Revisiting Alphabet Soup

I realized that a previous post I made inspired me to rant about something. This could be an insignificant detail I’m getting all devilled up about, so if so, please go on about your day.

This article details Jennifer Huettner’s account of what Adam Lanza was like. I linked to it a few posts back as a minor mention but now it’s what I’m going to focus on. She is a high-school Latin teacher. I’ve been interested in Asperger’s for probably several years now, and I originally found out about the article from this page. Huettner makes the statement: “He had Asperger’s,” which is a pretty clear one, and probably true. But let’s look at some other things she says. For instance: “He was very OCD. He’d clean the desk with Purell.”

I’d like to take a moment and compare this to another popular scapegoat: PMS. People (including women) frequently blame a woman’s behavior on PMS. (It is intrinsically wrong, but not a topic for this blog.) They then begin using the abbreviation in a way that results in incorrect grammar. Like this episode of Doctor Who where people keep saying “ATMOS System” when “ATMOS” stands for “Atmospheric Omission System” and so what they’re really saying is “Atmospheric Omission System System.” People will often say something like: “Oh, that’s just her PMS.” But then somehow it evolves into: “So-and-so is PMSing.” What? PMSing? Pre-Menstrual Syndroming? Similarly, it would be incorrect to say that someone “was very OCD” or, essentially, “was very Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.” A person cannot be a disorder. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense.

Now, I’d also like to point out that I’m certainly guilty of having used OCD in this way before. As a person with OCD who’s done a lot of research on the disorder, I’m not likely to attribute it to someone who doesn’t actually have it; but I am just as capable as a non-OCD-knowledgeable person in the wonderful world of Ability to Use Bad Grammar. In fact, I’m sure I post tons of things which are technically bad grammar all the time, without realizing it, because I just don’t make it a point to be a complete expert on grammar. I’m not saying Huettner is wrong about everything just because she said something incorrect in this one instance; simply, that we don’t know whether she’s truly insinuating Lanza might have had OCD, or if she’s using OCD in the same scapegoat way that people most frequently use it: to describe someone who is unusually neat, tidy, and orderly.

For example, it would be a lot more clear that Lanza exhibited symptoms of OCD if Huettner had said any one of the following statements:

  • “He was very OCD. He’d clean the desk with Purell over and over again.”
  • “…He’d clean the desk with Purell five times.”
  • “…He’d clean the desk with Purell two times at the beginning and end of class and then he had to count to 10 in his head or something bad would happen.”

or Heck, even:

  • “He was very OCD. He’d clean the desk with Purell only once, but he couldn’t stop worrying that it wasn’t really clean and talked about it repeatedly during class.”

So you see my point. It’s hard to tell whether this is one of those times OCD is just being thrown out there like some common adjective synonymous with “oh, by the way: that guy was not a complete slob.”

This doesn’t mean it would surprise me at all if Lanza did have OCD. I know several people online — and one person in real life — who have a co-morbidity of AS and OCD. I would wager that combination is not uncommon amongst people who have either disorder. I just tend to approach everything I read and hear with healthy skepticism (and hopefully not overly zealous scrupulosity ’cause that would kinda mean I’m using my OCD blog to worsen my OCD problem.) Also, it’s definitely clear that there is no established link between autism and this kind of violence, so he seems to have had other things going on besides just AS. I probably don’t need to mention to readers of this blog that there is no link between OCD and acts of violence, either. There’s no limit on the amount of disorders a person can have, and Lanza may have just had a lot going on.

Someone cleaning a desk, even only once, with Purell before class would be an unusual thing to do; I’m not arguing with that. But someone with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder, who is preoccupied with more of a general perfectionism rather than with specific obsessions and compulsions, could engage in this behavior every day and as long as they aren’t bothered by doing it, it would not — this activity alone — actually place them under a diagnostic umbrella of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. (Someone correct me if I’m wrong, of course, but this is my best understanding.)

When I was in elementary school, I washed my hands every day before lunch. The other kids noticed and made fun of me for this, and would tease and ask me why. I definitely have OCD, and I definitely did have a repetitive hand-washing compulsion; however, this one instance of washing my hands before lunch at school, alone, would not have been indicative of this. It was, however, the only part other kids outwardly noticed (other than the rash on my hands — which did not occur from one simple hand-washing before lunch.) Also of note, I never was a fan of hand sanitizer, and have always disliked using it. I feel that it dries my hands out just as much as hand-washing does. The real peace for me is to resolve not to wash my hands if I know I really don’t need to; however, as a child I had more of a mental block against sanitizer because it wasn’t part of my “ritual” and I wasn’t sure my hands would really be clean. And, it’s kind of true — if you take a pile of dirt, and pour sanitizer over it, it’s not really clean; it’s just sanitized dirt.

Huettner indicates that Lanza had a good mind for grasping the structured language of Latin. We also know that he tended to do things the same way over and over, and wear the same clothes over and over. However, there’s a big difference between whether someone behaves this way out of compulsive need or genuine preference.


2 thoughts on “Revisiting Alphabet Soup

  1. ocdfighter1 says:

    I don’t like hand sanitizer either… it doesn’t clean anything. Hand-washing or using a wet wipe is definitely better. I feel cleaner.

    • willitbeok says:

      Yep. Occasionally, if I’m in a pinch and I really don’t have any other option but to use hand sanitizer, I’ll resort to it. It makes me a little uncomfortable, but in those situations, I feel like it’s my OCD telling me NOT to use it b/c occasionally it is really the best option. In those times I try to be OK with it.

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