Christmas Day, a notebook computer, and internet access: a dangerous combination? I’ve been on holiday for over two weeks now, and have found it surprisingly easy to forget about work, even when I went out for dinner and drinks with colleagues from work. I’ve had more time to think about various things, as you can see by the increased number of posts on this blog, and the internet access means I’m able to check my speculations against other sources.
Last week someone asked me if I was autistic. No, Stewart, I’m not. Nevertheless; even an oddly tactless question such as that gets me thinking. I note that I may have some of the personality traits associated with Asperger Syndrome or High-Functioning Autism (HFA). There’s another description of Asperger, along with the current USA official (DSM IV) criteria for diagnosis, here.
If I go by that, it’s not a clear-cut case: for example, while I do not like excessively loud noises, it has to be really loud before I feel a negative reaction. I don’t have the same sensitivity with tastes and other sensations – quite the contrary e.g. I like good curry and chili, and have no problem with loud movies with explosions and psychedelia. If I do have Asperger, it’s a mild case. Section B of the DSM description is rather woolly and open to subjective interpretations, in my opinion.
I remember, at a young age, having difficulty with some fine motor skills, wondering “how could that other kid tie his shoelaces so quickly?” and “why is handwriting so hard?” I’m not generally clumsy, however, just never much good at sports. On the other hand, I’m not hyperlexic (knowing many words without understanding them), definitely not hung up on routines and order, nor do I have interests that I follow to the exclusion of others – quite the opposite, in fact.
One particular criterion jumped out at me when I read about it: an inability to hold someone’s gaze. No-one has commented on this, but I have noticed it myself, and wondered what’s up with that. I soon found myself asking why looking at someone, while talking to them, is supposed to be a good thing. I find it distracting, especially when a change in someone’s facial expression indicates a response to what I am saying. Am I supposed to stop, change gear, and say something else in response? Should whatever it is I am saying be “held ransom” to the listener’s reaction, or do I have the right to say it all? I think I do, and I wouldn’t ask someone to freeze their expression unnaturally for my sake, while I’m speaking – it’s not their problem, is it? Rather let me look away and finish saying what I’m saying, before your reaction is brought in to play.
Self-diagnosis is risky, of course, but I find the most convincing evidence in the descriptions of how other people can help; there is specific advice to family and friends to be supportive, think about what they are saying, and avoid vague ambiguity when imparting specific information. HFA, as described here, describes children with communicative disorders, something I did not experience, so I can stop using the word Autism straight away.
I do find it annoying when other people can’t explain what they mean, and constantly wish they could be more precise. I would call that a distinct advantage in my line of work, where the nature of a technical problem can hinge on a small discrepancy in the problem description we get from the customer. This may also serve to explain why being asked if I’m autistic was annoying; since the term autism carries an unjustified social stigma, and covers such a broad spectrum of disorders, it was little better than asking “is there something wrong with you?” It would have been better to make specific references to Asperger and/or HFA. with details of how they might be relevant to me, and links to sources to back up your observations.
So, what now? Am I bothered? Do I need my head examined? I am getting it examined, literally, in about 3 weeks time. (I am scheduled for a second MRI scan, this time on my brain, which I will say more about later.) From a psychological viewpoint, however, the syndromes I’m writing about today are based on modern theories, with diagnoses and treatments that are still experimental and speculative – or so it looks to me. For now, I’ll start with the knowledge I have, and knowledge (as opposed to mere information) is always a good thing.