Friday, March 13, 2009

Aspergers and Me

Tired of naive therapists who cost too much, I hereby strike out on my own to self-diagnose and treat my ills. The diagnosis is Asperger syndrome (AS), thanks in part to the not-too-subtle hints of family and friends.

From Wikipedia, edited for succinctness by me:
Asperger syndrome (or AS) is an autism spectrum disorder, and people with AS therefore show significant difficulties in social interaction and restricted, stereotyped patterns of behavior and interests. AS differs from other impairments by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development. Physical clumsiness and atypical use of language are frequently tied to this syndrome. Asperger syndrome is named after Hans Asperger who, in 1944, described children in his practice who lacked nonverbal communication skills, demonstrated limited empathy with their peers, and were physically clumsy.

The effectiveness of particular interventions is supported by only limited data. The mainstay of management is behavioral therapy, focusing on specific deficits to address poor communication skills, obsessive or repetitive routines, and physical clumsiness.
It is impossible to objectively assess the severity of my case from within my skull. Occasionally I solicit outside opinions, but I give them little credence, since I've heard that non-impaired people often "filter" their language on sensitive topics to obscure their true meaning. It's a catch-22 situation: If I were able to understand the nonverbal clues that come with those outside opinions, I would better be able to discern whether I have AS. On the other hand, if I could understand this nonverbal communication, I wouldn't have AS in the first place. So I'll just take the middle road and say that I have at least a mild case of AS.

Before I make the case that I have a case for a case of AS, listen: I know that finding a diagnosis for myself doesn't make me anything special. Most folks have something wrong with them. I also suppose it's possible that my case of AS is not severe enough to merit such a label from a professional labeller, but this is of no consequence. If my problems are not severe, that's great, but I still want to work on them.

Social Interaction: Difficulties in social interaction is my most pronounced symptom. In almost every large-group setting, and in most small-group settings as well, I spend much of the time looking around the room and wondering what everyone is talking about. Indeed, it often seems that everyone is talking to everyone with rapt attention. I grow bored. Much of the conversation that I manage to participate in tends to center around "what are you doing with your life" kinds of questions.

Empathy: I am unsure about how to assess my capacity for empathy. As defined by Wikipedia, "Empathy is the capacity to share and understand another's emotion and feelings." A layperson's way of measuring empathy is to observe the "sensitivity" of the actions of the subject. This external measure is distinct from the internal ability to "feel" and "understand." One could theoretically be very good at seeing from the shoes of another, and yet act in a way that does not reveal such understanding. Loyalty to hidden ideology, or a fear of deviating from how I know to act, might sometimes motivate me to willfully ignore my empathic sensibilities. This is a problem, but not purely one of empathy. Nevertheless, I suspect that I do have a problem of empathy that arises, at least in part, from a lack of nonverbal (or even meta-verbal) communication skills that hamper my ability empathise efficiently.

Stereotyped patterns of behavior and interests: This one is beyond me. I definitely have a diverse range of interests, but I'm sure that some of my patterns of behavior are highly stereotypeable. But more so than for normal people?

Odd use of language: I suppose my language speaks for itself on this topic. I surely have problems with word choice at times, and my habit of saying things in weird ways could reflect as much a linguistic disability as it does fresh thinking.

Physical clumsiness: I have it. I grew up with it. Sometimes you might not notice, because I rehearsed acts of coordination endlessly throughout my youth, but it's there. I'll never get much faster or cleaner on the guitar, I'll never be great at basketball, and I'll never be good at a variety of quick reflexes and coordination games such as "slap."

So the diagnosis is clear. The only symptom I plan to tackle head-on is the first: poor/weird social interaction. Many things that others pick up intuitively, I must figure out, to the extent that I can verbalize them. Expect detailed directions on how to live socially, coming soon!


Blogger Mama JJ said...

Isn't another characteristic "high intelligence", often in the area of mathematics?

Tell the useless psycho dude that you'd like to be tested for AS and have him give you a referral. Pay a bunch of money and go through a three-day test and you'll find out lots of stuff that could be quite helpful, and if not helpful, then interesting. And then when people ask you how's your life, you could talk the test results...

3:00 AM  
Anonymous happypappy said...

If the first law is "know thyself" then the second is "take thyself with a grain of salt--attend to others."

I enjoyed your introspection and saw shades of myself, too. Looking forward to the next entry.

12:54 PM  
Blogger My Freakwentness said...

Hmmm ... I don't suppose I'm trying to get to know mine self out of deference to any sort of law. But if it comes down to laws, how about "know thine self so that thee might better attend to others."

1:00 PM  
Anonymous dr perfection said...

I think you would benefit from working with really underprivileged people and listening to them. immerse yourself in the real problems of real people. Force yourself to be interested in a world outside yourself. you can probably do that in your spare time in D.C. Big brother, soup kitchen, something like that. for the second time, stop gazing at your navel. You don't have Aspergers.

3:43 PM  
Blogger My Freakwentness said...

Dear dr perfection,

As this blog is completely dedicated to my naval, in some sense it IS my naval. I don't mind if you get tired of gazing at my naval and decide to spend more time looking at your own, or at the problems of "real" people :)

BTW, thanks for the constructive advice.

4:36 PM  
Anonymous goodbadi said...

To toss in my two cents: a diagnosis of Aspergers would not be helpful in any way, since there's no treatment for it. Maybe blogging could be your treatment, since it's so insightful.

And maybe you've plateaud, but your guitar, fiddle and basketball skills are remarkable, remarkable--whether earned through hard work or endowed by lucky talent.

5:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Atypical use of language? But isn't that just creativity at its finest (Overlappinglish)?


9:24 PM  
Blogger teague said...

I also do not think you have Asperger's, though the self-diagnosis/introspection is probably a healthy exercise.

There are a couple things on the symptom list that you show to a greater extent that the population at large. But, my recollection of the way diagnosis for these sorts of things works is that each symptom has to pass a certain threshold, and you have to exhibit a certain number of the symptoms (e.g. 3 of 5). Like you said, it doesn't matter that much whether it has an official label or not. But I guess what I'm saying is that you may be overestimating the extent to which you are outside the norm on these characteristics.

(Re: physical clumsiness -- how do you account for your ping pong skills?)

9:38 PM  
Blogger davidc said...

I think that self-consciousness, and over-analysis of just about everything can explain a large portion of the feelings of social discomfort and/or disorder that I've ever struggled with. Are either of these things operative in your psyche?

In any case, I think your expressed feelings & any behavior I've ever witnessed fall well within the range of what I consider to be normal, admitting my limited opportunity to observe you. Alternatively, I just enjoy the company of weird people.

Deciding to work on some behaviors which you feel may be perceived as eccentric or abrasive is probably more important than finding the right label to describe them.

I'll shut up now.

11:31 AM  

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