Subject: Re: Scientists baffled by increase in autism
Organization: The Satyrikon
User-Agent: Gnus/5.0808 (Gnus v5.8.8) Emacs/20.7
NNTP-Posting-Date: Sat, 26 Oct 2002 09:40:50 EDT
Date: 26 Oct 2002 10:07:52 -0400
OldCoyote@webmail.co.za (Old Coyote) writes:
> "Tom" wrote in message
> > > As for Aspergers, I doubt it entirely. 2/3 of my family have been
> > > social workers for a long time, and I have had the pleasure to
> > > volunteer at many functions. It seems very unlikely that any talent
> > > of a broad enough scope to be profitable could routinely appear in
> > > people who are otherwise obviously handicapped.
> > I don't think there's any serious doubt about the existence of savant
> > abilities in cognitively disabled people.
> Oh I'm not questioning savant phenomena, I've seen it myself. I
> know an autistic man who can tell you what he had for breakfast
> on any given day, for instance. However that is not going to make
> him rich. I believe most (almost all) savant abilities are like that,
> essentially trivial.
Autism and Asperger's are not necessarily the same thing. Some schools
of modern thought, for instance, maintain that there is not a
clear-cut dividing line between autism and Asperger's syndrome, that
both lie upon a broad and continuous spectrum of what are called
pervasive developmental disorders.
Obviously, someone who fits the standard definition of "autistic" may
exhibit an amazing abstract skill, but the severity of their handicap,
as you note, will prevent them from capitalizing on that skill.
However, as a blanket statement about what is possible, you are
forcing individuals to conform to a very rigid definition of who is
and is not autistic. This is very old-fashioned, and represents
precisely the kind of prejudice high-functional autistics face. Folks
like you appear to demand they either be handicapped, or not
handicapped, successful or an utter failure, with no middle ground
Bill Gates is a pretty good example, though he has not, to the best of
my knowledge, been officially diagnosed with Asperger's. Ever seen
footage of the man sitting in a meeting? He self-stimulates
compulsively, rocking back and forth in his seat as he thinks. He's
obsessive, brilliant in some ways, and yet utterly incapable, so it
seems, of understanding the humans around him.
Conceptually, imagine "Rainmain", but gifted in verbal skills, instead
of having an incredible memory and being exceptionally good with
numbers. What would such an individual be like? Obviously, you could
talk to him, and casually, at least, he could communicate as if he
were as normal as anyone else. Such a not-too-hypothetical individual
could fake being "normal", but only up to a point.
> I'm questioning the idea that there could be handicapped people
> who are more successful than non-handicapped people, due to thier
> handicap. The logic is obviously crooked, in the first place. That
> usually points to some kind of moral or ethical problem I think.
I don't see that the "logic is obviously crooked" at all, actually,
and at any rate, reasoning a priori in this case is specious. Either
the syndrome is established to exist through observation, or it
doesn't. It isn't a matter of personal opinion.
The idea is that Asperger's entails a marked tendency to focus
obsessively on detail, the ability to easily and completely immerse
oneself in some abstract, conceptual world to the near exclusion of
all else. That's the up-side. Among the down-sides is that along with
this highly marketable skill comes considerable difficulty in
"reading" others, the inability to look at someone's face, and know
how they're feeling, for instance, to empathize with their emotional
state. Another is an inability to cope with sudden changes in
environment, or extreme difficulty in switching from one task to
another while maintaining some semblance of focus. These latter are
examples of the handicap.
This handicap is just that, a handicap, and no one has suggested that
someone with Asperger's is somehow more successful because of it. On
the contrary, the literature describes the failures that often result:
alcoholism and other dependencies, chronic and profound depression,
failed professional and interpersonal relationships, &c. Under proper
conditions, high-functional autistics can be very productive, just
like the visually impaired, or anyone else with a handicap. But like
these others, they do have special needs, and the cave-man mentality
of "there's nothing wrong with you, and if there is, you shouldn't be
here" is not at all helpful.