autistic != empathetic
April 27, 2005 4:06 PM   Subscribe

Could autism be a result of "extreme male" mind? A UK scientist has devised an intriguing theory as to the character and cause of autism. and yeah, this is my first FPP, for those who care about that kind of thing
posted by telstar (52 comments total)
You might also be interested in the underconnectivity theory (due to Marcel Just and others), which suggests that the cause is "a deficiency in the coordination among brain areas".

It doesn't resonate as well with current cultural stereotypes, however.
posted by myl at 4:37 PM on April 27, 2005

His Brain, Her Brain
posted by homunculus at 4:51 PM on April 27, 2005

Simon-Baron Cohen, elsewhere: In my chosen field of autism, I believe that the cause will turn out to be assortative mating of two hyper-systemizers. I believe this because we already have 3 pieces of the jig-saw: (1) that fathers of children with autism are more likely to work in the field of engineering (compared to fathers of children without autism); (2) that grandfathers of children with autism—on both sides of the family—were also more likely to work in the field of engineering (compared to grandfathers of children without autism); and (3) that both mothers and fathers of children with autism are super-fast at the embedded figures test, a task requiring analysis of patterns and rules. (Note that engineering is a chosen example because it involves strong systemizing. But other related scientific and technical fields [such as math or physics] would have been equally good examples to study).

We have had these three pieces of the jigsaw since 1997, published in the scientific literature. They do not yet prove the assortative mating theory. They simply point to it being highly likely. Direct tests of the theory are still needed. I will be the first to give up this idea if it is proven wrong, since I'm not in the business of holding onto wrong ideas. But I won't give up the idea simply because it will be unpopular to certain groups (such as those who want to believe that the cause of autism is purely environmental). I will hold onto the idea until it has been properly tested. Popperian science is about being able to let go of an idea when the evidence goes against it, but it is also about being able to hold onto an idea until the evidence has been collected, if you have enough reasons to believe it might be true.

posted by Gyan at 4:56 PM on April 27, 2005

Comparing the male mind to finding the result seems somewhat far-fetched. I understand the comparison in the theory and view it as that, a mirrored image being an example.

I see autism as frustrated actions created when the mind’s thinking thoughts are not properly executed. Though a common verb describing a male’s actions is the “frustrating.”

When my motor controls were paralyzed from having a swollen brain, the largest recollection was the frustration it caused. I would have rather been dead. Let me tell you when that happens it's one of the most frustrating experiences possible. Besides not being able to move, you can’t even communicate. Especially when people around you have this wrong perception of what you are feeling, thinking or hearing which is caused by you no way of orrecting them back. When I see an autistic person this experience has left a large impact on my thinking about what they must be going through. I often wonder; does science really know what a person with it is actually thinking or trying to do.

Maybe I'm being autistic in my reasoning here from the article’s point of view.
I recall reading autism is found more in males. So maybe the theory is right. Would testosterone levels be a factor in autism if my last sentence was basically true?
posted by thomcatspike at 5:17 PM on April 27, 2005

I know a little girl with some autism. From being tutored for it, she is brighter than her twin sister who is less out going than her. She also excels in sports at a better rate than the children around her age.
posted by thomcatspike at 5:20 PM on April 27, 2005

Where's the 'no such thing as gender' brigade when you need them?
posted by ubernostrum at 5:21 PM on April 27, 2005

I have Asperger's Syndrome. Interestingly before I even knew what it was, I thought the Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus dichotomy explained the communication problems between me and my wife. I thought I had a "Tim the Toolman" syndrome and that it explained everything.
posted by rolypolyman at 5:26 PM on April 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

This is my first annotation or reply or comment or whatever, for those that care.
posted by Monochrome at 5:29 PM on April 27, 2005

ubernostrum, he says in the first article that "There are plenty of male brains in female bodies, and vice versa" so it would appear is a member of the 'no such thing as gender' brigade. With his "male" and "female" brain labels thus exposed as convenient, but misleading or meaningless labels for ends of a spectrum, I'm having trouble distinguishing his "intriguing theory" from the common understanding of autism as a spectrum. Am I missing something or can I just call youth "male" and seniority "female" and have an intruing theory of age? There are, of course, females who are younger than some males, but "on average," as he says...
posted by scottreynen at 5:36 PM on April 27, 2005

rolypolyman writes "I have Asperger's Syndrome."

Doctor's diagnosis or self-diagnosis?
posted by orthogonality at 5:41 PM on April 27, 2005

Later, when the kids reached 18 and 24 months of age, the researchers mailed questionnaires to their parents, asking them to evaluate their child’s vocabulary. Meanwhile, the amniotic fluid revealed how much testosterone each child had been exposed to late in the first trimester, a critical time for brain development.

“When we got these results, I had one of those strange feelings, like a shiver down my spine,” Baron-Cohen writes in his book. “A few drops more of this little chemical could affect your sociability or your language ability. I found it extraordinary.”

I'd be most interested to see the results of this study, and others like it. If verbal skills are influenced by testosterone levels, there may be a link to autism. But I'm not sold on the theory yet.

This is my first annotation or reply or comment or whatever, for those that care.

Your first comment is to say that it is your first comment? Thanks for the announcement, but an actual contribution to the thread would be more welcome.

posted by Specklet at 5:47 PM on April 27, 2005

There's some pretty compelling, but not-yet-fleshed out, data supporting a defect in synaptic development; specifically, a defect in the formation of repressive/inhibitory (as opposed to excitatory) synapses in Aspergers/Autism.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 5:50 PM on April 27, 2005

My daughter has Asperger's syndrome. We are pretty certain my mom's sister has it, and 2 of my cousins have sons who have been diagnosed with Asperger's.

Maybe mostly boys are diagnosed with the syndrome because girls with the disorder present differently than boys do. This site outlines how girls show the symptoms differently (mostly because of how girls in our society are socialized ...saying that in a very general sense)

This sounds like my daughter..
" Little girls in our society are under pressure to talk in a pleasant manner, so a girl may be more sensitive to criticism regarding her voice and her conversation skills. She may decide it's better to be quiet than cause a scene"
posted by gminks at 5:56 PM on April 27, 2005

Doctor's diagnosis, ortho. Psychologist specializing in autism. I can understand your concern though.
posted by rolypolyman at 6:00 PM on April 27, 2005

I have a never-read copy of Baron-Cohen's Mindblindness somewhere. I was actually thinking about it the other day when I was ruminating on difficulties in communication. I should dig it up and read it.

Speaking as someone who is high-functioning autistic (I'm at the point on the spectrum, I think, where I'm bridging the gap between "normal variation" and "disorder" ... in other words, I have just enough of it for it to be a problem, but I can pass as normal-if-a-bit-eccentric very easily in most circumstances), I have to agree with the frustration at communication.

I write pretty well but spoken communication can be difficult for me because I essentially run social skills in emulation. Also, I can't stand eye contact from all but a few people (add to this the natural self-consciousness that comes from having a lazy eye and thinking everyone is staring at it.) I am almost completely blind to most body language, and I have problems interpreting tone of voice (I hear annoyance as anger, fatigue as sadness...) The inability to clearly express myself sometimes leads me to break down and just turn into this tightly-wadded ball of frustration for a while. It's very difficult. I know exactly what I'm trying to say but not how to say it.

There are days when I sink into little fogs of despair when I reflect on all the signals I miss from people and wonder if I'll ever be able to truly understand them. I have to think about everything before I do it and try my best to dissect social interaction and figure out how it works. I was born without the manual, so I had to reverse-engineer the software and write the manual myself, in other words.

To compensate for this, a lot of the time I end up communicating really complex ideas to my girlfriend through a written letter instead of just talking to her, or using a letter as a starting point and then answering any questions she has from there verbally (I can answer questions just fine.)

I have the problem of being just normal enough that people don't understand my limitations when they become obvious (running social skills in emulation requires a lot of high-level thought, and doing that for a long time is draining.) In the end, though, I do think it's a net boon because I can handle more than a lot of autistics whose accounts I've read--I don't have meltdowns based on sensory stimulation like loud noise (although it does tire me out), I'm not hypersensitive to touch or anything else like that.

I do strongly dislike the notion that I lack empathy, however. If anything, I am hyperempathetic--I am so conscious of other people's feelings that I can sometimes even give short shrift to my own. I suppose I may just be overcompensating. I was always very affectionate as a child and have always felt a particular ache when I see someone suffering. Perhaps "lacking empathy" is a fitting generalization for autistics at large, but I do nevertheless grimace a little whenever I hear it. I don't know, maybe I have empathy because I was raised primarily by a very gregarious, nurturing and empathetic mother with whom I have always had an extraordinarily good relationship?

on preview: gminks, I had heard about that as well, as far as girls manifesting autistic symptoms differently because of how they are socialized in Western society. Don't know if there's any science behind it but it's an interesting alternate hypothesis.

(I have a doctor's diagnosis. Went through a flurry of diagnostic tests and 6 hours' worth of interviews. My father also shows some of the traits, though less pronounced than mine are, and my cousin is a full-blown low-functioning "classical" autistic.)
posted by Kosh at 6:01 PM on April 27, 2005

my daughter is reading this, and says
autism isn't a factor of a male mind. why can't females be analytical, why can't males be empathetic, why can't someone be both?
posted by gminks at 6:10 PM on April 27, 2005

Nice post.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 6:14 PM on April 27, 2005

Kosh, thank you for sharing all that. I have a question. You say There are days when I sink into little fogs of despair when I reflect on all the signals I miss from people and wonder if I'll ever be able to truly understand them.

Does this also happen when you watch films? Or are you better able to understand body language, tone of voice, etc in a recorded medium than you are when you're in the middle of it? Have you ever watched a film on DVD with the remote control and talked with another person about the various non-verbal cues and communication going on?

For anyone interested in this subject, I highly recommend Nobody Nowhere and Somebody Somewhere, two autobiographical books written by Donna Williams, a high-functioning (I guess) autistic woman.
posted by alms at 6:24 PM on April 27, 2005

Any of you Aspergers (kosh or rolypolyman) have trouble with "face blindness"?

rolypolyman, do you also experience "run[ning] social skills in emulation" like kosh?

Kosh reports he's "not hypersensitive to touch or anything else like that ", but how do you react when others touch you? Family, SOs, strangers?

( thomcatspike writes "When my motor controls were paralyzed from having a swollen brain, the largest recollection was the frustration it caused. I would have rather been dead. Let me tell you when that happens it's one of the most frustrating experiences possible. Besides not being able to move, you can’t even communicate. Especially when people around you have this wrong perception of what you are feeling, thinking or hearing which is caused by you no way of [c]orrecting them back. "

Personal aside: this I understand, because it was the second worst thing about my heart attack. I was less affected than thomcatspike -- I could communicate, but I realized that I only had so much energy, and so I knew I couldn't really afford to unless absolutely necessary. So I just lay there, for instance, when my neighbor walked by. I had to husband the little energy I had. I think dying will probably be like that -- progressive diminution of the ability to communicate, until I can still hear but can't answer. It's very lonely. I think in that sense we all die alone.)
posted by orthogonality at 6:31 PM on April 27, 2005

alms: actually, it's funny you mention that; in my last session my therapist suggested that we rent something and try to dissect the way the actors move, intone, etc. and see what I'm able to pick out from it. So that's an exercise I'm planning on pursuing.

I think with films I don't feel that because I'm more concerned with figuring out and following the narrative... plus, it has no impact on my life if I can't read the nuances of an actor's performance, so it's never bothered me. I've never felt like I'm "missing" anything watching films though, if that's what you were curious about. I may indeed be missing the finer points of a performance but it doesn't keep me from enjoying it because if I'm missing something, I'm ignorant of the fact.

orthogonality: when someone I trust touches me, I don't mind at all. I use touch a lot to communicate my feelings when words won't do. I would actually feel a lot lonelier if I had a hypersensitivity because I'd be short one more mode of communication.

It never bothered me to have my mother comfort me with a hug when I was upset when I was younger--I would actively seek it out, in fact--and I don't mind at all when my girlfriend touches me under any circumstances. I mentioned that because a lot of the accounts of other autistics I've read mention problems with relationships and people overstepping boundaries with touch, but I don't, so I think I'm kind of an exception. Of course, that's anecdotal and not scientific, so, I don't really know, but it does seem like a very common symptom that I lack. (My low-functioning cousin is odd about touch--sometimes he likes it, sometimes he hates it and you can feel his discomfort if you even brush him.)

Of course, I do mind people outside of my "trust zone" touching me, but I don't know that that really has anything to do with autism. I imagine a lot of people are like that. Any family or friend I have a personal relationship with is fine as far as touch goes--girlfriend, parents, grandparents, my sister, my stepmom, uncles/aunts/cousins I feel close enough to, etc.

I have no problem recognizing faces, though I may have a little trouble understanding the subtler nuances of the expressions on them sometimes.
posted by Kosh at 6:54 PM on April 27, 2005

Someone should do a study of how often IT guys use emoticons in their e-mails to hardware vendors.
posted by longsleeves at 6:55 PM on April 27, 2005

gminks's daughter: autism isn't a factor of a male mind. why can't females be analytical, why can't males be empathetic, why can't someone be both?

They can. It's a matter of probability, spectrum and spreads. Baron-Cohen didn't say autism was exclusive to males, but it seems to be more prevalent among males. Since there are real structural differences in the brains, nature might play a part.
posted by Gyan at 7:07 PM on April 27, 2005

With regards to male vs female brains, Baren-Cohen is using the term to mean the hormonal environment during brain development as opposed to the genetic sex of the person. It's a common way of deliniating the two (and I am a developmental neuroendocrinolgist, specialising in mechanisms of sexual differentiation - basic research, not humans).
posted by gaspode at 7:20 PM on April 27, 2005

gminks & daughter: you could RTFA
posted by rxrfrx at 7:21 PM on April 27, 2005

ortho -- hell yes, face blindness is a big impediment for me. Last week I was really looking forward to watching Band of Brothers, and about 3 discs in I gave up because I couldn't keep track of who was who. It's embarrassing to not be able to recognize casual acquaintances in social situations, though people I've met several times I am able to remember.
posted by rolypolyman at 7:26 PM on April 27, 2005

Heavens to Betsy. This guy is is hypothesizing differences between male and female minds!

So where's the NYT front page article about this guy? Oh, wait, he isn't the president of a prestigious university.
posted by gagglezoomer at 7:56 PM on April 27, 2005

For those interested in more on the "assortative mating" hypothesis -- particular as to why there seem to be higher rates of autism among the children of high-tech communities -- I published an article in Wired a few years ago called The Geek Syndrome that is widely referenced and serves as an introduction to the whole area of autism and genetics for interested readers.
posted by digaman at 8:20 PM on April 27, 2005

posted by digaman at 8:21 PM on April 27, 2005

I can't quite sense his point there, can someone break it down into nice neat specifics for me?
posted by HTuttle at 8:37 PM on April 27, 2005

rolypolyman writes "hell yes, face blindness is a big impediment for me. Last week I was really looking forward to watching Band of Brothers, and about 3 discs in I gave up because I couldn't keep track of who was who."

Non-autistics reading: can you recognize the faces in Band of Broithers?
posted by orthogonality at 9:04 PM on April 27, 2005


Your "Geek Syndrome" article was fascinating and seemed directly applicable to my personal situation: my wife is an engineer with a master's in information technology and I am probably classifiable on the high-functioning end of the Asperger's spectrum. Our son is a brilliant child who displays many of the traits associated with Asperger's. Personality-wise, he more strongly resembles his mother than his father, however, lending at least anecdotal evidence to support the notion that Asperger's--and other autism-spectrum syndromes--may present themselves differently in males and females. It goes without saying that there appears to be a genetic aspect to the whole deal, a direct correlation flowing from the union of two "geek" zygotes, as you suggested.
posted by rdone at 9:16 PM on April 27, 2005

Non-autistics reading: can you recognize the faces in Band of Brothers?

Heh, when I read rolypolyman's comment, I thought: Well, apart from the redhead and the guy from Office Space, neither could I. I found the series very confusing that way.
posted by mr.marx at 9:34 PM on April 27, 2005

Environmental factors may potentiate Autism and Asperger's...

Basically, human reproductive processes now function amid a soup of ( human generated ) Endocrine system disruptors.
posted by troutfishing at 9:47 PM on April 27, 2005

I found another article on this research which included this:

The Cambridge researchers have also set up a separate online study to investigate the interplay between hormones and behaviour in people who are not necessarily parents. Anyone can participate, and Baron-Cohen hopes that interest will be stirred among those with hormonal conditions such as congenital adrenal hyperplasia (which leads to an overproduction of male hormones) and androgen insensitivity syndrome (in which genetic XY males have completely or partially female genitalia but male reproductive organs internally).

Individuals with Complete Androgen Insensivity Syndrome (CAIS) have stunted internal testes which produce no sperm but plenty of testosterone, which the body "ignores" because its cells lack androgen receptors. Some research suggests that people with CAIS score lower on visuo-spatial tasks than XY men, and even lower than XX women. So these people with XY chromosomes may have completely "unmasculinized" brains. CAIS is relatively rare, affecting 1 XY person in tens of thousands. But if the team found even one person with CAIS who also had autism, that would be a real blow to the theory.
posted by maudlin at 9:56 PM on April 27, 2005

Has he been on the Ali G Show yet, I believe there is a relation (aren't they cousins?). Ali would certainly make quick work of this theory. Also from a few days ago, Baron-Cohen's lecture at the London School of Economics.

More to the point is Ali G autistic?
posted by derangedlarid at 11:23 PM on April 27, 2005

If autism is a masculine trait, how does it interact with masculine aggression and territoriality? Anecdotally, those people with Asperger's Syndrome and similar mild autistic traits that I have met have seemed less inclined to physical aggression than the average. Maybe brain gender is a multiaxial set of traits?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:30 PM on April 27, 2005

That's a good point, Aeschenkarnos. I've never heard of autistic people being even the slightest bit aggressive or territorial, aside from the violence sometimes associated with severe developemental disorders.

To me, it seems like it might be caused by a brain that is organized over-analytically. Perhaps it's caused by a genetic trait that is beneficial heterozygously and damaging homozygously, like sickle-cell. The single-gene expression could convey strong analytical skill, making the owner better at math and engineering, while the double-gene expression could be debilitating.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:54 PM on April 27, 2005

Simon Baron-Cohen is Ali G's (Sacha Baron-Cohen) uncle. Surprisingly, not once in my time at Cambridge did I ever hear anyone mention this to Simon's face :)
posted by adrianhon at 1:25 AM on April 28, 2005

The "male" and "female" labels are truly unfortunate. If only he had stuck with "systematizing" and "non-systematizing".

I read his book. I took the tests in the back. I am low-normal for empathy, and very, very high in systematizing. Which totally accords with my own self-perception. I'm not that great at reading other people, but I am superb at figuring out patterns. And increasingly, I can treat other people's behaviour as merely another set of phenomena that can be systematized.

It's important I think to distinguish the faculty of sensing the pain of others remotely, from the faculty of understanding the pain of others. I am hurt and upset when I understand other people are hurt and upset. I'm just sometimes a little bit crap at figuring out that other people are hurt and upset. Empathy is not sympathy.

NB: I have never been diagnosed with anything. I suspect I might be one of those engineering parents, though.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:41 AM on April 28, 2005

re: the violence

A couple of years ago there was an interview on Swedish televison with a fairly young guy who had killed a total of 5 people (2 poisoned, one beaten to death at a robbery, and an elderly couple beaten to death at a break-in). He had Asperger's, and from what was said in the interview, his lack of empathy was a huge factor in the killings.
posted by mr.marx at 3:49 AM on April 28, 2005

This is my first annotation or reply or comment or whatever, for those that care.

Your first comment is to say that it is your first comment? Thanks for the announcement, but an actual contribution to the thread would be more welcome.

Actually, Specklet, I think Monochrome wins the award for most subtle use of first comment as a snark. When I read the FPP, I thought it was and an interesting subject, then the last line of the post- "and yeah, this is my first FPP, for those who care about that kind of thing"- kind of ruined it for me. If it's a first FPP, fine, but I'm not sure that needs to be mentioned on the front page. To me, it gives the impression that the person does not feel their post is FPP-worthy, so they put that note out there as a way of trying to say, "be gentle, it's my first time." I think if you're gonna post, just go for it. If you want to celebrate your first FPP, do it on the inside; I think it kind of detracts from the post to put it on the front.

Back to the subject at hand: Kosh- your first post in the thread could have almost been written by my son. He presented early by not learning to speak on time, and was diagnosed with "autistic spectrum disorder"- not enough to considered autistic, but in that direction. About the only thing different is that he is inappropriately sensitive to touch: When he was little, he would pick up hot things and burn himself and feel nothing, but lightly brushing a feather along his arm would make him howl with agony. He's come a long way- from full-time special ed to an A-B student going into high school. But while he functions pretty well in general, I notice he doesn't always pick up on the subtleties of human interaction. I think he "fakes it" a fair amount of the time (which becomes apparent when he laughs too much at jokes that really aren't that funny, for instance).

Kosh- Do you have a problem with appreciating humor, especially ironic humor? Just curious.
posted by Doohickie at 6:30 AM on April 28, 2005

Oh, and welcome, telstar- good FPP!
posted by Doohickie at 6:32 AM on April 28, 2005

Hmm, I don't think I have any problems with humor. I do recognize the phenomenon of overcompensating that you describe, though--I do that too (not necessarily laughing too much, but sometimes in the past I've overdone it.)

I'm at an age, though, where I've had almost zero treatment (I got my comprehensive diagnosis earlier this year, at 23, though I was previously diagnosed by a psychologist at 19) and all of my adaptations are natural ones.

A lot of my autistic behaviors have been so suppressed for so long in fear of being singled out or looked at oddly that I can't really turn the adaptations off anymore. My operating maxim for my teenage years onward was to do as little as possible to call attention to myself, and I've mastered the ability of making myself invisible.

It's something that's really hard to explain to other people because I don't expect them to believe me. Our society has become more accepting of the idea of psychological disorders, but the resistance to accept any illness that exists in the mind still exists in some people, and on top of that, my symptoms are so suppressed that they're hard to see except under certain circumstances. I adapted myself to attract as little attention as possible, so I can't show people how I would have attracted attention with these behaviors ten years ago, or even five. They think nothing's wrong and that I'm fine.

The adaptation allowed me to survive without being endlessly heckled throughout high school (though a fair amount of that did happen anyway, it just would've been much worse), so in that sense it was helpful, but sometimes I wish I could turn it off so I could show people more effectively.

(All of my comments won't be this long, I promise!)
posted by Kosh at 7:26 AM on April 28, 2005

The adaptation allowed me to survive without being endlessly heckled throughout high school (though a fair amount of that did happen anyway, it just would've been much worse)

High school is like that for lots of people, regardless.

(All of my comments won't be this long, I promise!)

So, you're not a sock puppet of Etherial Bligh? ;- ) Seriously, sometimes it takes a few paragraphs to make a point. One of the great things about MeFi is that it goes deeper than sound bite level.
posted by Doohickie at 7:41 AM on April 28, 2005

If autism is a masculine trait, how does it interact with masculine aggression and territoriality?

I'm pretty sure that the labeling of the persons mind as "extreme male" refers to the exposure to testosterone in utero and not to the actual gender. It is confusing though.
posted by fshgrl at 9:55 AM on April 28, 2005

(On preview: this is long...(sorry?) Also, Kosh, your last comment especially resonated with me; you're not the only one that feels like that.)

I've also been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome (as well as ADD thrice) and mild OCD. I didn't really like the doctor that diagnosed me with it, I thought he was too quick to diagnose and too quick to medicate, but I still agree with his diagnosis. I'd actually spent a significant amount of time reading about it and analyzing myself, noting specific problems I would have and issues that I wanted to discuss for weeks prior. I went in with 8 typed pages of things I wanted to discuss and never got to mention any of it. He didn't seem that open to heavy discussion and 45 minutes later I had a script for the worst medicine I've ever taken (Strattera) and plans to add another one after a month. Needless to say, after numerous health problems with the medicine and the approaching end of my health insurance, I didn't go back. I want to get evaluated by a different doctor, but haven't don it yet. I think in relation to the consideration of autism as a spectrum it should be thought of more as the result of alienation for whatever reasons, and thus that there are significant differences in the causes of the behaviors that give one a diagnosis of an ASD (Austistic Spectrum Disorder). My thoughts on it are more pertinent to the high-functioning ASDs, but I use ASD as a sort of catch-all until the relations of the various types are better understood.

I think thomcatspike's analogy to the behavior/feeling of ASD communication is a good one, though my experience is less extreme. I often have lots of things to say which I can guess would be contributory to a conversation, but before I say them, I need to gauge the conversation, find an open spot, and in the meantime, figure out how I'm going to phrase my idea. It takes a lot of time, and often the conversation will stray and I'll have spent that time constructing a comment I can't even use. Of course that process itself was just a reaction to repeated misunderstandings. I've found it's usually more worth it to me to wait and try to present my idea as best as possible rather than to do it poorly, be misunderstood, and have to try to explain myself, usually to no avail and much frustration on my part and occasionally a damaged relationship as well. So a lot of times, it's just not worth it for me to open my mouth, or even think about it. It's also difficult that I appear normal. As someone else mentioned, people often don't understand/believe that I have real, legitimate problems with certain things.

I'm going to disagree with the lacking empathy thing. I have no lack of empathy, but some of the things that NTs (neurotypicals [=non-ASD people]) get upset over, I just can't see as problems. Of course, it's sad that they're having difficulties, but it's like I can't really empathize with certain things because I've never felt them. I'm sure most NTs wouldn't really empathize with, for instance, constant frustration as a result of underdeveloped social functioning. They understand it at some level, and feel bad about it, but often don't really empathize. Some of it, too, is a lack of ability to properly express my empathy with their situation - I feel horrible, but don't know what to do. And of course, there's the lack of understanding of NT behavior on the part of an ASD sufferer. I've incidentally noted that ASD people seem to empathize better with other ASD people than NTs do and I wonder if people with ASD were the majority if NTs would be seen as having a lack of empathy. I think overall it's maybe more appropriate to describe them as having a lack of empathetic behavior.Here's an interesting-looking article that I admittedly haven't read on why there isn't a lack of empathy.

I also have "fogs of despair" (great phrase, kosh), often set off by some event. I end up ruminating on the issue and it starts to kind of feed back. Think of microphone feedback - it starts out as a bit of hum, and then gets louder and louder until there's an insanely loud high-pitched scream that just makes your head want to explode. It's like that but with thoughts - despair from depressing/alienating ones and anger from frustrated ones. Thoughts just start pouring in, and I have an odd memory - a lot of stuff never seems to really leave so there's plenty of source material. It's just too overwhelming to handle it all at once and ends up leading to some sort of catharsis generally, but sometimes just fades away. I've learned to control this more over the years, but it's still an issue. I don't get those from movies, because movies don't matter. My constant lack of ability to communicate with the outside world does. As far as body language etc. in movies, while I do occasionally miss things, I think the fact that movies are written and acted with the communication of feelings/ideas in mind helps. Every effort is made to properly and universally convey the information so it's easier to apprehend.

I only have minimal trouble with face blindness, generally only when seeing people on passing. I have a terrible time relating names to faces, though.

I totally experience the "running social skills in emulation" dealie, as is described somewhat above. The weird thing is, since I'm running it consciously, I have more understanding of the process of communicating than most people, although I'm worse than most at actually carrying it out.

I used to have real problems with touch - someone bumping into me in the hallway in highschool would piss me off to no end. Even now, although I'm OK with it, it's still awkward. My ability to tolerate touch usually has more to do with my mood than anything. For some reason, though, light contact is really difficult for me to ignore.

As far as Asperger's and violence, I know that although I'm usually quite docile I occasionally go into fits of rage. See, the weird thing is I won't hit people and I rarely yell at people because I don't want to hurt them. intimate objects and myself however: fair game. I've gotten large bumps/small cuts on my head from smashing it into things before, I used to do minor cutting, and I've broken...a lot of things. The fits of rage tie in with the fogs of despair in that they're both kind of feedback-within-the-mind effects with me. You may also want to see this killing spree where a likely ASD sufferer killed ~20 people in less than ten minutes, then stole a car, drove down the road, blew it up, and had a stand-off. This is not representative of the average person with an ASD.
posted by nTeleKy at 10:25 AM on April 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

High school is like that for lots of people, regardless.

This is true. I do generally try to be pretty skeptical of experiences and traits automatically being linked to the autism--a lot of people who are or think they are autistic look at every quirk and experience they have as being "oh! that's because of the autism too!"

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out where its influence ends and mine begins. Of course, it has fundamentally shaped who I am, too, so that's essentially an impossible task, but I can at least try to avoid that kneejerk response. There's a lot about me that has nothing to do with the autism, too.

Seriously, sometimes it takes a few paragraphs to make a point. One of the great things about MeFi is that it goes deeper than sound bite level.

Yeah. I just have such difficulty with spoken communication that when I am communicating in a written form I've become compulsive about making sure every avenue of meaning is explored to the best of my ability so that people can get not only what I mean, but why I think it.

nTeleKy: Yeah, I think in some ways I understand social interaction better (or some facets of it) than people who it comes to naturally, because I spend so much time reverse engineering it and figuring out how it works. There are a lot of things where if you ask someone, "why did you do that/act this way?" they don't really know.

I also take things really literally sometimes, though I've worked on that. I know what when someone asks me "how are you?" I actually think that the person honestly wants to know how I am, so I'll answer in that vein instead of with the customary "good, how are you?" It usually creates this odd feeling at the beginning of the conversation where I know I've given the wrong response but it's too late: I was served the social ping and I kept it instead of ponging it back. I do miss sarcasm at times as well, though again, I have managed to compensate for that to an extent.

I spend a lot of time rehearsing, as well... mostly possible conversations in my head, how they'd play out. When I do this sometimes my face changes to match the state of the imagined conversation in my head and I always wonder if people notice my expression and wonder what I'm reacting to.
posted by Kosh at 10:56 AM on April 28, 2005

Kosh and others- My son has been diagnosed as "ASD". He has made adjustments and functions at a pretty high level, and I'm proud of the progress he's made. But one thing just struck me-- while your descriptions resonate with my understanding of my son, they also, to a lesser extent, resonate wtih me. For instance, I don't feel like I have to run in "social emulation mode", but I think there were times when I did in some situations, and I know precisely what you mean by the term. When someone mentioned a father that had these tendencies, I think that might be me as well.

The funny thing is, in a slightly different way, it is also my wife. When we first realized our son was not exactly normal, he was tested and found to have a translocated chromosome. When we got tested we found it came from my wife. Although they said it may or may not have had anything to do with my son's ASD, she's always kind of blamed herself for his condition.

She often feels uncomfortable in social situations (I think we all do, kind of like the high school remark). I deal with the uncomfortable feelings by saying to myself, "So that didn't go well; big deal" but she gets kind of upset about it and tries to avoid such situations. I think because I've apparently developed coping mechanisms (and come from a very social family of a salesman father, salesman brother, businessman brother & organizational hub mother), it doesn't bother me as much as it does her (who grew up in a less-populated rural setting). The funny thing is, we both see the other as the more socially adept of the two of us.

There have been times when I've considered discussing all this with a doctor and maybe getting diagnosed, but at this point I think I view it in light of what benefit will there be to me if I did. I'm pretty happy the way I am, so why mess with it? On the one hand, I could perhaps get some help, but would it be worth being labeled as somehow "not right"? Or am I just being pig-headed by refusing help? Or maybe I'm just playing up relatively small symptoms into something bigger.

Anyway, there has been some great discussion on this thread.
posted by Doohickie at 1:22 PM on April 28, 2005

I spend a lot of time rehearsing, as well... mostly possible conversations in my head, how they'd play out.

So did Winston Churchill (to account for his lisp).
posted by Doohickie at 1:35 PM on April 28, 2005

"I spend a lot of time rehearsing, as well... mostly possible conversations in my head, how they'd play out. ... I always wonder if people notice my expression and wonder what I'm reacting to."

I do that a lot, too. I've occasionally had people notice; I usually get a "What are you doing?" which, when I explain "I was just thinking about X scenario" gets answered with an additional quizzical look. This used to happen more, but I'm overly self-conscious about my expressions now since I don't know how they appear to others, so I usually try to not move my face much when I'm in public and not speaking lest people misunderstand. I'll also spend time watching my expressions/posture in the mirror and/or talking out loud. It's like I carry out little plays in my head, imagining how different responses or behaviors could've changed a situation. I think it helps a lot in improving my perception of myself and understanding of social situations, but it still kind of weirds me out since I think anyone coming across me talking to myself in the mirror using multiple voices and query/response format would probably be a little...worried. And then what do you tell them? "Well, sit down, I'd like to tell you about my mental disorder and the various coping methods I use." or maybe "I was just acting out the parts in the new play I'm working on; it's called Something I said to one of my friends the other day, other things I could have said, and the repercussions thereof"? It's a long story, most people don't care, and even then, there's no way to know whether they're just nodding their heads until they can leave and tell everyone how much of a psycho you are. Yes, I'm a bit paranoid, but I think I have enough historical evidence to warrant it.

In other news, I just came across an excellent article summing up the most promising current leads linking brain development and autism.
posted by nTeleKy at 1:48 PM on April 28, 2005

Doohickie - As far as seeing a psychologist, I'd say do it if you think it'll be useful. Really, the only purposes of a diagnosis are to find appropriate treatment and/or identify special needs. I'd say if you aren't having any significant problems, it probably won't be worth it. Even if you do have it and don't get diagnosed it's not as if it's a degenerative illness or anything, where lack of treatment will result in poor health or death. On the other hand, you may learn some ways to deal with your particular issues, whatever they may be, and you may learn more about yourself. There are a number of good books on ASD I'd probably check out before going to a shrink, though - especially since you're a parent. Many of the "parents of" books have good advice on how to deal with the unique difficulties of raising a child with an ASD. If you have a reasonably-sized library close by I'm sure they'll have something. I found Hitchhiking Through Asperger's Syndrome to be quite good.

Here are some links for you to persue.
PS: If anyone can tell me why every ASD website looks like it was made in 1995 and never updated, let me know.
posted by nTeleKy at 2:27 PM on April 28, 2005

Thanks, nTeleKy
posted by Doohickie at 7:48 PM on April 28, 2005

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