When a tragedy happens, we always want to find the “why?”. We believe that to bring proper understand and closure to a situation, it’s important to determine what drove a person to take certain terrible actions.
From the beginning, it seemed virtually impossible to make heads or tails of what would possess someone like John Holmes to plan and execute such a deadly attack.
As more details emerged, it seemed more and more likely that Holmes may have been mentally disturbed. Reports indicated that in carrying out the attack, he was in an apparent fantasy world, believing himself to be a fictional villain from the Batman comic books.
Now of course this could suggest any number of mental or psychological disorders, but I believe that Holmes may be an ADHD sufferer and understanding some of the symptoms of that condition may shed light on how he came to attack the theater that night.
I am no ADHD expert, but I DO have the condition myself so I think it’s fair to say I have a certain insight into others who have it as well.
One of the earliest pieces of information that was released about Holmes (besides his name) was this brief biographical overview:
“He was a loner,” said a classmate of Holmes’ in the neuroscience program at the University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, who requested anonymity. “He was quiet.”
Holmes, 24, graduated with honors from University of California-Riverside with a degree in neuroscience in spring 2010. He enrolled in the University of Colorado in June 2011, and was “in the process of withdrawing” at the time of the shooting, according to a university spokeswoman. Holmes graduated in 2006 from Westview High School in San Diego.
Brian Martinez, Holmes’ chemistry lab partner at Westview, recalled that he was a talented student. “He’s a smart kid,” Martinez said. “He was great at chemistry.”
When I was 24, I could have been described the EXACT same way. I did not have many friends, I was very much an introvert and I spent a lot of time alone. My intelligence level is noticeably higher than many of my friends, family and coworkers. I can do calculations in my head quickly, answer almost any question in a trivia game and consider myself a well read individual.
This is not unique among ADHD sufferers. In fact, heightened intellect and social struggles are related to the condition:
It is not difficult to understand the reasons why individuals with ADHD often struggle in social situations. Interacting successfully with peers and significant adults is one of the most important aspects of a child’s development, yet 50 to 60 percent of children with ADHD have difficulty with peer relationships.Over 25 percent of Americans experience chronic loneliness.One can only speculate that the figure is much higher for adults with ADHD.
To interact effectively with others, an individual must be attentive, responsible and able to control impulsive behaviors. Adults with ADHD are often inattentive and forgetful and typically lack impulse control. Because ADHD is an “invisible disability,” often unrecognized by those who may be unfamiliar with the disorder, socially inappropriate behaviors that are the result of ADHD symptoms are often attributed to other causes. That is, people often perceive these behaviors and the individual who commits them as rude, self-centered, irresponsible, lazy, ill-mannered, and a host of other negative personality attributes. Over time, such negative labels lead to social rejection of the individual with ADHD. Social rejection causes emotional pain in the lives of many of the children and adults who have ADHD and can create havoc and lower self-esteem throughout the life span.
I can personally attest to truth of this as I have had self esteem issues for a very long time, some of which can likely be attributed to the way people react to my ADHD related behavior.
“Ok,” you say, “so the fact that he might have ADHD could explain why he was a loner, but how do you go from there to homicidal maniac?”
To potentially explain that, we must look at another symptom of ADHD. The person with ADHD is always in a natural state of low arousal. I know from experience that ADHD people always fare better in high stimulus, fast pace situations.
That’s why I can watch an action movie, play a video game, read a magazine, work a factory floor, handle a cash register, watch a sports game and so forth with no difficulty whatsoever. These are high stimulus situations.
A book on ADHD called “Driven to Distraction” put it this way: ADHD people LOVE big cities.
That is of course, because they are filled with lights, sounds and a lot of activity. A casino is another good example.
Along with ADHD is something called the Low Arousal Theory, which is defined as follows:
The low arousal theory is a psychological theory explaining that people with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) seek self-stimulation or excessive activity in order to transcend their state of abnormally low arousal.
The theory states that one with ADHD cannot self-moderate, and his or her attention can only be sustained by means of sustained external/environmental stimuli. This results in an inability to sustain attention on any task of waning stimulation or novelty, as well as explaining compulsive hyperactive behavior.
A person with low arousal reacts less to stimuli than one without. This individual is “in a chronic state of ‘stimulus-hunger’”.To further explain, Mawson and Mawson (1977) claim that he or she needs more “sensory inputs” to feel normal.
Without enough stimulation coming from the environment, an ADHD patient will create it him or herself by walking around, fidgeting, talking, etc.
This theory also explains why stimulant medications have high success rates and can induce a calming effect at therapeutic dosages among patients with ADHD.
Personally I believe this to be more than a theory because I can attest that there are many many times when I create my own stimulus, either internal or external, when none is forthcoming.
Sometimes, particularly when I am by myself doing something boring (like laundry for example), this will manifest itself as sort of an adult version of what kids do when they “play pretend”. I will act out scenes from TV shows or movies (or perhaps create my own). I will pretend I am in a sporting event or imagine myself as a high powered businessman or world leader. Whatever I want.
Unfortunately, this behavior isn’t solely the realm of those under the age of 10.
I find that I am for the most part able to control myself to where I don’t do this in public, though I do slip up from time to time.
Unlike the Aurora shooter, I have never become overly obsessed or wrapped up in a fantasy world, but there have been occasions when I have wondered what it would be like to really live out some of the scenarios that float into my head. Occasionally, this does include acts of violence.
However, I am smart enough to realize that those kinds of actions have serious repercussions and have never, EVER, gotten anywhere close to actually carrying any act as the result of something I’ve fantasized about.
The mind of an ADHD person goes 1000 miles a minute. Think of it like a TV that constantly switches channels and can never be turned off.
When you combine the need for stimulus with a person who is alone constantly, that individual winds up with a lot of time to delve into the fantasy worlds that come to life via the “self stimulus” mentioned earlier.
I believe that given the information above and my own personal experiences, there is a strong possibility that James Holmes has ADHD, most likely along with at least one other psychological condition.
We’ll probably never get definitive answers to the big questions here, but ADHD might help us to at least better understand the unfortunate events that led to Holmes’ decision to attack the theater that night.