Compiled by Andrew Basden.
In May 2002 I was diagnosed as having mild Asperger's Syndrome * (A.S.), which itself is a mild form of autism. Difficulty with non-verbal social phenomena is a main factor, and was the main thing that was mentioned in my diagnosis: I have difficulty in both giving and recognising normal non-verbal signs when with people. The finding explains why, for example, I have always had trouble in committee meetings: I always find myself being overspoken, and do not seem to be able to get a word in by ordinary means, resorting either to formal means (putting up a hand as a request to speak) or to interrupting someone else who is speaking. I have always tended to avoid 'networking' - something that is so essential for an academic career! It also explains why I sometimes have difficulty in knowing what a person's real mood is.
People with A.S. can also be very intense when speaking on a one-to-one basis, and not be aware to social conventions regarding how to talk or what to talk about. I have on occasion found I have made inappropriate contributions to discussion, some of them quite embarrassing!
I do not exhibit every symptom of A.S. Some A.S. people find it difficult to handle change and always want things to be the same, but I always like trying out new things. Some people with severe A.S. can be very shut-off from people, wrapped up in their own world, but this is not true of me. Indeed, I can be more aware of other people at a deep level than most people are. However, a milder form is found in focusing on certain activities; and I do find I cannot 'keep several balls in the air' as is required of, for example, managers. I much prefer to focus on a single activity or goal at a time, and devote my whole resources thereto. In such single-minded tasks I tend to commit myself to giving my best - another recognised trait of A.S. people.
As indicated by the last feature, A.S. is not all bad news. A.S. people can be creative, high-powered thinkers, with courage to make a contribution outside the mainstream; many academics have A.S. It has been said that computers were designed for and by people with A.S.! A.S. people also tend to be straightforward, not manipulating people or having hidden agendas. See 'Benefits of Asperger' below.
Prof. Tantam, who diagnosed me, suggested that two other of my characteristics are due to two other things and not due to A.S., though they often go together. One is Tourette Syndrome, which, he and his colleague believed, is what my noises etc. are. The other is scars from childhood; I was teased and bullied at school, and it was driven deep into my soul that Other People are horrible, nobody likes me, nobody believes me, nobody respects me, and so on. Prof. Tantam believed that the personality scars I bear from that are not in themselves Asperger's Syndrome, though the scars and the syndrome accentuate each other (and Tourette Syndrome makes me the butt of teasing laughter). For example, my inability to react normally in social situations probably contributed to my being teased and rejected in childhood.
Knowing I have these three things, distinct but related, has helped me make sense of how I am. I feel I can now move forward and face each in its own right rather than trying to cope with the whole tangle that I previously felt myself to be. However, my brother wisely suggested to me, I should be careful not to define myself in these terms. I am a human being created in the image of God, fallen but forgiven and indwelt by his Holy Spirit, and that fact is much more important than the three problems even if put together. And I have a supportive wife and two great sons who respect me and I respect them.
Some Benefits of Asperger
(Asperger's Syndrome is not all bad news. Here are some of its benefits, at least as I reflect on my own experience of it. Forgive me if this sounds a bit arrogant; it is 'direct', as mentioned above and below, because it tries to fulfil its own proclamation.)
We seek truth, not sham;
Reality, not opinion.
We say it like it is,
With no hidden agendas.
We're not imprisoned in what others think.
We like the best, the right,
Valuing every detail.
We're direct; single-minded,
We seek the optimum in each thing we do.
We think in different ways;
We try the unusual.
We work new things out
To their logical end -
Bequesting new ways of understanding things.
We are loyal, not scheming;
We eschew selfish gain.
We keep at it to the end,
We like to please everyone,
Disillusioned if we let anything down.
We see meaning in all.
We empathise 'the other' -
Animals, objects, habits,
People, young and old -
We dignify all who're overlooked by the crowd.
Sensitive to nuances
That others don't see,
We attend to the small
And link things differently.
We are artists - our medium is life itself.
Pain and Problems of Asperger ?
The pain or problems of Asperger's Syndrome is often just the other side of the coin from the benefits. There might be some pain that has nothing to do with the benefits, but by and large, in my experience, each benefit brings with it its own pain. Here are some ideas:
- We pay too little attention to what people expect and accept. Unless, that is, we make what people expect and accept a thing we focus intensely on - but then we do it awkwardly.
- Humour. We take it so seriously! We also take seriously, and at face value, the content that others joke about! We can see the joke, but we go beyond it to take the contents seriously. After all, in every joke there is a piece of truth.
- Humour. We speak seriously and dead pan even when we are telling a joke - but not with the expert timing of Humphrey Lyttleton or Henning Wehn. So nobody gets our jokes. And so we feel aggrieved.
- Because we want the best, valuing every detail, we get so intensely annoyed and irritable when things don't go as we expect.
- We have ideas out of the ordinary, and believe they are useful. So we try to foist them onto people. We come across badly. People react against this, and resist out ideas. So we try harder foisting, and they resist even more. And we get annoyed and angry, and disillusioned.
- Because of focusing intensely, we miss much. On the other hand, we often feel intuitively for things that others miss.
- Yet, feeling intuitively, we cannot express all we think or believe, so people misunderstand and we get frustrated that we have not been able to get across what we wanted to.
- We find meaning in all. What the crowd deems small and unimportant, we do not automatically assume to be small and unimportant. So we sometimes find it difficult to gain the type of sense of perspective that the crowd has, and end up pushing things they deem trivial. So they think us too focused on trivial things, and getting things out of proportion.
Or is it they who lack the right proportion? Sometimes the seemingly small or hidden things are the important. Did not Jesus Christ praise the impoverished woman who put two tiny coins into the Temple Treasury, saying she gave more than all the rich people did - because they gave out of their wealth, while she gave all she had to live on. Maybe the small is only small to the crowd because they overlook some aspects. That is why I find Dooyeweerd's aspects so useful.
- Conversely, we don't know what's important in others' eyes. We do indeed want to engage with what's important to others, because we want to do them good, but knowing what's important to others does not come naturally, and we have to think about it and work it out each time.
- As a result we witter on about things that are not really important to others. We don't present ourselves right.
- "What you and I do naturally [in social situations]," the consultant remarked to my wife in 2002, "he has to work out every time."
- Worse: we can even invite hostility. We often lack the usual facial expressions that put people at ease and, instead, stare or make inappropriate expressions.
- I find I cannot easily recognise people - so I am scared to say 'hello' to them in case it is someone I don't know - so we give people the idea that we are unfriendly, which is not the case.
- I work in a university. Universities used to be places where Aspies could make a real contribution, because they used to be places where new ideas were welcomed and debated. But not now. Now, in this age driven by accountancy and fear of league tables, the 'oddities' that Aspies offer are seen as risks that bring zero brownie points to the management-oriented heads of departments and the ever-burgeoning senior management. Ironically, accountancy loves detail and Aspies love detail, so maybe universities should be filled with accountancy-oriented people and lose whatever trickle of new ideas still remains.
See Confessions of an Aspergic Professor
David Livingstone - Did he exhibit Asperger's Syndrome?
I wonder if David Livingstone (born 200 years ago) had Asperger's Syndrome? My sources for the following are a BBC Radio 4 discussion on World At One (WATO) today (10 March 2013), and the book David Livingstone - The Unexplored Story by Stephen Tomkins [Lion, 2013]. Both were good, at showing both the positive and negative sides.
- Deeply committed, once he found what he believed to be real. (Tomkins)
- Teased by other lads in the mill because he was different. (WATO)
- "He was unique" (WATO)
- Wanted the best - we know he (and criticise him for) advocated 'Christianity, civilisation and commerce', but forget that this was in order to stop the slave trade.
- He seemed to think differently, 'out of the box'. For example, he believed strongly in an African church led by Africans rather than Europeans. (Tomkins)
- He felt intuitively but thought things through. e.g. he could see the need to provide a route to the interior of Africa that was not a slave-trade route. (Tomkins)
- For example, he questioned whether polygamy was as bad as Europeans said it was, seeing it not as adultery but as a social or political problem (WATO).
- He was at odds with most missionaries (the crowd), and found it easier to relate to the Africans than to them. (Tomkins) He embraced African ways of thinking. (WATO)
- He was poor as a leader, for example not realising that he had offended his colleagues. Asperger people often offend without realising it. (Tomkins, several places)
- He was easily angered and held grudges, making enemies easily among other missionaries.
- It sometimes seemed as if he were treating his work as his own personal project - yet at the same time he was at pains not to. He had a different attitude.
- He would say things as he saw them. e.g. expressing the disappointingly poor results of European missionary activity. (Tomkins, p.56)
- He was self-critical, and open about the possibility that he might be wrong. (Tomkins, p.89)
- He married not for romance but for practical reasons - but then grew in love as the years went on.
- He did duty: invested in people even though he chafed for more visible success. His single convert, Sechele, whom he thought had lapsed, in fact stayed with Jesus Christ and became a much more effective missionary to his own people than any of the European missionaries (Tomkins, p.236), and also Sechele was the only African leader to have withstood the Boers.
- ... more to come, but the above, I think, is enough for today.
See also ...
Notes and References
* Note on the name "Asperger Syndrome". A few years ago, it was suddenly discovered that Dr. Asperger had links with the Nazi Party. So, overnight, his name was excised. We are now supposed to call it "On the Spectrum" or "Autism Spectrum Disorder" (despite it not being a disorder but a gift!). Martin Heidegger, the great European philosopher, also had links with the Nazi Party, indeed was a member. Why hasn't his name been excised? Why don't we rename his philosophy "Situational Philosophy" or something? Until Heidegger's name is excised from mainstream philosophy, I intend to continue to call what characterizes some of me "Asperger Syndrome".
Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2002, 2013, (especially, I suppose, the verse) but you may use this material as you wish as long as it is not done in an adversarial manner - because words can never fully express what I mean - and as long as you give credit where it is due.
Last updated: 30 June 2002, 11 July 2002, 15 September 2002, 22 September 2002. 9 May 2008 benefits of aspg version 1, 16 May 2008 version 2, 18 May 2008 version 3. 22 May 2008 began the Pain. 1 January 2009 various pain. 10 March 2013 pain slightly rewritten, and rid a redundant phrase in Benefits, and modified the copyright; Livingstone; 'see also'; contents. 21 April 2013 some modifications to Livingstone list. 4 November 2015 universities. 7 March 2016 corrected links (Thanks to Beverley Winn for pointing them out), link to confessions, and to unvs. 26 September 2021 Nazi note. 1 February 2022 rid old 'new'. 11 July 2022 added books and xnr.