helen-louise (baratron) wrote,
helen-louise
baratron

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Geeks and Asperger's Syndrome.

This is an interesting article about the increase in cases of autism and Asperger's Syndrome in Silicon Valley. It's quite well-written, but flawed in that although it states a couple of times that autism and Asperger's are not the same thing, in other places it conflates them.

I know a couple of people who have been diagnosed with Asperger's, and a couple of other people who haven't, but who have noticeable characteristics of it. I also have a friend and a cousin with "traditional" autism. Now, it has been obvious to me for some time that Aspies have a extreme case of what could be considered "geek traits". Many of these traits are not in themselves "bad" - it only becomes problematic for people who have all of them together. As Asperger's or "high-functioning autism" is a social disability associated with people of normal to high intelligence, people with Asperger's can easily learn social rules, given the right help. Whereas "traditional" autism (I can't remember the name of the psych who's associated with it) is a mental handicap/retardation/learning disability (pick the term which offends you least), and while people with it may eventually be able to function fairly normally most of the time, they will require a lot of specialised therapy, and will always be "retarded". So it bothers me immensely to see the conflation of Asperger's with "traditional" autism. I can see how it's useful to regard them as similar, but I suspect they have very different etiologies.

Hrumph. Anyway, at the bottom of that article, there is a test which some apparent expert in autism has written to test for Asperger's (his name is Simon Baron-Cohen - do you think he's related to Sacha?), and lots of people have been giving their scores for it. Apparently scores over 32 mean you probably have Asperger's Syndrome , a "normal" score is about 16, and the average for scientists is 18.5. I scored 9. Go me, the tremendous marvel of neurotypicality! *snort* *snigger* *looks at the various prescriptions for psychoactive drugs scattered through the flat*

Bit of a stupid test, if you ask me. For a start, you have to distinguish between "definitely agree" and "slightly agree", and yet they're counted the same in scoring - why have two possible ways of saying that you agree if you're not going to use them? And there definitely should've been a handy web-form for calculating your score - I suspect that the reason so many of my friends have been scoring in the high-20s is that you need to be pretty damn geeky to be bothered to go through all those calculations. But below the cut-tag are the exciting borderline-autistic character traits I have, complete with sarcastic comments:

I definitely agreed to:
43. I like to plan any activities I participate in carefully.

I somewhat agreed to:
4. I frequently get so strongly absorbed in one thing that I lose sight of other things.
5. I often notice small sounds when others do not.
6. I usually notice car number plates or similar strings of information.
12. I tend to notice details that others do not.
46. New situations make me anxious.

I somewhat disagreed to:
24. I would rather go to the theatre than a museum.
25. It does not upset me if my daily routine is disturbed.
39. People often tell me that I keep going on and on about the same thing.
49. I am not very good at remembering other people's date of birth.

But, 4 and 5 are typical character traits of gifted children which are often mistaken for signs of pathology. And my agreement with 43 and 46, and disagreement with 25, all stem from my Generalised Anxiety Disorder, where I worry about bloody everything all the bloody time, and so over-plan everything to try to make sure I don't get unpleasantly surprised.

Okay - so let's take 24 - I'd rather go to the theatre than a museum. Assuming that what they're saying here is that the theatre is "social" and a museum is not - what a load of bollocks that is! Going to the theatre is passive entertainment - you sit there and watch a play, and maybe afterwards you talk about it with your friends. Going to a museum is interactive entertainment - you go and look at the geology exhibit, and you call your friends over to see the cool rock you found, and maybe one of your friends is running ahead because volcanoes are not his thing, but then he comes back to tell you to come quickly and see the huge stuffed wildebeest - how is that not a social activity? Duh! ("Oh my God! There's a lifesize model of a blue whale in here!"). And remembering other people's birthdays (49) is very important to me as a part of keeping friendships and socialising - I really enjoy buying or otherwise obtaining presents for people, and get a huge amount of pleasure from gift-giving - so it's fundamentally important to me to know when a good opportunity is to give something without the other person getting embarrassed. I couldn't tell you how old someone is or what year they were born in, because that sort of information isn't important to me - but I do like to know when to give them something!

So that only leaves 6, 12 and 39 as "possible indications of autism". Well, I'd call 6 and 12 "being observant" - and 39 being the fact that I am very interested in the Wildhearts and The Sims - put me with people who like that band or game and they won't ever complain about me going on about the same thing! So, if I've managed to discount pretty much all of the 9 things I scored as not really what they were talking about - what the hell would that leave my score as, if 16 is "normal"? Ridiculously well-adjusted? And that, as I have already pointed out, would be laughable.

My point, if I have one, is that there is definitely a link between geek traits and Asperger's Syndrome, but not all geeks have Asperger's Syndrome or are at risk of having children with it. And to take having a lot of geekish traits as an indication that there is something wrong with you would be ridiculous - as I said, the traits are not in themselves bad - it's only a problem if you have them to an extreme level. Something I believe quite strongly is that you can meet the diagnostic criteria for a disorder without necessarily needing to "get help" - it is only if the disorder-identifying criteria are causing you distress that "getting help" is a good idea. And finally, it's very possible to be a geek and also well-socialised - or at least able to fake it pretty well. I definitely have trouble getting on with non-geeks - but I somehow learned how to bluff, at least in casual interactions.

Autism Quotient, my arse!
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