The Discovery of Aspie

The Discovery of Aspie

Carol Gray and Tony Attwood

Some of this century’s best discoveries were creative and determined efforts to answer “What if…?” questions. What if people could fly? What if electrical energy could be harnessed to produce light? What if there was an easily accessible, international communication and information network? The answers have resulted in permanent changes: air travel, light bulbs, the Internet. These discoveries have rendered their less effective counterparts to relative extinction from use: gone is the stagecoach, gas lighting, and multi-volume hardbound encyclopedias. These improvements remind us of our option and ability to experiment, re-mold, re-think, and imagine. In that spirit, this article submits a new question: What if Asperger’s Syndrome was defined by its strengths? What changes might occur?

Moving from diagnosis to discovery
Making any diagnosis requires attention to weaknesses, the observation and interpretation of signs and symptoms that vary from typical development or health. Certainly it would be a little disarming to visit a doctor for a diagnosis, only to have her inquire, “So, what feels absolutely great?” The DSM 5 (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) assists in the identification of a variety of disorders. It is used by psychiatrists and psychologists to match observed weaknesses, symptoms and behaviors to text. In DSM 5 Autism Spectrum Disorder, which includes Asperger’s Syndrome, is identified by specific diagnostic criteria, a constellation of observed social and communication characteristics. Once diagnosed, a child or adult with the diagnosis is referred to with politically correct “people first” terminology, i.e. a person with Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

Unlike diagnosis, the term discovery often refers to the identification of a persons strengths or talents. Actors are discovered. Artists and musicians are discovered. A great friend is discovered. These people are identified by an informal combination of evaluation and awe that ultimately concludes that this person – more than most others – possesses admirable qualities, abilities, and/or talents. It’s an acknowledgment that, “… you know, he’s better than me at …”. In referring to people with respect to their talents or abilities, politically correct “people first” terminology is not required; labels like musician, artist, or poet are welcomed and considered complimentary.

If Asperger’s syndrome was identified by observation of strengths and talents, it would no longer be in the DSM 5, nor would it be referred to as a syndrome. After all, a reference to someones special strengths or talents does not use terms with negative connotations (it’s artist and poet, not Artistically Arrogant or Poetically Preoccupied), nor does it attach someones proper name to the word syndrome (it’s vocalist or soloist, not Sinatra’s Syndrome).

New ways of thinking of thinking often lead to discoveries that consequently discard their outdated predecessors. It could result in typical people rethinking their responses and rescuing a missed opportunity to take advantage of the contributions of those with autism to culture and knowledge.

Discovery Criteria for Aspergers Syndrome, by Attwood and Gray

A. A qualitative advantage in social interaction, as manifested by a majority of the following:

1. peer relationships characterised by an absolute loyalty and impeccable dependability
2. free of sexist, “age-ist”, or cultural biases; ability to regard others at “face value”
3. speaking one’s mind irrespective of social context or adherence to personal beliefs
4. ability to personal theory or perspective despite conflicting evidence
5. seeking an audience or friends capable of: enthusiasm for unique interests and topics; consideration of details; spending time discussing a topic that may not be of primary interest to others
6. listening without continual judgement or assumption
7. Interested primarily in significant contributions to conversation; preferring to avoid “ritualistic small talk” or socially trivial statements and superficial conversation
8. seeking sincere, positive, genuine friends with an unassuming sense of humour.

B. Fluent in autism, a social language characterised by at least three of the following:

1. a determination to seek the truth
2. conversation free of hidden meaning or agenda
3. advanced vocabulary and interest in words
4, fascination with word-based humour, such as puns
5. advanced use of pictorial metaphor

C. Cognitive skills characterised by at least four of the following:

1. strong preference for detail
2. original, often unique perspective in problem solving
3. exceptional memory and/or recall of details often forgotten or disregarded by others, for example: names, dates, schedules, routines
4. avid perseverance in gathering and cataloguing information on a topic of interest
5. persistence of thought
6. encyclopaedic or digital knowledge of one or more topics
7. knowledge of routines and a focused desire to maintain order, consistency and accuracy
8. clarity of values/decision making unaltered by political or financial factors

D. Additional possible features

1. acute sensitivity to specific sensory experiences and stimuli, for example: hearing, touch, vision, and/or smell
2. strength in individual sports and games, particularly those involving endurance, visual accuracy or intellect, including rowing, swimming, bowling or chess
3. “social unsung hero” with trusting optimism: frequent victim of social weakness and prejudices other others, while steadfast in the belief of the possibility of genuine friendship
4. increased probability over general population of attending university after high school
5. often take care of others outside the range of typical development

Perhaps we have discovered the next stage of human evolution?

(c) Tony Attwood and Carol Gray 2014 All Rights Reserved
Republished with permission from the author (TA)

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One thought on “The Discovery of Aspie

  1. Pingback: Caroline Leaf – Carrie Fisher killed by bipolar meds | Dr C. Edward Pitt

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