Thursday, 12 July 2012

Aspies are not A**h*les

Anyone who spends more than few milliseconds reading Internet forums and unmoderated comments discovers that the anonymity of the Internet encourages some people to make the kind of inflammatory remark they'd likely never make face to face. If called on it, some people "apologize" (not) by claiming they can't help it because they lack social skills. Apparently some go even further, pretending they have Asperger's Syndrome, a recognized psychological condition. Being an Aspie is supposed to be some sort of trump card to cut off criticism.

Personally, I expect that very few of these claims ("pretend" is Norman English for "claim") are valid.

I happen to have regular close real-life contact with three people who have official diagnoses of Asperger's and other autism spectrum disorders, from registered psychologists, plus moderately regular contact with another over the Internet. None of them act like a**h*les.

People with Asperger's vary a lot in their behaviour: A "Syndrome" is a collection of symptoms, and different people display different subsets. Deliberately insulting people isn't on any list I've seen. It's a myth that autistics don't care about other people's emotions. They have trouble recognizing what other people are feeling, or predicting how people will react, but are perfectly capable of caring once they figure it out or are told about it. An Aspie who hurts your feelings is as likely as a neurotypical (perhaps more likely) to make a sincere apology.

In my experience what you'll often see from correspondents with Asperger's is some combination of:
  • Saying too little to property explain themselves. One of my contacts says "we think other people can read our minds."
  • Literal-mindedness: if you write figuratively or pick a slightly "wrong" word, they're less likely to pick up on the subtleties of what you're trying to get across. This can lead to "correcting" your statements; it's sometimes an attempt to make sure everyone understands what you meant to say.
  • All-or-nothing thinking. Some problem that's "minor" to a neurotypical can be "major" to an Aspie. This might be part of the "correcting your statements" issue I mentioned -- but it's exactly the attitude you'd want from a software tester or a safety inspector.
  • Fascination with the details of narrow topics. Combined with difficulty predicting other people's reactions, this can lead to writing on and on about things you might not care about. This is the exact opposite of "saying too little" -- but it usually applies only to their current main interest.
You'll see all of these to some extent in neurotypicals, too -- it's just more pronounced and common if you have Asperger's, and harder to change.

One final thing about Asperger's: I've been told that psychologists will only diagnose it in children (except possibly the extreme form listed in DSM-IV). Adults learn to compensate. So should neurotypicals acting like a**h*les.