Cho Had Anxiety Disorder, Virginia Tech Never Notified

BLACKSBURG, Va. – The shooter responsible for the Virginia Tech tragedy was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder when he attended a Fairfax County high school, but officials at Virginia Tech were never made aware of his condition.

Seung Hui Cho had a social anxiety disorder. Selective mutism, a symptom of his disorder, hindered him from speaking in social settings. While in high school in Fairfax County, Va., he received individualized special education, which directed that he be excused from participating in class discussions. He also received therapy – which was said to have been effective – for his underlying anxiety, according to sources.

After Cho left the safe setting created for him in high school, he no longer received any support for coping with his condition. Officials at Virginia Tech had no way of knowing that Cho was suffering from an anxiety disorder. Professors often called on Cho and would become angry when he didn’t respond. Students would make fun of him. This further isolated Cho and compounded his anxiety. He began referring to himself as, “?”.

Since Fairfax County school officials were prohibited from disclosing information about Cho’s disability, due to federal privacy and disability laws, Virginia Tech professors and administrators had no way of knowing about his needs. Colleges are also prohibited from asking for information related to disabilities.

Cho or his parents could have told Virginia Tech about his condition and asked for accommodations. However, asking for help is nearly impossible for someone with selective mutism, and Cho’s parents may not have understood the extent of his condition, or that he still needed support in college. Last summer, Cho’s mother contacted a church to purge Cho of what one pastor referred to as the “demonic powers” possessing him.

Selective mutism can be treated successfully and has never been associated with violent behavior. About 1 percent of the U.S. population is born with the condition. Those who suffer from the disorder tend to come from families with high levels of anxiety.

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