March 22nd, 2005

Cross-posted from Aspergers:

I'd posted this in the Aspergers' community; if you're not active there I'd like your thoughts and opinions anyway:

My copy of "Asperger Syndrome" by Klin, Volkmar, and Sparrow compares six different clinical sets of criteria for A/S. The factors involved are (category headings only; detail omitted for brevity):

Social Impairment
Language issues
All-absorbing interest (related to hyperfocusing abilities)
Distinction from Autism
Lack of mental retardation or active intellectual brilliance.

Two other important characteristics I've seen mentioned elsewhere are extreme concepts of loyalty, and being "Bully Magnets."

What all six models share is that they're symptom catalogs, rather than attempts to understand the underlying cause of what's actually happening.

I have two thoughts I'd like to explore. The first is that these symptoms may have relation to each other without being directly causal; someone can be "one of us" even while not displaying most of the symptoms, and some people displaying most of the symptoms still don't feel like "us". I know one guy who applied his hyperfocusing ability to studying socialization, for example; he's now a teriffically successful salesman, and still doesn't feel like he's of the same species as his customers. "I'm a border collie herding fat middle-aged men with midlife crises onto Harleys" was one poetic description.

Maybe the language issues reflect an underlying different model of how the world works, for example. This would lead to a tendency to develop linguistic models that reflect that view, rather than the dominant view -- but it'd be a *tendency*, not a requirement. Someone more socially conservative might learn the language model they're presented with and then try to present their distinct view of the world in the pre-existing model, which would look different from someone who tried to produce a new model from scratch.

The second issue is the approach the psych research community takes to exploring it. They're driven by what they can get funding for, and funding tends to go to approaches that result in expensive new drugs for pharmaceutical companies to get rich on, or expensive therapy approaches that can result in lucrative institutes to be founded by the researchers. Researchers are human; many of them do elect to follow the money. So I have no doubt that the research will be steered in the direction of discovering some biological cause that can then be cut, drugged, or therapied out of existence. And the *label* Aspergers will then be shifted to *mean* that particular biological cause, and the rest of us that don't have that cause will get dumped back into PDD-NOS, where we were before A/S was invented, and ADD before that.

But what if our underlying common characteristic is a different way of thinking, that is encouraged but not controlled by having different abilities? Having hypertrophied intellect, we can more readily discern our connection with our social environment, though some people with average intellect and greater perception could end up in the same situation; this perceived greater importance causes us to *seek out* information about it, even at a very young age; the act of that seeking hypersensitizes us to this information, and so we become easily damaged by overload and learn to shut out the world to decrease the pain. Shutting out the world leads to social awkwardness, much like trying to read facial expressions indoors with dark sunglasses on in a poorly lit room.

There's an additional idea that should go here that I can't pull out of my brain right now; if you've got a sophistic pair of pliers I could borrow I'd appreciate it. I think I've presented enough of a framework to get started on, even without the extra concept, though, so let's keep going. The idea has something to do with personal responsibility for the social environment, and relates to the

And maybe some of us are clumsy and some aren't, but the psych industry only deals with people who have *pre-selected themselves* for a willingness to identify as being damaged, and also for people willing to exert the energy to work this social system for their own benefit, which in the US at least is damn near a full-time job. So if acting clumsy increases the odds of getting benefits, suddenly some people become clumsy. Or, more subtly, "thinking damaged" to play to the sympathies of the researcher results in unconscious but nonetheless deliberate clumsiness.

And I've got more on my mind, but I have to be careful about over-filling folks' brains, or they just give me glazed looks, nod, and move on. So, may I have the honor of your comments and opinions?