Did Stephen Paddock Have Asperger’s Disorder? Does That Explain What He Did?

Las Vegas Shooter, Stephen Paddock | Credit: U.S. Government / via NBC News

The explanation for the carnage in Las Vegas may be as mundane as this: Stephen Paddock may have had Asperger’s Disorder—part of the spectrum of autistic disorders.

Now, please note the fact that the vast, vast majority of people who suffer with autism spectrum disorders do not harm anyone.  They are brave victims of mental illness and perpetrators of nothing. Also, I did not, of course, examine Mr. Paddock.

Stephen Paddock displayed, however, many signs of Asperger’s Disorder.

He was reported by his neighbors to lack usual social graces.  A wave or hello to him might well not be returned.

He was reportedly gifted with numbers, and this gift allowed him to profit as a gambler.  Such gifts are, inexplicably, often part of Asperger’s Disorder.

He moved near Las Vegas to play video games.  It doesn’t much matter that the video games were video poker and that he was a gambler.  Fascination with video games is very common amongst those with autism spectrum disorder.

He had two relatively short marriages, potentially because his partners realized that Mr. Paddock displayed the inflexibility and obsessive thinking typical of Asperger’s Disorder.

He was fascinated with firearms and collected them to an extraordinary extent—another obsessive preoccupation.

Many patients with Asperger’s Disorder become progressively more enraged as they note their tendency to fail in relationships, to lose employment and to lack the ability for joy.  And, sometimes, that feeling of being on the outside of everything makes them want to destroy everything.

I know this from my 25 years practicing forensic psychiatry, including my treating many people with Asperger’s. Some of these people shared with me thoughts of harming many others, and I took the proper precautions to prevent that.

Asperger’s Disorder or other disorders on the autism spectrum have, in fact, clearly been implicated in mass murders such as Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech and Aurora, Colorado.

Of course, those with Asperger’s are ideal recruits for organizations like Isis that offer an instant sense of belonging, lots of rules and an outlet for underlying feelings of violent rage.

If the FBI knows of no other conspiracy, one to consider might be this: Many people around Mr. Paddock may have profited from his genius with numbers—including family members and his girlfriend.  Celebrating his gift and receiving lots of gifts from him may have led them to willingly ignore, or may have blinded them to, his underlying suffering and growing desire to destroy others.

It may not be politically correct to say it, but saving lives demands that I state this very clearly: Despite the fact that the vast, vast majority of those with autism spectrum disorders would never hurt anyone, the mental health community must begin asking all those with autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger’s Disorder, whether they have any underlying desire to harm others or any plan to do so.  It is probably also the case that those with Asperger’s Disorder who own firearms should be screened repeatedly and far, far more carefully for any underlying violent intent.

Keith Ablow, MD

31 Comments

  1. Was wondering how long it would take for someone to decide he must be autistic. And the vast majority of us don’t “suffer” from autism (we actually love the brains that give us an intense interest in the world around us and beyond as well as fantastic pattern recognition, logic and great memories) and it is not a mental illness. An illness is something you can get treatment for. Autism is a neurological difference. No better, no worse – just different. Often highly intelligent, extremely honest and always wanting to do the right thing. I have never had an urge to hurt anybody, but thank you for thinking I need to ask myself that question. I think you have a very misguided view on autism sadly, but hey ho .. each to their own 🙂

  2. What a load of shit !!!!
    Most aspies have a heightened sense of right and wrong and would not “join ISIS” or just randomly shoot people.

  3. Such a total load of bullshit. How dare you diagnose someone you’ve never met? What happened to professionalism?

  4. Bollox. I’m ADHD/ASD. Base covered when you say not all but ADHD/ASD are not mental health conditions, they are neuro-developmental issues. Please get facts straight.

  5. This is dangerous speculation. I am very surprised a member of the medical profession would engage in it. He should be investigated by his professional body and appropriate action taken. Autistic individuals suffer enough from social exclusion and hate crimes as it is without baseless and unethical interventions such as this.

  6. I agree with many of your points, however Aspergers is not a mental illness. He may have had or developed co-existing mental illness though.

  7. Difficulties in life alone, or difficulties + Asperger = possibility to develop personality disorders, which can lead to violent harmful behaviour. Asperger has little to nothing to do with it. It is not a predisposition.

    I find it therefore strange to ask the autistic community to try to prevent the problem, reminds me of -people complaining about Muslims because of terrorist attacks,
    -blaming black communities for gang violence.

    This just illustrates the poor image medical and mental health professionals have of us, and the stigma they perpetuate. Do you know how many disabled people, including autistic people, are killed every year? This really doesn’t help.

    Work on your beliefs, inform yourself at the source (us) then we can hope the public opinion will be more accepting and inclusive toward us. You are their source for their social, medical and cultural vision of autism.

  8. As an adult with the Gift of Asperger’s, I utterly refute the terminology used to describe this condition. I am not a “brave victim of a mental illness,” and nor do I “suffer.” I have a different neurological operating system from the average Jane Doe, and am pretty bloody comfortable with it, thank you very much!
    To what end should Aspies be asked the question you propose? Thoughts and ideations are not crimes. Get a grip and stop finding Autism a root cause of all bad behaviour. It isn’t.

  9. STOP ARMCHAIR DIAGNOSING EVERY MASS SHOOTER WITH AUTISM. I’m autistic and have zero history of violence. But this rhetoric you’re spreading is not new. I’m often afraid to show any autistic traits in public because people think it’s violent. I can’t even cover my ears when things are too loud. In the end you are encouraging suicide for autistic people. We are being taught that no matter what we do, we will be considered violent and dangerous. Meanwhile, allistic (non-autistic) people can make violent threats against us and no one takes it seriously. Really I had to leave my job because a man twice my size kept making violent threats against in front of my supervisor and she wouldn’t do anything about it.

    So I’ll break down allistic logic for you:
    handflapping, rocking, covering ears = “OMG VIOLENT, LOCK THEM UP!”

    death threats against a co-worker = “Oh, didn’t really mean it. No big deal.”

  10. If you decide someone has a psychiatric disorder, then of course you’ll see characteristics in everything that they do! I STRONGLY disagree with your assessment, and it is a gross misappropriation of your “MD” status to make such wild claims without having seen the person in question, or administered a psychological assessment. I fear this article may do more harm than good (by way of whipping up media-driven moral panics) and further stigmatize adults with autism spectrum disorder.

    Was it not Hippocrates who said, “first, do no harm”? I believe that is THE oath for medical profession. Perhaps you ought reflect on that a little more….

    Autumn-Annalise, BA, GDC, MCounsPsychTh, PACFA (Psychotherapy College).

  11. What a horrible, dishonest piece of writing, a real hate-stirrer that attempts to demonise an already marginalised group. So Paddock “lacked social graces” – anyone who hates people enough to want to kill 59 of them is heard going to care about social graces – but most people with Asperger’s do & are very keen to be polite and try not to be rude. People with Asperger’s / autism are generally significantly less – not more – violent than non-autistic people (and are far more often victims of violence and bullying than they are perpetrators). Collecting firearms is not an autistic trait. Autistic / Aspergers people are no more likely to own guns than anyone else. They are also no more “filled with rage” than any other category of people (except perhaps when they read despicable “articles” as this one). They do NOT “lack the ability for joy” (quite the opposite – I suggest you read Julia Bascom’s The Obsessive Joy of Autism, a beautiful piece of writing that sheds light on the wondrous joy that autistic & Aspergers people can feel). Also, you have no idea why Paddock’s two marriages failed, so to say it was “potentially” because he had Asperger’s (which he was never diagnosed with) is just completely dishonest. The only accurate comment in this anti-disability hate speech is that “It may not politically correct to say it but…” It sure isn’t, it is the sort of bigoted call to arms that could easily contribute to a climate of hate in which autistic people are targeted and even killed. It is important for people to remember that the first victims of the Nazis were not the Jews or gypsies. The first mass-killings of Nazi Germany were of disabled people, especially those with any mental / psychological disabilities, who were put on board buses and gassed, following a vicious propaganda campaign against them. The kind of simplistic vilification you are indulging in could easily lead to a climate of hatred. A really shameful article.

  12. After reading this rubbish I am so mad that I can not think of the words to describe how I feel. To me, it is amazing that the author claims to be a professional anything. Why not claim that he did because he is a white male. White males do all sorts of bad things, so maybe he did it because of that. It makes as much sense as claiming he did it because he might be autistic.

  13. You obviously have no idea what you are talking about, he more than likely was a sociopath. In fact, he has been referred to as a sociopath and possibly a psychopath in ever other article written about him. Get your facts straight before posting inaccurate articles. Oh, he was a gambler, not a gamer, there is a huge difference between video games and video poker.

  14. Interesting analysis. I came to the same conclusion yesterday, after reading an article on CNN which related part of a deposition Paddock made for a lawsuit he filed against a Casino. Aspergers is effectively baddly understood, and as most researchers have noticed, Asperger patient are often very kind, very amicable.
    But I do wonder what did trigger this reaction. You say you have often had patient with Asperger expressing anger. Scientific text do explain that they shift from being bullied to being bullies, depending on the circumstances.
    How did you address the problem? By putting them on anti psychotic medication or refering them to institutions?
    I have read that some of the problem in inhibition control comes from a shift in alpha-wave oscillations, and that EEG )electroencephalogram) therapy is very efective in modulating deviation of alpha waves in a frequency where they fail to stimulate inhibitory function properly.
    It appears that repetitive tasks, such a narrow focus, exemplified in playing video games or, in the case of Paddock, 12 to 16 hours a day of video poker, could exerce a strong reuntant affect which would provoke front lobe function collapse. Could it what happened here….or could his girlfriend have exploited his vulnerabilities?
    Obviously, his brother was unaware, it appears, of his condition…was paddock aware…was this the reason he had a doctor on “retainer” as he explained in his deposition?

    • For exemple:
      Lea Thompson (2009) discusses NeuroFeedBack therapy on 150 Aspergers patients over a 15 year period:
      …”The main objective was to investigate whether electroncephalographic (EEG) biofeedback, also called
      neurofeedback (NFB), made a significant difference in clients diagnosed with AS….The average gain for the Full Scale IQ score was 9 points. A decrease in relevant EEG ratios was also observed. The ratios measured were (4–8 Hz)2/(13–21 Hz)2, (4–8 Hz)/(16–20 Hz), and (3–7 Hz)/(12–15 Hz). The positive outcomes of decreased symptoms of Asperger’s andADHD(including a decrease in difficulties with attention, anxiety, aprosodias, and social functioning) plus improved academic and intellectual functioning,
      provide preliminary support for the use of neurofeedback as a helpful component of effective intervention in people with AS.”
      On the other hand, she appears to explain in another text of 2009 (Functional Neuroanatomy and the Rationale for Using EEG Biofeedback for Clients with Asperger’s Syndrome), that Math is not a talent of Aspergers, but language is, even if they may suffer speaking impediments, in: “The most common pattern is that Verbal IQ exceeds Performance IQ. However, some cases show the opposite pattern: strong Performance IQ (called Perceptual Organization on the WISC-IV) and the ability to excel in
      spatial reasoning and mathematics rather than in language based areas.” and…”Often the LD )learning disabilities)problems will involve having difficulty with organization, boundaries (physical ones and social ones), and with many aspects of mathematics (geometry, concepts relating to time and space). These problems are related to right hemisphere dysfunction.”
      Further, Gynnady G. Knyazev (Motivation, emotion, and their inhibitory control mirrored in brain
      oscillations, 2006) :”Thus, in a variety of developmental stages and pathological conditions a lack of inhibitory control and concomitant behavioral problems are associated with a relative decrease of alpha and/or increase of slow waves. Apparently, both inhibitory control and alpha oscillations develop later during the ontogenesis and are particularly vulnerable to a variety of detrimental influences. A straightforward interpretation of this evidence would be that oscillations of delta and theta ranges are associated with activation whereas alpha oscillations are a correlate of inhibition.”.

  15. Dr Ablow, before you start making assumptions you should look up the definition of autism, It is not a mental illness. According to the National Institute of Mental Health ” Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the name for a group of developmental disorders. ASD includes a wide range, “a spectrum,” of symptoms, skills, and levels of disability” . Here is the link so you can educate yourself
    “https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-asd/index.shtml

    This man had a mental illness which is very different than autism He could have had both but they are not the same. No where near the same.

  16. This is rubbish indeed because:

    difficulties in life alone, or difficulties + Asperger = possibility to develop personality disorders, which can lead to violent harmful behaviour. Asperger has little to nothing to do with it. I find it therefore strange to ask the autistic community to try to prevent the problem, reminds me of:

    -people complaining about Muslims because of terrorist attacks,
    -blaming black communities for gang violence.

    This just illustrates the poor image medical and mental health professionals have of us, and the stigma they perpetuate. Do you know how many disabled people, including autistic people, are killed every year? This really doesn’t help.

    They should update their beliefs, inform themselves at the source (us) then we can hope the public opinion will be more accepting and inclusive toward us. They are their source for their social, medical and cultural vision of autism.

  17. No, Aspergers would not explain this. People with Aspergers tend to have a stronger sense of right and wrong due to their rigidity than we “normal” persons do. This person seems to have had a mental breakdown or illness, rather than simply a neurological difference.

  18. How dear you say this is autism . I am a parent of Autistic child . How dear you label a person you don’t know as autistic and because he was good at one thing isn’t autism ? It’s hard another to raise a child with autism ,by you saying this is autism you are putting down a whole Committee of people . With you calling this very bad man who you has other problems mentally . Look at his father that was called psychopath and was very violent in his crimes and was in jail . That what he has not autism . With you calling him that (Autsim) you are undermining all the work we do to bring our children out of their own world and into ours. As a parent we are trying to raise awareness to autism so the world will see that our kid are so wonderful people not What you are calling as autism you have set us back words to were people don’t what our children around . How dare you call this heinous act autism .

  19. How in the hell do you dare to asume that!! Do you realize the damage you do to people in the spectrum when you write crap like that? Get real!!!!

  20. Medical ethics

    The Associated Press has reported that Ablow “freely mixes psychiatric assessments with political criticism, a unique twist in the realm of cable news commentary that some medical colleagues find unethical.”[20] Ablow has, for instance, frequently diagnosed former President Barack Obama as having “abandonment issues,” without ever having met or treated the former president.[20] Ablow has asserted that Obama dislikes the United States, that he prefers Africa to the United States, and wants the United States to dissolve.[20] The Washington Post, in the middle of October of 2014, published an opinion-editorial which accused Ablow of having promoted a conspiracy theory that Obama wanted Ebola to spread to America because he wanted America to suffer as much as poor countries.[21][22] He publicly speculated, in a contribution he made to the Huffington Post on October 18, 2012, that then-Vice President Joe Biden had dementia after his 2012 VP debate performance.[23]

    Ford Vox, a staff psychiatrist at the Shepherd Brain Injury Rehabilitation Center in Atlanta, said that Ablow’s attempts to connect his political views to medical analysis “is really just irresponsible and it’s embarrassing for physicians in general.”[20] Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, chairman of psychiatry at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, and past president of the American Psychiatric Association, remarked sadly, “It is shameful and unfortunate that he is given a platform by Fox News or any other media organization. Basically he is a narcissistic self-promoter of limited and dubious expertise.”[20]

  21. I was thinking this as well. This out of the blue attack on strangers reminded me of some the loaners I’ve met who have a big hate of humanity . One had the idea of running his car though a crowd at high speed to kill as many as possible. He was really good at math but couldn’t seem to get a college degree in the subject. He died of lung cancer in 1989. Always left me with the impression of going nowhere fast.

  22. Well we must he two peas in a pod. I wrote the FBI the almost identical theory almost in parts verbatim months ago but with further information. Included the movie “the accountant” released in 2016. Which is about autism specifically, aspergers. He copied parts of the movie including time clocks in movie that match up with his actions. I was in the crowd. Here is the kicker, the father like figure in the movie closely resembles his actual father. I beloved that was his trigger. I have so much more. I can be reached at Kenisra@yahoo.com if you would like to see my writing. I actually announced it to FBI within 2 weeks of shooting along with video that shows first shots were at 9:49 maybe even prior and not at 10:05.

    R/S,
    Roger

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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