Alex P. Keaton was an Auspie
March 18, 2005 4:08 PM   Subscribe

My daughter came home last night with her school newspaper (written, designed, etc. by 4th and 5th graders). They interviewed a kid from their school who has Ausperger's syndrome, which I thought was very cool. I know just enough to recognize the name and the basics behind the syndrome. At the end of the article though they list a "fact" about Auspergers is that Bill Clinton, Albert Einstein, and Bill Gates are fellow Auspies. This is news to me, how about you? I can't seem to find any information that successfully contradicts or supports this unexpected claim.

My first response was "Where'd they get that information?" and I Googled it and came up with famous people. And all subsequent sites seem to either reproduce this same list or just point back to this site. I'm thinking this could be a teaching moment for the kids about getting information from the internet, but want to make sure I can get the right information from the internet.
posted by nramsey to Society & Culture (14 answers total)
That's because you misspelled it.
Asperger syndrome.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 4:19 PM on March 18, 2005

I was googling around and many links actually point back to this book:

Asperger's and Self-Esteem: Insight and Hope through Famous Role Models

The title itself is kind of shaky. Read some of the user reviews or read the book yourself and form your own opinions. Personally, I think its pseudo-science at work.
posted by vacapinta at 4:30 PM on March 18, 2005

Clinton? Has problems with social interaction? Please. Keeping it is his pants, yes, social interaction, no.

There's some evidence of Asperger's-like traits in Gates and Einstein. Einstein was also a very late talker.

But comparison of traits, especially without access to the subject, is not a diagnosis, and should not be used as a diagnosis.

This is essentially an attempt to make Aspies feel better, and I suspect Aspies appreciate it very little.

If you need an "inspirational" account of Asperger's or high-functioning autism, look at Temple Grandin.
posted by orthogonality at 4:33 PM on March 18, 2005

I was diagnosed with Asperger's. I spent some time with a group of people who really had Asperger's. I learned by being with them that I definitely do not have this disorder.

I agree that it has been overdiagnosed. Everyone with any strange little habits gets this label. My current psychiatrist specializes in it, and she is furious at the overdiagnosing currently going on. I would agree that this list is probably incorrect. Wikipedia has their own list, but stresses that these diagnoses are controversial.
posted by veronitron at 4:35 PM on March 18, 2005

I'm thinking this could be a teaching moment for the kids about getting information from the internet, but want to make sure I can get the right information from the internet.

Two excellent resources: Child & Family Web Guide (Tufts University)

Autistic, Asperger's and Other Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD) (About Our Kids - NYU Child Study Center).

As to your question about where to get good information on the web, when it comes to questions like these I would suggest trying to find a general health/medicine reference site rather than a specific site (i.e., AS).

The Multnomah County Library has a nice list of resources that would be helpful with AS or other medical questions. Good luck!
posted by mlis at 6:04 PM on March 18, 2005

I dunno I wouldn't be too quick to judge that site as accurate, they have Franz Kafka listed and IIRC he was diagnosed as a schizophrenic. Not to mention the diagnosing of cartoon/tv characters (wtf?). You might find this review of the book, "Autism and Creativity: Is There a Link between Autism in Men and Exceptional Ability?" by Michael Fitzgerald, enlightening. The author (Fitzgerald) read the biographies of famous people and determined that they displayed similar symptoms to his patients. This seems to be the source of some of those famous people listed in your geocities link. I'd try searching for more using the name of the book, I found a bunch of links but they were subscription (paid) based, might be more out there that can be viewed for free.
posted by squeak at 6:15 PM on March 18, 2005

I posted this on the front page some time ago, but it might have information helpful to you:

posted by anastasiav at 7:02 PM on March 18, 2005

This is such a trend right now. You're smart? You're a little weird? You make some people uncomfortable? Folks don't always understand what you're talking about? Hey -- you have Asperger's!

No, really. I don't want to go off brushing up on my disorders and posting a long clinical argument. I'll just say that In my undergrad training I worked with children who really did have Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Asperger's, and other variations of autism. These conditions are immediately obvious. The recent overdiagnosis of it is puzzling.

Anyway, this reminds me of what I saw in college the 80s and early 90s on GLBT Awareness Day. You'd pick up a table tent that said "Did you know these famous people in history were gay?" And it would list Emily Dickinson, Plato, Hemingway, etc. etc. etc. On looking into the sources for this information, it turned out to be as shallow as "Well, I read a biography of him/her, and they used to hold hands with their same-sex best friend..." Even in cases where there was homoerotic sexual activity, it misrepresents those individuals because a) they did not self-identify and b) our ideas and classifications about sexuality are virtually meaningless when applied to people who lived prior to oh, maybe the first third of this century. This strikes me as exactly the same "research" method squeak is talking about: reading interpretations of the lives of dead people and making assumptions about them not based on any clinical observation. Bad science! Bad history!

So I'd look into the source for the list. You know, a simple investigation would make a great Talk of the Town-style magazine piece. Call Bill Clinton's PR people and say "I read on such and such website that Clinton has Asperger's. Can you comment?' I bet you'd get some hilarious, puzzled, awkward responses.
posted by Miko at 8:49 PM on March 18, 2005

It is presumed (but not universally accepted) that Asperger's Syndrome is in the autistic spectrum of disorders. It is characterized primarily by
1). Outstanding, and early developing, verbal skills (that rules out Einstein),
2). Significant social deficits and lack of empathy (that rules out Bill Clinton), and
3). Obsessive interest in a fairly narrow topic. (well, Mr. Gates... ?)

Speculation has often placed Bill Gates as a high-functioning autistic (he has versions of some other autistic traits, including self-rocking), but there's not much evidence that he'd comfortably fit inside an Asperger's diagnosis.

If you have RealPlayer or Windows Media Player, and some time, here is a fascinating interview from NPR's Fresh Air with a psychiatrist tallking about Apserger's.
posted by curtm at 9:10 PM on March 18, 2005

Speaking from personal experience with my own child--Asperger's and PDD way too slippery a diagnosis to even apply most of the time in person. It's ludicrous to apply it remotely to some kind of public or historical figure. You have to use definitions so vague that almost anyone fits into them.

On the other hand, I think one has to forgive the typical 4th grade tendency to breathlessly overstate possibilities as "facts". It's very easy at that age to get overexcited about your observations of the world, and that's a very important stage. If there's a teaching moment there, I think it's on that broader level--just because a premise seems convincing, doesn't mean it's automatically true.

(On preview, Miko's definitely right--it's become almost trendy to label people with Asperger's now. Again, as someone with experience on this front, when a kid is really dealing with this sort of thing, it's not a "guess"'s obvious that _something's_ going on. You're just trying to figure out _what_.)
posted by LairBob at 9:26 PM on March 18, 2005

OK, I'm not too concerned that 4th-graders are passing around this stuff, if it gets them to see their schoolmate in a positive light. Heck, even the parents could use a dose.

I agree with most comments above -- it's trendy, and it's a popular parlor game to connect historical figures with modern medical diagnostic criteria. Usually, it's unprovable in any meaningful sense. Do note that the page you linked to, at least, calls it a list of "famous people with autistic traits" -- because psychological syndromes are basically just collections of symptoms which often occur together. Asperger's isn't debilitating in the same way that autism is usually understood to be -- and some of its traits can even be taken positively, i.e. in what's termed geek syndrome -- which is probably where most of those famous people actually fit.

For myself, I took the online Asperger's test and found that I pegged halfway between "neurotypical male" and the level of a classic Asperger's patient. I think that's about right for a lot of geeks.

(I worked with a computer tech a few years ago who had to be diagnosable -- a bundle of tics and obsessive-compulsive concerns, he really only related at all to other geeks.)

Clinton is infamously a policy wonk able to spontaneously ramble on about the demographics and political history of specific Congressional districts, or obscure details of broad legislative packages. That really doesn't make him an Aspie in any useful sense of the term. My father (and I, to a lesser extent) can go on and on about abstruse subjects long after listeners are bored silly. I think it can be useful to consider Asperger's etiology and especially coping mechanisms as a comparative process. I can relate to Aspies. I suspect that's as far as it goes.

Ultimately I think the teachable moment here is that all of us have traits which make us individuals, and understanding those traits which we have in common with people we consider and label as different is healthy, both individually and socially.
posted by dhartung at 10:06 PM on March 18, 2005

Only a clinician can diagnose a cognitive disorder.

Test caveat: The test is not a means for making a diagnosis, however, and many who score above 32 and even meet the diagnostic criteria for mild autism or Asperger's report no difficulty functioning in their everyday lives.

DSM-IV synopsis of Asperger's: Individuals with AS can exhibit a variety of characteristics and the disorder can range from mild to severe. Persons with AS show marked deficiencies in social skills, have difficulties with transitions or changes and prefer sameness. They often have obsessive routines and may be preoccupied with a particular subject of interest. They have a great deal of difficulty reading nonverbal cues (body language) and very often the individual with AS has difficulty determining proper body space. Often overly sensitive to sounds, tastes, smells, and sights, the person with AS may prefer soft clothing, certain foods, and be bothered by sounds or lights no one else seems to hear or see. It's important to remember that the person with AS perceives the world very differently. Therefore, many behaviors that seem odd or unusual are due to those neurological differences and not the result of intentional rudeness or bad behavior, and most certainly not the result of "improper parenting".

By definition, those with AS have a normal IQ and many individuals (although not all), exhibit exceptional skill or talent in a specific area. Because of their high degree of functionality and their naiveté, those with AS are often viewed as eccentric or odd and can easily become victims of teasing and bullying. While language development seems, on the surface, normal, individuals with AS often have deficits in pragmatics and prosody. Vocabularies may be extraordinarily rich and some children sound like "little professors." However, persons with AS can be extremely literal and have difficulty using language in a social context.

I think one of the key ideas about Asperger's is that, while people with it may not appear far out of the range of normal, they are unable to monitor and modulate their behavior in order to change their relationships with others. They often don't perceive that there is a gap between their behavior and others'. They wouldn't call themselves geeks. They don't notice that they're standing too close, shouting at you, repeating themselves a lot. The social functions are impaired. There's quite a bit of difference between that inability to read others' responses and just being an awkward geek. So far, 'awkward geek' just isn't in the DSM.
posted by Miko at 10:42 PM on March 18, 2005

Really, any document that would suggest Bill Clinton has Aspergers ought just be put down. Bill Clinton is regularly described by people who know him -- and even people who dislike him intensely -- as charming and socially perceptive to an almost uncanny extent. He's the anti-Aspergers if there was such a thing.
posted by MattD at 8:12 AM on March 19, 2005

If Bill Clinton has anything, it's ADD, not Asperger's. That's insane. Bill Gates is much more likely. Asperger's is part of the Pervasive Developmental Disability spectrum, the same spectrum on which Autism lies.
posted by abbyladybug at 9:40 AM on March 19, 2005

« Older web-based DNS maintenance product   |   Top open source projects? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.