Thursday, June 23, 2011

Asperger's! Really?

This is a bit of a personal post, so if you're looking for interesting geology, come back tomorrow.

My ten-year-old son has displayed some Asperger's-like symptoms in the past that have concerned his mother and me.  Even a pediatrician we saw when his regular doctor was unavailable wondered, out of the blue with no mention of it from us (he was in for being sick), if he might be somewhere on the autism spectrum.  So, we ended up taking him to a pediatric neurologist expert for a consult; she talked to him for a while and said she didn't think there was anything to worry about. Since we homeschool anyway, it's not too big a deal in his day-to-day life (I do think that if he went to public school, however, he'd be a target for bullies as I was at his age).  So, we're taking her expert advice and not worrying about it for now.

Anyway, there are these screening tests you can take (for adults or children) to see if you might have Asperger's Syndrome.  My son, at least when me wife and I fill out the test for him, seems to score pretty high.  I also score amazingly high as well (my wife, a paragon of normality, does not).

A typical screening test for Asperger's is the AQ (Autism-Spectrum Quotient) test developed by psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen and colleagues at Cambridge's Autism Research Centre (here's one online version you can take).  It has 50 statements that you either have to definitely agree, slightly agree, slightly disagree, or definitely disagree with.  The average score in the control group was around 16.5 while 80% of those with autism (or a related disorder) scored above 32.  I score between 37-40.  I took it more than once on different days, hence the spread in scores and when my wife took it for me, she also came up with a comparable score.

Well, I obviously don't have autism but I definitely have some of the characteristics of Asperger's Syndrome.  As a child, I was shy, liked to read, and was curious about everything (my mother tells me they nicknamed me "the little professor" when I was young).  I much preferred talking with adults rather than with kids my own age and didn't have many friends.  Never liked loud abrupt noises (even today) or changes in my routine.  In school, I was frequently targeted by bullies. As a tween, I was very into electronics and taught myself basic DC/AC circuit theory, how to read schematics, and built a number of electronic devices (if computers had been around then, I'm sure I would have been into them).

As a teenager, my social awkwardness peaked, never had a girlfriend, almost no friends (usually other socially awkward geeky males), and spent much of my time skipping school and reading books or walking alone in the woods.  School did nothing for me other than threaten me and my parents for my bad attendance (if I ever ran into one of those teachers today, I'd be hard pressed not to kick the shit out of him since he was such an asshole to me - but I digress!).

So I ended up dropping out of high school at 16 (I really stopped attending when 15).  Not because I couldn't handle the work, I've taken proctored IQ tests and easily qualified for Mensa, but because I hated the environment so much.  I mostly stopped being bullied because I grew larger when I hit puberty (adults always asked me if I played football) but I really couldn't stand the other kids my age.

So, I eventually went to work, started hanging out with people several years older than me, learned to drink beer (and other things) but still never really connected well with people - especially girls.  Started going to community college (which is why I'm such a big supporter of the community college mission) and, after a number of years, transferred to a four-year school, got my degree and went on to graduate school (the process was not a smooth one, I couldn't attend college every semester because there were some times I had no money to pay for it).

Even though I despised middle and high school, I loved college.  Hell, I'd go back to school now and study something else if I could!  Still mostly a loner, most of my friends were computer geek types (by then I was heavily into computers and knew several programming languages).  Shameful for me to admit, my first real girlfriend wasn't until graduate school.  The bad thing about social awkwardness, whatever its reason, is that it does tend to turn males into misogynists - especially when you're a lonely, but painfully shy nice guy and women you like are dating complete douchebags and complaining that there are no good men out there (but I digress again).

So, long story short, I'm still socially awkward, don't really have any close friends, and spend an awful lot of time reading (nonfiction primarily) or walking in the woods by myself as I did as a kid.  I pursue lots of eclectic interests and feel I have little in common with most people.  I've learned to compensate though, get married, and fool a lot of people into thinking I'm "normal" (of course, now I've just blown my cover).  I never thought about it as a "syndrome" just the way I am (fucked up).  I certainly don't have all the symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome, and self-diagnosing from an online test is foolish (although I think my wife really believes I have Asperger's).  Bottom line is that I don't really give a shit at this point in my life.

So why share all of this?  No idea.  I find it interesting to think about and it's my blog and I write about things that interest me.  So, if you find yourself talking to me some day and the conversation seems awkward, it's not because I don't like you or am bored, it's because the wiring in my brain is likely fucked up.  Or maybe I don't like you and am really bored out of my mind with your incessant chattering.  Who's to say?


  1. I took the online test many months ago and just now again, and got the same result each time, 31. My wife is also convinced I have Asperger's. Like you, I teach in the natural sciences at a community college, enjoy my work, love teaching my subject material, and do it very well (according to students and colleagues).

    So long as you are high-functioning (which would seem to be the case based on this awesome and informative blog), I would adhere to the credo of John Robison: it's not a disease and it doesn't need curing. It can be socially disabling, but it can also enable you to understand the natural world in ways that most people cannot (or at least choose not to). Society needs people who can comprehend the multitude of data, hypotheses, and conflicting reports, make sense of it all for a student audience, and use it to get them to engage their brains. I think in time, high-functioning Asperger's/autism will come to be accepted as part of normal human variability.

  2. I took it before and can not remember the score (it was high). Just took it again and got 39. Hubby is not surprised :)

  3. Sounds to me like you're just plain old gifted, Steven. The traits you described would also describe a large segment of the gifted population (not necessarily Aspies), and you've already indicated that your Mensa score places you in that group.

    Not all gifted people are socially awkward, but it can take them a long time to find true peers (and they can feel out-of-place in the meantime), particularly when stuck for years in a classroom with people who are the same age, but not the same mental ability.

    By the way, we homeschool our kids too -- it gives them the freedom to be bookish without being embarrassed by it, and to pursue their intellectual passions at will.


  4. in my opinion, our society creates "aspergers" and feels a need to apply that to some of its candid/honest and focused citizenry. Fine: that's possibly better than having the "3/5th compromise" applied to humans in the 1700s or a lobotomy applied in the 1970s. This label and application will go the way of the dinosaur.

    But it's a 5-star waste of time when compared to where time and resources could be spent.

    What I find more useful than labeling (and alienating) candid, process-focused/observation-rich people as High Function Autistics/"Aspies" is the recent focus on power personalities (i.e., some leads in investment banking and corporate top dogs) and their exhibition of psychopathy, aka the "intraspecies predators", those who use "use charisma, manipulation, intimidation, sexual intercourse and violence to control others and to satisfy their own needs" (Robert Hare, UBC).

    Call me crazy, but if I delegated resources on who to study and "cure", then curing the intraspecies predators is the the obvious choice.