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(OT?)The Curious Incident of the Dog...

I've noticed lately that Asperger's Syndrome has entered the public conciousness in a much larger scale than before. Suddenly I am hearing about it everywhere.

This is not such a bad thing; in general, public awareness is good, but I would like to correct a few small points (or at least supply a different perspective, since some of these are matters of opinion).

It's not clear that AS is actually a separate neurological phenomenon. It may be just a label given to autism which is mild enough to allow near-normal comunication.

We do not "fear" physical contact. Most of us dislike it, some a lot more than others. This may have to do with a couple of things, including hyperacute tactile senses, an expanded "personal space", or an inability to discern the meaning of the contact, leading to considerable cognitive dissonance.

Human relations aren't "impossible" ( the term "nearly impossible" is meaningless ) for us, in fact they are quite workable, once the other person learns that we are not like other people, and cannot be expected to act/think in the same ways.  Dealing with those who are not familiar with us is pretty damn hard, though.

Devon Grey
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Devon,

How did you learn that you have AS?  How has AS impacted your professional life?

Ewan's Dad
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

I dislike physical contact with my 60 years old aunt, especially when she tries to slobber me with kisses. Does that mean I have AS?

SLobbered
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Slobbered - No, it just means you prefer your 60 year uncle...

Chris Peacock
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

"It's not clear that AS is actually a separate neurological phenomenon. It may be just a label given to autism which is mild enough to allow near-normal comunication. "

There is a range of disorders that fall under what is known as the Autistic Spectrum of disorders, ranging from full-blown autism at one extreme to sensory integration disorders at the other (something my son suffers with).  Asperger's is one such disorder, or syndrome.

Researchers in the field are learning mre all the time.  With regard to austistic spectrum disorders, more has been learned in the past 10 years than in the 30 years before that, which is encouraging.

During the course of getting services to help my son with his sensory integration disorder, I've seen some children who truly had no chance to grow up and live an independent life.  It's saddening, really.  These kids can even start out normal and then disappear into full-blown autism in a matter of years.

My boy is fortunate - of all the things he could have had under that spectrum, he got the mildest one and will be able to live a regular life full of all the potential that a "normal" child has (although he'll have to work differently to do it).  Sounds like you are similarly blessed in that you live a basically normal life.

It could be much, much worse.

Christopher Hawkins
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

"These kids can even start out normal and then disappear into full-blown autism in a matter of years."

I have thought before when I read about asperger's that many of the symptoms sounded way too familiar.

I've never been diagnosed or even sought one, partly because any problems it causes are negligible. A bigger part though is my assumption that this was not a progressive illness.

Should the statement above lead me to question that assumption?

anon
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

>How did you learn that you have AS? 

As an adult. I stumbled across an article about it, and found there an exact description of many of the inexplicable problems I'd been having all my life. So I investigated further, and found out that, yes, I am autistic. (Which was a bit of a shock for someone whose previous ideas of what autism was mostly came from having seen "Rain Man".)

>How has AS impacted your professional life?

It's been very damaging, actually.

I tend to be ubercompent with job tasks, and very bad at making myself "likeable". Unfortunately, the success of one's career is, in most cases, much more dependent upon the latter than the former.

As of now, I have returned to college to persue a PhD in computer science.  Academia is a much better "fit" for me than the corporate world, and is much more tolerant of "eccentricity".

Devon Grey
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

>Researchers in the field are learning more all the time.

True.

Unfortunately, they are woefully ignorant at this time, and some of the academic community is actually hamstringing themselves by refusing to listen to the input of autistic adults on grounds that they are not psychologists.

This leads to a lot of problems. (Some people are actually still trying to use *behaviourism* to "treat" autism. This would be funny if it weren't so dangerous and destructive.)

>Sounds like you are similarly blessed in that you live a >basically normal life...It could be much, much worse.

Indeed. As far as the autism spectrum goes, I am just about as well off as one can be.

Not that there can't be significant problems associated with being 95% normal when you *look* 100% normal, but overall, I would not give it up if I could; I'm far too attached to the special talents and abillities that come with it.

Devon Grey
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

> I'm far too attached to the special talents and abillities that come with it

You can fly? :-)


Wednesday, August 25, 2004

How far out of the norm do you need to be in order to be considered a (possible) Asperger's sufferer?

From some descriptions of the syndrome, I get the idea that it is so broad that it describes just about every geeky/nerdy person I know. This has caused me to become rather skeptical about this so-called 'disease'. To describe an intelligent, logical person with below-average social skills as having "a light form of autism" strikes me as just as silly as calling an unathletic, out-of-shape person "mildly paraplegic". Not every deviation from the median needs to be catalogued as a disorder.

On the other hand, other descriptions suggest that it is a serious disorder indeed, and that the people who suffer from it are barely able to hold down a job or live a normal life. The book quoted in Joel's latest article seems to lean towards the latter, although I am sure that if you combed through my life and collected all of the most embarrassing incidents together, you could paint a similar picture of me.

So, which is it: a fancy name for the combination of a high IQ with poor social skills, or a debilitating mental affliction?

Please note that while this question may sound flippant, I am seriously interested in the answers and mean no disrespect to anybody. But hey, you know how we nerds are when it comes to tact..  :-)

MW
Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Andy Warhol is rumored to have said that in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.  My prediction is that in the not-too-distant future, everyone will be proud to wear a label of at least _one_ mental illness.

See how many of these you think you might have:

Asperger's syndrome
Depression
Bi-polar disorder (formerly called manic-depression)
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
Social phobia, or social anxiety disorder (SAD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Dyslexia
Attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PDD)
Panic disorder
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Borderline personality disorder
Alcoholism
Drug addiction
Food addiction
Co-dependency

J. D. Trollinger
Wednesday, August 25, 2004

OMG! I suffer from all of them! Yes, even the premenstrual one.

Some guy
Thursday, August 26, 2004

>From some descriptions of the syndrome, I get the idea
>that it is so broad that it describes just about every
>geeky/nerdy person I know. This has caused me to become
>rather skeptical about this so-called 'disease'.

>On the other hand, other descriptions suggest that it is a
>serious disorder indeed, and that the people who suffer
>from it are barely able to hold down a job or live a normal >life.

>So, which is it: a fancy name for the combination of a high
>IQ with poor social skills, or a debilitating mental affliction?

False dichotomy. It is neither of these.

It a specific cluster of neurological traits which are easily identifiable by someone who knows what to look for.

Whether it is "debilitating" or not depends upon how strong these traits are. But whether it autism or not depends only upon whether they are present at all.

So autism is milder for some, and worse for others. And sometimes it is less than obvious what will be significant and what won't.

Let me give you an example.

One symptom of my autism is periodic bouts of aphasia. (For those of you who are reaching for your dictionary, that means that my ability to talk periodically vanishes, for anywhere from minutes to hours. And I mean vanishes. As in can't say a single word.)

Another is that I am unable to make appropriate eye contact.


Now, the first probably sounds neurological, and serious, and weird, and scary, to you. 

And the second probably sounds like the symptom of some fad disease, the overinflation of some little social akwardness.

But would it surprise you to learn that the second one is actually the major problem? The first simply means that I can't talk. That's okay, it's not frightening to me, I don't think in language anyway (Most autistics don't).

The second, however, is another matter. Eye contact communication, as psychologists who study this sort of thing will tell you, is very significant to how people preceive each other; if you don't know how to do it properly, first impressions go very badly indeed. And first impressions *last*.

It's not a case of poor social skills, you see. It's a case of the neurological "circuitry" that picks up the information not doing its job.

Paradoxically, some of us have very good social skills indeed (we have to deal with the prosopagnosia, eye-contact problems, echolallic tendencies, etc). But one cannot read what one cannot see.

If you're confused by all this, and would like more information, I recommend http://www.nas.org.uk as a good, relatively unbiased source of information.

Devon Grey
Thursday, August 26, 2004

That makes sense, and was very useful, thanks!

MW
Thursday, August 26, 2004

Oh, and to answer your question: yes, I am quite willing to believe that the eye contact issue is the more serious of the two (assuming the aphasia does not strike every ten minutes). In fact, I can relate only too well..

MW
Thursday, August 26, 2004

After reading The Curious Incident, I was interested to learn of one theory of Autism, which says that perhaps it's an 'extreme male brain'. Thought other people might want to know about it.

There's a book, "The Essential Difference: The Truth About The Male And Female Brain".

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0738208442/qid=1093951565/sr=8-1/ref=pd_ka_1/102-1373505-7352141?v=glance&s=books&n=507846

It's not a great book, stretches out a basic point over too many pages, but the theory itself is quite interesting :-)

Adam Knowles
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

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