Frontline documentary: Isolation was a factor in Sandy Hook massacre
I didn’t want to miss last night’s PBS episode of Frontline, “Raising Adam Lanza“. I’m glad I didn’t, because I came away with some answers to questions other people must have had, too. I find I can also relate to Lanza’s mom, Nancy, who seemed intent on trying the next best thing for her son, whenever the last next best thing didn’t work out.
I can remember dragging my children from one school to another, from one therapist to another, trying yet something else new and different, to keep them from being bullied or to prevent them from being in pain during their school years. We also moved as a way to avoid danger, but in the end the one sure thing that helped my children was what would have helped Lanza: being surrounded by a community of other people who cared about him or were even like him.
It’s hard to know what to do when your children are in pain or have problems. Do you get involved or let them learn how to navigate life on their own? Do you go to the school and hover, or wait to see if your child’s day goes well? It’s never easy, and it must be much harder when you have a child like Lanza.
Asperger’s syndrome appears to be a high-functioning form of autism. The parents I’ve interviewed for the only article I recall writing about it said their children were either brilliant or just this side of genius. But they acknowledged their children had special needs, too.
Whatever mental illness Lanza might have had is separate and apart from his Asperger’s. I’m not even qualified to say, but my guess is having a form of autism could lead to depression or other mental illness. Just as many chronic illnesses can.
But the isolation Lanza experienced seems a significant factor in his downward spiral—as did his mom’s inability to know what to do to help him. I say this because before becoming isolated, a teacher acknowledged Lanza’s involvement in a school club actually improved his social skills.
After watching last night’s show, what’s clear to me is that Adam’s lack of involvement in support groups—not being around people in general, and especially other people like himself, whom he could relate to—caused a regression of his social skills.
And it’s true I’m not a fan of violent TV shows, video games or movies, but if these are the only regular things your psyche is consuming, it seems reasonable you’re more apt to become like the characters in these games. For someone like Lanza, who was cut off from the real world, it seems like those games became his world. And then that world became his reality.
I have to wonder if Nancy’s failure to get her son the help he needed was because she believed she was the only person who knew him well enough to help him. I also wonder if Nancy’s illness—it’s believed she had Multiple sclerosis—prevented her from having the mental energy to do more to get Lanza professional help.
In the end, we really don’t know if the Sandy Hook shooting could have been prevented if Lanza wasn’t isolated, and had gotten medical treatment for all of his health problems.
But we do know one thing: this family’s story is a warning for us all that isolation comes with a price tag that’s just too high to pay. That remaining silent and not asking for help when such help is desperately needed, only makes matters worse.
Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country.Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”
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