, and other professionals for more than a decade. In that time, we have never before heard of a comparable event. We hope the public will remain open minded and open hearted, and not compound this tragedy by forming a sweeping negative stereotype about all people with AS.

The Association also offers its services "as a source of information and support to anyone affected by the recent tragedy" by providing information, support and referrals to parents, teachers and other professionals. The Association encourages parents of teens with Asperger's to contact its office to attend a support group meeting that was scheduled for tonight. And the group promises to issue more information about its activities and support resources.

The Boston area media coverage of this murder understandably has been intense the past few days. This story is a big deal, as this clip from the Associated Press picked up in California shows. (The story described the murder's aftermath and reports that youth charged in the crime was very interested in crime forensics.) This Boston Globe story reports that fellow students heard the youth talking of trying to kill someone, and that he was alienated from other kids.

Reports like this one in the MetroWest Daily News have cited Odgren's enrollment in a special education program hosted by Lincoln-Sudbury designed to help integrate teens with disabilities into the general high school program.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this article.
I live in the area. As soon as I heard that the alleged perpertrator had Aspergers, I feared a backlash against all childen with disabilities.

Anonymous said...

I also was concerned about a backlash. Additionally, one of my first thoughts is that kids who need aides (I don't know if Odgren did or not) should not be unaccompanied into the bathroom, as they are in my son's school. I was also curious as to what else he was being treated for as it was reported he is receiving many medications for "asperger related issues."

Anonymous said...

I also live in the area, and am a 16 year old female teenager with Asperger's (I'm also a member of AANE). My special interests also have to do with crime, terrorism, and the FBI (and I write crime novels, and I want to be an FBI agent after college), but I would never in a million years actually commit a violent act against anyone for any purpose.

It is a sad fact that when someone accused of a crime happens to have Asperger's, the media makes a big deal out of the diagnosis, creating the possibility of stereotyping all Aspies in the public mind as inclined toward violent behavior, or criminal activity, when a recent study actually has shown that the incidence of criminal behavior among persons with Asperger's is actually slightly lower than in the general population.

What John did was wrong. Asperger's has nothing to do with it. (The Zakh Price case, a boy with autism charged with felony assault, is different, where he kicked a teacher who grabbed him during an autistic meltdown.) In this case, John willfully and intentionally attacked another student, and that is an inexcusable offense. (Send comments to )