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I’m trying to finish a post on Russian painting, but it seems stuck. In the meantime, I wanted to write about this …

According to widely-quoted statistics, somewhere between 1 in a 100 and 1 in a 250 people have Asperger’s Syndrome.  A recent, as yet unpublished, piece of research at Cambridge University puts the figure at 1 in 58*.

Asperger’s Syndrome is sometimes otherwise called “high functioning autism” – those with Asperger’s Syndrome (often called “Aspies”, just as the syndrome is shortened to “Asperger’s”) do not show the same developmental indications as those with full-blown autism and, almost by definition, have an intelligence well above average if measured using the traditional IQ scale. The vast majority of these people are male. Professor Simon Baron Cohen characterises them as being very good “schematisers” and occupying one end of a spectrum, at the other end of which are the “empathisers”. The vast majority of empathisers are women.

Given all of this, it seems reasonable to assume that a pool of men, all of whom have IQs above, say, 130, will contain a sizeable number of men with Asperger’s syndrome. Men usually measure higher than women on traditional IQ tests, so it seems reasonable to assume that almost all women measuring, say, 130 on an IQ test would be schematisers, or have a degree of Asperger’s syndrome.

Not all men and women with Asperger’s will marry. Marriages with Aspies tend to fall into two camps. First there are those Aspies who marry other Aspies. Secondly, there are those Aspies who marry those who are “neuro-typical” or not Asperger’s. This is often a marriage of opposites where the strengths of one are complemented by the strengths of the other, or the weaknesses of one may be compensated for by the strengths of the other. Neuro-typical partners are often very empathetic but are still likely to have high IQs as they would be unlikely to interest the Aspie otherwise.

Because of the circles I move in, I know what seems like a huge number of men (but also women), with Aspergers, several of whom have received formal diagnoses from Professor Baron Cohen. The fact that they have Aspergers often comes to light when they have children. Aspergers is a highly hereditary condition (apparently). Often adults with Aspergers have learnt to fit into neuro-typical society, but their offspring have yet to learn and so the behavioural manners of the adult are magnified in the child.

I remember a philosophy class when, to the horrified silence of the rest of the class, I suggested that all babies should have a brain scan before their first birthday to discover whether or not they had Aspergers, and then should be cared for and educated accordingly. I actually wasn’t joking, but my comment was provoked by the misery of so many of my female friends.  These friends all seemed to be abandoning their marriages, usually for a man who was empathetic.  They all described living in an emotional desert, receiving no affection and no intimacy.  Yet their husbands were good men, devoted to their families and hardworking, if more than usually interested in arranging huge classical music collections alphabetically, or playing “Dungeons and Dragons” or achieving world wide acclaim for their esoteric mathematics.

Researchers in Sweden believe that early intervention can promote better outcomes for children with autism.  Babies in the Uppsala Babylab are being wired up so that their brain patterns can be followed.  Similar studies on infants are being carried out in London.

I move in circles where most of the men have very high IQs, and I have chosen female friends who have high IQs too. Some of these women probably have Aspergers, but a proportion do not. This second neuro-typical high functioning proportion tends to be married to men with similar or higher IQs. A significant number of these women are, therefore, married to men with Aspergers.

One odd thing about Aspies and love is that Aspies appear to function quite normally when they are “in love”. This period typically lasts about two years. After that the real work of “loving” as opposed to “being in love” starts. The Aspie does not know what “love”, outside the obsessional interest of being in love, means.

He will typically become immersed in his special interest – often his work – and will be disinterested in the minutiae of everyday life. He will have fixed ideas about things and will respond badly to being asked to do something that does not correspond to these fixed ideas. Typically he will not be in the slightest bit snobbish. He will typically have a very strong sense of fairness, though this sense of fairness is abstract. By abstract, I mean as it applies to other people, other than himself. Typically he will not be able to see why he should not do what he wants to do when he wants to do it. Typically he will not value possessions, needing very little. He will have almost no interest in clothes and will prefer them to be functional and comfortable rather than smart. He will only want what he actually needs to survive and will not see the point of anything else. He will typically not be interested in earning large sums of money – for he has no need of it. He will typically seem very pure and not of this world. He may have a tendency to take things literally, unless he has learnt to interpret phrases correctly. He may be fascinated with words, and very skilled at foreign languages. He will typically not hold a grudge, and will typically not be jealous. But he is not jealous because jealousy is tied up with preference and preference with love, and he is not concerned with that. He does not understand love as a “going out” feeling. He is more likely to understand love as “respect”. He will typically like rules, and be happy if they are followed. He will typically dislike holidays and leaving home. He will typically enjoy spending a lot of time by himself, away from other people. He will typically have been bullied at school. He will typically not have excelled at sports, though he may be able to recite all the winners of every football competition since the game was invented. He will typically be not quite sure what the point of women is, except to have his babies and bring them up. He will typically not imagine that she has any emotional needs, and will typically not see the point of wasting money on useless or decorative or fragrant presents or adornments. He will typically be close to his mother. He will typically have only a very small number of friends, and will share interests rather than feelings with them. He will typically always tell the truth, and speak his mind with no regard for the hurt the truth may cause: this is both a boon and a curse.  He will speak a different language which neurotypical people rarely grok.

He will usually be a very loyal friend, though you may not hear from him very often, and he will not know how to share what has been happening to him.  He will usually feel lonely sometimes, despite wanting to be alone, and will be devastated if those who he has high regard for disappear from his life but he will be unlikely to know what he should do about it.  He may have bouts of anger born of frustration.  He is likely to have periods of depression. Left to his own devices, on his own terms, he can be very happy with very little. Pushed to behave like a neuro-typical person, he will typically distance, and become very difficult. But then, so would a neuro-typical person asked to behave like someone with Asperger’s. He will have his own, unique character, and be shaped by his birth order and circumstances just like any other child would have been.

All of this is likely to produce confusion in his wife or partner.  On the one hand she will know him to be loyal, good, honest.  On the other hand she will experience him as being inside a glass ball.  However hard she knocks on the glass she cannot really get his attention, cannot really connect with him.  He will not know how to soothe her, or actively listen to her, he will not be able to put himself in her shoes.  He will not do empathy, though he might, if she is sad enough, feel sorry for her as he would for a wretched animal.  Psychologist have grouped together a basket of symptoms that such women often show, and have called it the Cassandra Phenomenon. The basket of symptoms is so called because the woman will rarely be believed when she describes the cause of her desolation: a romantic partnership demands a level of intimacy that no other relationship or friendship does, and so families and friends may not be aware of the deficit. It is easy to be judgmental when these women give up knocking on the glass and find emotional intimacy elsewhere. But these women are often not aware of the manifestations of Aspergers syndrome. Even if they are, it is a lot to ask of a woman, to live her life without emotional intimacy. Monkies wither away and die in similar circumstances. Simon Baren Cohen calls those women who stay with their Aspie husbands “saints”.

I often think that Christ (absent the miracles) may have been an Aspie. The internet was developed by Aspies for Aspies. At least, only Aspies would find it a truly rewarding form of communication. It suits them perfectly since there are no facial expressions or body language to read (they cannot read them very well, so better not to have the potential to misread them), and it also allows them time to process the speech they receive before they have to respond. This is true of emails, true of instant messaging (which need not be very “instant”) and comments on blogs. In my experience Aspies do not tend to be prolific bloggers. If they have their own blog it will usually only feature occasional posts. They may, however, be quite prolific commenters with a tendency to appear troll-like if they are not careful.

One of the most well-known writers about high-functioning autism is a woman called Temple Grandin. She is an expert on the industrial handling of livestock, but is also known for having invented a machine that will hug her. She writes this about the brains of those with autism and Asperger’s:

Autopsies of autistic, Asperger’s, and normal brains by Margaret Bauman and her colleagues reveal that in both autism and Asperger’s there is immature development of the cerebellum, amygdala, and hippocampus. Small cells are packed tightly in these immature parts of the brain, signifying true immature development, not damage or atrophy. Brains from people with autism are more immature in hippocampus development than are Asperger’s brains, which may help explain the cognition problems we see in low-functioning autism. The situation is reversed for the amygdala, a part of the brain that processes emotion. Here, the Asperger’s brain is often more abnormal than the autistic brain. Could the more normal hippocampus preserve the cognitive function in Asperger’s, with the less normal amygdala causing the social problems?

Corroboration comes from brain scan studies showing that people with Asperger’s or high-functioning autism process emotional information differently than do normal subjects. The British autism researcher Simon Baron-Cohen has done functional MRI studies indicating that normal people activate the amygdala to judge the expression in another person’s eyes, but people with Asperger’s call on fronto-temporal regions of the brain. It is true that brain scan studies show less clear-cut results in terms of differences in amygdala size than do autopsies, but this may result from the subjects’ positioning in the scanner, from gender, or from differences in diagnostic criteria. In 1999, Elizabeth Aylward and her colleagues at the University of Washington School of Medicine found that in male non-mentally retarded autistic adolescents and young adults, the amygdala was significantly smaller compared to normals. But a British study by Matt Howard and his colleagues showed that high-functioning autistics had a larger abnormal amygdala. A third study, by Mehmet Haznedar and Monte Buchsbaum, showed no differences. Possibly the differences among these studies could be explained by differences in the criteria used to diagnose the subjects. Also, a brain autopsy is more accurate than a brain scan on a living person. Brain autopsy research has shown that both Asperger’s people and the highest functioning people with autism have a small amygdala; in cases of low-functioning people, by contrast, the amygdala is more normal and the hippocampus more abnormal.

More recently, a study by Haznedar revealed that in the brain of the high-functioning autistic or Asperger’s person, the circuit between the anterior cingulate in the frontal cortex and the amygdala is not completely connected. As a result, people with autism or Asperger’s have decreased metabolism in the anterior cingulate.

These brain studies demonstrate that the social deficits in autism and Asperger’s are highly correlated with measurable biological differences. But the question remains: When does a difference in the size of a certain brain region become an abnormality, instead of just a normal variation? If I selected 100 people at random from a large corporation or at an airport and scanned their brains, I would find a range of differences in the size and activation level of their amygdalas. It is likely that brain scan results from this normal cross section of the public could be closely correlated with tests that evaluate sociability and social skills. Conducting this experiment on the general public would show that normal brain variation could be measured. Furthermore, people tend to choose careers that they are good at, and I predict that there would be a high correlation between a person’s job and the characteristics of the amygdala. Out of the 100 hypothetical people from a large corporation whose brains were scanned, the technical people in the computer department would probably show less activation in their amygdalas compared to the highly social salesman in the marketing department.

The rest is here.

Important Note:

 

I do not update this blog regularly any more.

More importantly, for more than the last five years I have been pursuing an intensive training in psychoanalytic psychotherapy.  Through the training I have gained insight to the degree to which so-called ‘autistic’ defences are used as a means of surviving very difficult childhoods, and I am more likely now to see those defences as developmental challenges than before.  I would point readers in the direction of the Tavistock Clinic in London which works with children and adults with autism and Asperger’s, and to the many writings of psychoanalysts on very early developmental intrusions.  Ogden, for example, writes about the ‘autistic-continguous’ position.  Rhode and Klauber have written a useful book, endorsed by the Tavistock Centre.

Good luck with your journey towards understanding.  I guess we can only begin where we start from, and try to find our way.

Babies
Uppsala Babylab
Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck College, University of London
Other sites
The Asperger Marriage Site
Alone Together: Making an Asperger Marriage work – if you read nothing else, read this …
National Autistic Society: Partners
Radio Four, Home Truths, An Asperger Marriage
Families of Adults Affected by Asperger’s Syndrome (FAAAS)
On-line Asperger Syndrom Information and Support (OASIS)

*A report of the research, published in the Guardian, has been removed from the newspaper’s website. The report said that some of the team of researchers believed that there was a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, but Professor Simon Baron Cohen has since distanced himself from their views.

See also my earlier posts: “The Space Between: Mind the Gap”; Asperger’s Test; Austistic Traits and Testosterone

I’ve been away from home for the last couple of weeks and dogged by poor internet connections, a computer that thinks it’s a pop-up book, and daughters who like to align their bedtimes with mine.  I tried to post this piece of writing last week, but it disappeared, and I gave up.  But here it is now.  It was sent to me by an old family friend who, last year, was brave enough to step into the lion’s den and try to mediate an end to the stand-off between my sister and me. 

A time comes in your life when you finally get it…
When in the midst of all your fears and insanity you
stop dead in your tracks and somewhere, the voice
inside your head cries out – ENOUGH!

Enough fighting and crying, or struggling to hold on. And, like a child quieting down after a blind tantrum, your sobs begin to subside, you shudder once or twice, you blink back your tears and through a mantle of wet lashes, you begin to look at the world through new eyes.

This is your awakening…

You realize that it’s time to stop hoping and waiting for something to change, or for happiness, safety and security to come galloping over the next horizon. You come to terms with the fact that he is not Prince Charming and you are not Cinderella and that in the real world, there aren’t always fairy tale endings (or beginnings for that matter) and that any guarantee of “happily ever after” must begin with you and in the process, a sense of serenity is born of acceptance.

You awaken to the fact that you are not perfect and that not everyone will always love, appreciate or approve of who or what you are … and that’s OK. (They are entitled to their own views and opinions.) And you learn the importance of loving and championing yourself and in the process, a sense of new found confidence is born of self-approval.

You stop complaining and blaming other people for the things they did to you (or didn’t do for you) and you learn that the only thing you can really count on is the unexpected. You learn that people don’t always say what they mean or mean what they say and that not everyone will always be there for you and that it’s not always about you. So, you learn to stand on your own and to take care of yourself and in the process, a sense of safety & security is born of self-reliance.

You stop judging and pointing fingers and you begin to accept people as they are and to overlook their shortcomings and human frailties and in the process, a sense of peace & contentment is born of forgiveness.

You realize that much of the way you view yourself and the world around you, is a result of all the messages and opinions that have been ingrained into your psyche. You begin to sift through all the junk you’ve been fed about how you should behave, how you should look and how much you should weigh, what you should wear and where you should shop and what you should drive, how and where you should live and what you should do for a living, who you should marry and what you should expect of a marriage, the importance of having and raising children or what you owe your parents. You learn to open up to new worlds and different points of view. You begin reassessing and redefining who you are and what you really stand for.

You learn the difference between wanting and needing and you begin to discard the doctrines and values you’ve outgrown, or should never have bought into to begin with and in the process, you learn to go with your instincts.

You learn that it is truly in giving that we receive and that there is power and glory in creating and contributing and you stop maneuvering through life merely as a “consumer” looking for your next fix.

You learn that principles such as honesty and integrity are not the outdated ideals of a by gone era, but the mortar that holds together the foundation upon which you must build a life.

You learn that you don’t know everything; it’s not your job to save the world and that you can’t teach a pig to sing. You learn to distinguish between guilt and responsibility and the importance of setting boundaries and learning to say NO. You learn that the only cross to bear is the one you choose to carry and that martyrs get burned at the stake.

Then you learn about love. Romantic love and familial love. How to love, how much to give in love, when to stop giving and when to walk away. You learn not to project your needs or your feelings onto a relationship. You learn that you will not be more beautiful, more intelligent, more lovable or important because of the man on your arm or the child that bears your name.

You learn to look at relationships as they really are and not as you would have them be. You stop trying to control people, situations and outcomes.

You learn that just as people grow and change, so it is with love; and you learn that you don’t have the right to demand love on your terms, just to make you happy.

You learn that alone does not mean lonely. You look in the mirror and come to terms with the fact that you will never be a size 5 or a perfect 10 and you stop trying to compete with the image inside your head and agonizing over how you “stack up.”

You also stop working so hard at putting your feelings aside, smoothing things over and ignoring your needs. You learn that feelings of entitlement are perfectly OK and that it is your right, to want things and to ask for the things that you want and that sometimes it is necessary to make demands.

You come to the realization that you deserve to be treated with love, kindness, sensitivity and respect and you won’t settle for less. You allow only the hands of a lover who cherishes you, to glorify you with his touch and in the process, you internalize the meaning of self-respect.

And you learn that your body really is your temple. And you begin to care for it and treat it with respect. You begin eating a balanced diet, drinking more water and taking more time to exercise. You learn that fatigue diminishes the spirit and can create doubt and fear. So you take more time to rest. Just as food fuels the body, laughter fuels our soul; so you take more time to laugh and to play.

You learn that for the most part in life, you get what you believe you deserve and that much of life truly is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

You learn that anything worth achieving is worth working for and that wishing for something to happen, is different from working toward making it happen.

More importantly, you learn that in order to achieve success you need direction, discipline and perseverance. You also learn that no one can do it all alone and that it’s OK to risk asking for help.

You learn that the only thing you must truly fear is the great robber baron of all time; FEAR itself. You learn to step right into and through your fears, because you know that whatever happens you can handle it and to give in to fear, is to give away the right to live life on your terms.

You learn to fight for your life and not to squander it living under a cloud of impending doom. You learn that life isn’t always fair, you don’t always get what you think you deserve and that sometimes bad things happen to unsuspecting, good people. On these occasions, you learn not to personalize things. You learn that God isn’t punishing you or failing to answer your prayers; it’s just life happening.

You learn to deal with evil in its most primal state; the ego. You learn that negative feelings such as anger, envy and resentment must be understood and redirected or they will suffocate the life out of you and poison the universe that surrounds you. You learn to admit when you are wrong and to build bridges instead of walls.

You learn to be thankful and to take comfort in many of the simple things we take for granted; things that millions of people upon the earth can only dream about; a full refrigerator, clean running water, a soft warm bed, a long hot shower. Slowly, you begin to take responsibility for yourself, by yourself and you make yourself a promise to never betray yourself and to never ever settle for less than your heart’s desire. You hang a wind chime outside your window so you can listen to the wind, and you make it a point to keep smiling, to keep trusting and to stay open to every wonderful possibility.

Finally, with courage in your heart and with God by your side you take a stand, you take a deep breath and you begin to design the life you want to live as best as you can.

 

I replied, thanking her, saying that I thought I managed about ninety percent of it, but only fifty percent of the time.  There are one or two bits I have my doubts about, but generally I liked it.

This video clip is for Elder Daughter who has not yet been allowed to watch the whole film, but has good reason to be interested in it :).

 
 
 

 

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