Monday, March 10, 2014

When Your Kid Kills the Other Kids

This kind of "recommended reading" is usually something I'd share on FB, but it's so depressing and I have a little too much to say, so it's going here instead.

Andrew Solomon, author of Far From the Tree, has written an article in the New Yorker drawn from six extensive interviews with Peter Lanza, father of Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter.

THE RECKONING: The father of the Sandy Hook killer searches for answers.
What a weird and rare document is this: The self-examination of the suburban-boring parent of a white-male-teen mass murderer enabled by easy access to automatic weapons and seeming lack of attachment to any living thing. I have a vision that in 300 years, slouching college juniors will register for a seminar on this "literary genre," the way they now might sign up for a class on "Indian captivity narratives in American literature." It's real, but so select and strange as to become classifiable as a work of art.

(The first chapter in this book of the dead from the future would be, I imagine, Susan Klebold's essay for Oprah magazine, "I Will Never Know Why.")

Returning to the Lanzas for a moment, as a parent now, of two future adolescent males, who has long had a standing fascination with the divergent ways in which adolescents lose their minds (girls and boys don't do it the same way, for instance), here are some of the parts I continue to turn over in my mind.

* [Adam] didn’t speak until he was three, and he always understood many more words than he could muster >> Everyone swears it doesn't mean anything if your kid talks late, so this might just be random correlation, but what if Father Lanza and Solomon have stumbled upon something that nervous ladies agreeing with each other on the Internet have missed, i.e. that this is weird and worrisome and a signal of larger problems if your two-year-old is mostly non-verbal?

“Adam loved Sandy Hook school,” Peter said. “He stated, as he was growing older, how much he had liked being a little kid.” >> My armchair psychology theory of the crime has long been that in a fucked-up way, Adam imagined he was preventing those first-graders from making the mistake of growing up and becoming unhappy. He was cutting them off before life went irretrievably bad, like it did for him.

Michael Stone, a psychiatrist who studies mass murder, said that, as children grow up and tasks become more difficult, what seems like a minor impairment becomes major. “They’re a little weird in school. They don’t have friends. They do not get picked for the baseball team,” he said. “But, as they get to the age when kids begin to date and find partners, they can’t. So the sense of deficit, which was minor in grade school, and getting to be a little bit more in junior high, now becomes very acute.” He added that, without the brain getting worse, “life challenges nudge them in the direction of being sicker.” >> The world also gets less interested in "helping" anyone who's different. Little kids are given endless assistance and forgiveness by nearly everyone, but at a certain point faces and bodies change and children (no matter what their actual age) are reassigned to the "you have to learn to help yourself" category. A lucky few will have a family or possibly a medical team who mildly gives a damn, but the majority of people are kicked loose into the world, and even those with "help" face the double burden of (a) whatever their challenge is, (b) having to muster the added capacity for self-help, even though they are probably already in the red, psychologically and emotionally, with just the first problem.

Open-ended questions can also be intolerable to people with autism, and, when King asked Adam to make three wishes, he wished “that whatever was granting the wishes would not exist." >> I have never heard the bit about open-ended questions before, but it blows my mind. Because it's the opposite of how my mind works, I am fascinated by people who can only make decisions based on quantitive input, and who cannot incorporate qualitative factors. Open-ended questions are my jam, but to someone with Asperger's or similar, they must appear to be the very pit of despair yawning into infinity.

Adam stopped taking Lexapro and never took psychotropics again, which worried Koenig. She wrote, "While Adam likes to believe that he’s completely logical, in fact, he’s not at all, and I’ve called him on it." She said he had a biological disorder and needed medication. "I told him he’s living in a box right now, and the box will only get smaller over time if he doesn’t get some treatment.” >> And there it is: "While [X] likes to believe that he's completely logical, in fact, he's not at all, and I've called him on it." How do you know when you're crazy? Who gives a shit about you enough to tell you, and more crucially, to keep telling you until you recalibrate? 

Only connect.

* "Among the hardest people to engage in treatment are young males who may be angry, suspicious, and socially isolated. Coming to a therapist’s office for an hour a week just to pour their heart out doesn’t seem like a particularly attractive opportunity, in general.” >> FUCK. Fuck fuck fuck fuck. This is horrible and true and what in god's name do we do? Is this why military school was a thing? A friend of mine who was an Army officer once told me he had to teach hillbillies from the hinterlands how to brush their teeth (this guy was not prone to hyberbole, but WTF?) so maybe the Army could have done something with this weirdo, but I'd imagine that those guys would also have taken one look at Lanza and turned into a meme: "Ain't nobody got time for that!"

Adam had difficulties with coördination and, when he was seventeen, Peter told Nancy that he had had to pause to retie his shoes on a hike. Nancy responded in astonishment, “He tied his own shoes?” >> This is just a powerful parenting moment that strikes a chord with me right now. Where is the line between supportive parenting and enabling dependency?

* Nancy’s mixture of hovering appeasement and disregard for professional help now seems bewildering. Yet similar choices have worked well for others: some people with autism respond best to a mixture of laissez-faire and active indulgence. >> Both Nancy and Adam were grossly isolated. This makes me want to join support groups for everything, because sometimes we need other humans to spot-check our assumptions, you know? I feel like there was no one close enough to say, "Lady, you are in a nutball situation and it's getting worse, not better. Change something." Only connect. (This must be why there is selection pressure for peer pressure and social norms, right? The downside is forced conformity and less originality and freedom, but the upside is that your clan helps you recognize when your shit is falling apart.)

Matricide is usually committed by overprotected boys—by a son who wishes, as one study puts it, “with his desperate act, to free himself from his state of dependency on her, a dependency that he believes has not allowed him to grow up.” Another study proposes that, in each case examined, “the mother-child relationship became unusually intense and conflict-laden,” while the fathers “were uniformly passive and remained relatively uninvolved.” The state’s attorney’s report says that when Nancy asked Adam whether he would feel sad if anything happened to her, he replied, “No.” A Word document called “Selfish,” which was found on Adam’s computer, gives an explanation of why females are inherently selfish, written while one of them was accommodating him in every possible way. >> Duly noted. This is why I've got it in my head to sign the boys up for Boy Scouts and National Outdoor Leadership School and any other paramilitary youth thing I can dig up. Go! Do aggressive boy things! Only connect. Disconnect from me and just call me when you're 30 or something!

I don't know. The world is crazy. Hug your children while they'll still let you, and if you're lucky enough to have your parents still around, go hug them while you still can. Sigh.

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