Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome are not Sociopaths. Sociopaths are Sociopaths.

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How many of us shudder each and every time there’s “breaking news” of some lone teenager somewhere, (almost always a male), reported to have gone on a shooting rampage, just knowing that sooner or later the initial shock of the rampage will turn to the tried, but oh so rarely true speculation, that the lone teenage gunman in question, has Asperger’s Syndrome?

I know that I sit and cringe, firstly for the harm inflicted, and secondly for the offensive accusations that cause the fear and mistrust of all individuals with Asperger’s which inevitably accompany each and every report of this kind.

And frankly, I’m baffled by the media’s constantly misaligned assertions as there seems to be  no genuine link between Asperger’s Syndrome, in either men or women, and a propensity towards violence.

There is however a genuine link to be made between those individuals who experience sociopathy and a propensity towards acts of violence.

Clinically, individuals who experience Asperger’s Syndrome are purported to share some of the same challenges as those who experience sociopathy, however, sharing the same challenge is in no way the equivalent of sharing the same underlying traits.

So what are the challenges that both individuals with Asperger’s and sociopaths are said to share?

Well, according to a jaw droppingly chilling autobiography titled “Confessions or a Sociopath” written by female author M.E. Thomas, who is herself a clinically diagnosed sociopath, they are, an inability to read people’s facial expressions and body language, difficulty with understanding social rules and most importantly an overwhelming lack of empathy for others.

Um…..well…. yes, to the first shared challenge, yes to the second shared challenge and an enormous NO to the last one.

I’ll admit that there were some parts of Thomas’s book that I could relate to, and dare I say it, even empathize with.

Take for instance the high levels of confusions she describes feeling as her early awareness that she felt as if she were running on an entirely different operating system to other children her own age blossomed , and how these self-identified differences within her were ignored by the adults around her, purely because she had been born female.

Such feelings and challenges are common to many adults with Asperger’s, particularly those diagnosed later in life, and especially women.

So too are Thomas’s descriptions of both being initially unaware of and confused by her inability to automatically read social cues, body language and the facial expressions of others.

Yet this is where any and all similarities end for me as Thomas then goes on to describe how her inability to feel any form of empathy towards the suffering of others empowered her life for the better and made her feel like a superhero.

Thomas openly states that she felt as if her differences, far from lowering her self-esteem, and making her feel vulnerable, actually served to build up her self-esteem to the point where, from a young age, she believed herself to be far superior to those around her.

She felt that she was mentally and physically stronger than other girls because she was not weakened by emotions.

She also states that, despite her claimed lack of ability to read other people’s expressions and body language, she nevertheless became extremely good at “reading people”.

So good in fact, that whilst still in primary school, she was able to pit girls against each other simply by befriending those she viewed as being overly emotional, hence overly trusting, and learning their secrets, only in order to tear them apart by sharing those secrets with others when it either most suited her for personal reasons or at times in which the unleashing of those secrets would cause the most possible harm.

She describes in great detail her relish, both as a child and an adult, in applying her skill set to the ruination of other people’s relationships, careers and basically their lives, for little more than amusement.

As far as I can tell from her descriptions,  for Thomas, unlike those of us with Asperger’s Syndrome, she either learned the social rules extremely quickly with little or no trial and error needed or, she never really genuinely lacked an understanding of those unspoken, but oh so ardently adhered to social rules that so often throw us off-balance.

It seems to me as if she must have understood the rules, how else would she have been able to use them well enough against those she chose too, even as far back as primary school if she didn’t at least have some idea what they where.

Hence, the rational conclusion is that she knew them but just didn’t care enough to obey any social or moral rules, that did not in some way amuse her or benefit her own ends.

For me, this raises the question of whether or not individuals with sociopathy are actually lying about being unaware of body language and social cues in order to down play or “mask” the true level of deceit behind their manipulation of others and in this way garner sympathy rather than condemnation for engaging in their chosen sport of destruction.

As many individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome can attest, we don’t “ignore” social rules simply because we figure we’ll get more out of life if we blunder around annoying, using or offending everyone else.

Far from it.

Our social blunders are never calculated manoeuvres designed to get us what we want as quickly as possible, because if that’s what they’re meant to achieve for us then clearly, we’re doing it all wrong as they often have the opposite effect of seeing us shut out of conversations, friendship groups and even family units.

No, individuals with Asperger’s do not play at being unaware of social rules simply to garner attention or bring about another person’s destruction.

We are not willingly choosing to “ignore” them in order to get what we want; we genuinely do not understand them.

Yet for a sociopath, or so it would seem, “ignoring” social rules in order to gain an often unfair advantage over another is both a willful choice and a tactic, while for individuals with Asperger’s, it is neither a choice nor a tactic, it is for want of a better word a form of “social blindness.”

Due to this “social blindness” there is often a very clear trajectory of vulnerability that flows through our lives as a result of our difficulties/ inability to accurately discern the actions and intentions of other people.

Time and time again we’ find ourselves falling victim to those who are good at lying and deceiving us with their false sincerity and intentions.

In other words, individuals with Asperger’s are more likely to be the victims of the vicious mind games that sociopath’s like Thomas describe playing rather than being the perpetrators of such games.

After having read all that Thomas has to say in her book about living the life of a sociopath, all be it a high functioning one, I hold no doubt what so ever that I am not one.

I do not fit into any of the clinical markers of sociopathy.

In fact, I’m not even close to it.

I do however fit within the majority of the clinical markers for Asperger’s Syndrome or high functioning Autism if you prefer and have been diagnosed accordingly.

As an individual with Asperger’s I can tell you that I love and care about people, shed tears of sorrow simply watching the nightly news, and do not try to deceive, mislead or harm anyone.

But that’s just me and I accept that everyone on the spectrum is different.

However, I do believe that after reading Thomas’s book there is an argument to be made that perhaps too many sociopaths are being misdiagnosed at an early age as having Asperger’s Syndrome based purely on the erroneous assumption that because individuals with Asperger’ share the challenge of being unable to read body language and social nuances correctly, and do not respond as expected in social situation, they therefore share the same inability to feel empathy in the same way that sociopath do.

Most professionals worth their title now agree that individuals with Asperger’s do not lack empathy, far from it, if anything they are entirely overwhelmed by it.

Yet despite this the myth remains within the public’s mind that every lone gunman must have Asperger’s and here’s why….

There’s been an indelible link carved into the minds of the public regarding any and all persons who are perceived as having a lack of empathy.

Basically as far as most people are concerned having a of lack of empathy, even if it’s only a perceived lack of empathy, thanks to sociopaths like Thomas, means that people will view you as the kind of individual who has the capacity to kill, harm or maim, any living thing, without remorse.

Hence individuals with Asperger’s, who are merely perceived as having a lack of empathy due to their lack of facial expression or lack of socially appropriate responses to highly emotionally charged situations, are viewed as being as dangerous as a real sociopath, a person who genuinely feels no empathy for others and because of this, is indeed prone to acts of violence regardless of whether they be cold and highly calculated or random opportunism.

Sociopaths like Thomas provide example after example of what a life truly devoid of all empathy looks like and it’s not pretty.

From childhood on-wards her life has been filled with manipulating people, lying to them, winning people’s trust purely for the purpose of betraying, wanting to physically kill people for the slightest of perceived infractions, mask wearing, deceit and corruption, and even the wanton killing of a small animal simply because it had the misfortune of falling into her pool on a day that was inconvenient for her.

Given these examples, it’s little wonder that people would rather not mix with Sociopaths, heck I wouldn’t either.

Which is exactly why I don’t  want either my son, my daughter, myself or anyone else to be even remotely thought of as being a potential sociopath simply because our differences for some prehistoric reason place us in line beside those for whom it’s a well proven fact that a lack of empathy is a marker of sociopathy.

The truth is that sociopaths do indeed lack empathy whereas individuals with Asperger’s are often merely perceived as not showing any outward signs of empathy, whilst feeling such emotions just as keenly as almost everybody else.

Perhaps there is also one last, but very salient reason as to why young sociopaths are predisposed to being diagnosed erroneously as having Asperger’s, and that is the rather inconvenient fact that, according to the strictures of the DSM-V Sociopathy, unless it is extreme, cannot be diagnosed in a child under the age of 16.

Herein lies the problem because according to Thomas, not only did her sociopathic tendencies first emerge during childhood, so too, did her blatant mastery of them to bully, cheat, lie, steal and manipulate those around her.

She even instigated and encouraged a group of girls to make a false sexual harassment claim against a male teacher for her own revenge against him for not receiving  an A in his class.

If you combine the existence of such sociopathic childhood behaviors with the inability of Psychologists to actually diagnose sociopathy in children, along with parents for whom it is much easier to be told that their child has high functioning Autism rather than that their child’s a sociopath, for whom there are no treatments, hence no pharmaceutical remedies, then you are in effect creating a breeding ground for misdiagnosis and confusion.

And people are genuinely confused by all of this and given the circumstances, who can blame them.

There needs to be a much clearer way to discuss and define the intrinsic differences between those who purportedly initially share similar social challenges, yet who have an entirely different etiology and outcome as a result of those challenges.

I’ll end this post with one of the questions that Thomas herself regularly challenges the readers of her book to ponder is over………

“Could you be a sociopath and not know it?”

Perhaps if you are an individual who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s but truly feel you have a complete inability to feel empathy, I challenge you to ask yourself the same question.

You may well wish to consider taking the Sociopath test instead of the Aspie Test.

If you do, be sure and let me know how you go as I’d love to know.

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16 thoughts on “Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome are not Sociopaths. Sociopaths are Sociopaths.

  1. Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of psychiatry and psychology at Cambridge University, adds to the confusion with his book “Zero Degrees of Empathy”, which claims that both sociopaths and Aspergians have “zero degrees of empathy”.

    1. Yes indeed he does Bonnie. Many of Baron-Cohen’s ideas have been questioned and many articles have been written regarding the biases that often inform the parameters of both his research questions and the inferences he derives from those researched. It has been claimed that his perspective is skewed in favor of furthering his own theories and therefore his research always ends up reflecting his own biases.

  2. Before I realized I might be an Aspie, I wondered about this but ruled it out as I certainly have no lack of empathy- to the contrary. I have to deliberately shut myself off from people. I have been accused throughout my life of being self-absorbed, self-centered, and “stand-offish.”

  3. Thank you so much for writing this. As the mother of a high functioning autistic/Asperger”s son, I hold my breath every time there’s a mass shooting, just waiting for them to say the suspect was/is HFA or Asperger’s.

  4. It is new to me that “an inability to read people’s facial expressions and body language” or “difficulty with understanding social rules” are criteria for psychopathy/sociopathy, and I don’t believe it… on the contrary. A quick search does not confirm those criteria either, see for example Wikipedia’sPsychopathy checklist article, it does not mention it either.

    Everything I have ever heard about psychopathy/sociopathy lists disregard for social rules, lack of affective empathy (so not an ability to know what people are feeling but a lack of emotional response and a desire to you it for one’s own advantage), lack of remorse, conduct problems, chronic boredom, hurting others for amusement et.c.

    If M.E. Thomas had challenges reading face expressions and body language as a child, then it sounds like she could have had sociopathy and Asperger syndrome. However, (just like you say) her ability to manipulate and take advantage of people from an early age suggests that she did not have such challenges. It suggests that she (unlike autistic people) had clever social skills combined with lack of social integrity and conscience, which is precisely the marks of a sociopath. (I’m relying on your description alone, have not read the book)

    It it an interesting (and chilling) thought that kids with social conduct problems (especially males) may get misdiagnosed with Aspergers, it sounds likely. That’s scary… because the social skills training et.c they may receive as support for their “autism” may go straight in their sociopath toolbox. The social consequences of their outbursts and harmful schemes of hurting people may then be interpreted as asperger social skils problems, and therefore not addressed morally. Their victims may be told to be tolerant and understanding of their “disability”. Chilling…

    The “aspie” sociopaths may themselves believe that the social consequences of their hurtful behaviours are autistic social skills problem, that the NT world does not understanding them because they are “special”… Actually the “aspie supremacy” cultural trend could serve as a fortification for such people.

    I also think it is a good question, because some of the male lone killers do seem to actually have been diagnosed with aspergers as children or adolescents, and of those who haven’t, some do seem to have a history of social difficulties that could have attracted a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome.

  5. When I was little, I did enjoy watching fights and seeing other kids get into trouble. I also remember feeling glad it’s not me in trouble. This was before I realized they had feelings and before I understood and I grew out of this trait once I realized. I also used to enjoy getting my brothers into trouble because it was my revenge for them touching my stuff and messing up my doll house or my play house or for going in my room. I never felt how others were feeling and for a while I thought that was my Asperger’s because it said we lacked empathy and not understand how others feel. Then that was debunked as a myth and I wonder if I have any sociopath or psychopath traits. Is it possible to still have any and not actually act on them and not do what the girl did in her book? I was oblivious to social rules and I would try and figure them out by watching others but I didn’t really understand so i copied anyone including little kids because I didn’t understand there were different rules for each age group, they always had to be spelled out. My mom even had to take me out of the self contained room because I was mimicking negative behaviors in there and never again did my parents let me be in special classes or even go to a special school. When my school wanted me in a behavior program, my parents had to get an attorney because they knew if they put me in that room, I would learn to be violent because that is what I would have been exposed to and think it was okay behavior. I would have learned short cuts. So do I have any sociopath traits? Everyone keeps telling me I am not if I am so concerned about it and if I am not out hurting people. But lot of sociopaths don’t commit violent crimes and I keep hearing how autistic people don’t lack empathy and how they can feel it and how sociopaths can’t feel it so see why I would be confused? I wonder if aspies are just an empath? It’s apparently a personality thing. Some just feel it more than others. Also the fact my mother told me that if she had told me at 13 years of age how I lost her trust, it wouldn’t have worked because I wouldn’t have understood how she felt or her feelings and I would have thought it was her problem and she has to figure it out herself. That made me feel like a sociopath. I don’t know if I actually did anything at that age that made her lose her trust but my brother did something at that age that made my mom not trust my brother so he had to earn it back and she said that wouldn’t have worked with me if she had done it but it would have worked on my other brother too but not with me. But then again I read how feelings are abstract so no wonder us autistic people would have problems with it but then I read how we don’t lack empathy so it’s all confusing and contradicting given how concrete thinkers we tend to be and feelings being an abstract thing. My mom said my therapist had to teach me empathy and stuff. I was even rough with animals until adolescence but most kids grow out of that around 1st grade or so. I was just late but then again I have always been behind my peers emotionally and socially and language wise and communication wise and understanding wise. But my husband will say I lack empathy and say I have some but not much.

  6. I’ve got Asperger’s syndrome and many of the things discussed apply to me. I don’t think I’m a sociopath, but I’m probably asocial.

  7. Reblogged this on Vulture Culture and commented:

    Review of “Confessions of a Sociopath” by M. E. Thomas
    “So what are the challenges that both individuals with Asperger’s and sociopaths are said to share?

    Well, according to a jaw droppingly chilling autobiography titled “Confessions or a Sociopath” written by female author M.E. Thomas, who is herself a clinically diagnosed sociopath, they are, an inability to read people’s facial expressions and body language, difficulty with understanding social rules and most importantly an overwhelming lack of empathy for others.”

  8. Recently found your page, and have to say I love the way you write. You seem very calm and thoughtful and it relaxes me. Additionally, I also have been very put off by some of the things Simon Baron-Cohen states so am glad to see I am not alone in this.

    With regards sociopathy, I think you are right in that a sociopath who claims to be unable to read body language, facial signals etc could be lying. Having experience of two of them myself (one was female the other male) I am more than aware of the damage they deliberately inflict on others. It can be truly devastating. All because of their massive egos and the desire to win at all costs no matter how much they have to lie and cheat to do so. What surprised me is how each of them were able to totally charm and con members of the opposite sex, whilst their own genders were able to see through the lies after a little while. But my understanding and experience of sociopaths is that it is impossible to be a sociopath and have Asperger’s Syndrome at the same time. The two are mutually exclusive.

    A psychologist wrote:

    “While people with mild autism/Asperger’s disorder can be oblivious to the emotional responses of others and/or unable to predict emotional outcomes socially, sociopaths are emotionally remorseless, calculating, and manipulative. It takes a high level of social awareness to be exploitative emotionally as in sociopathy.”
    Dr Anthony Vertino Clinical Psychologist

    An M.D. also wrote more bluntly:

    “Sociopaths are experts in human behaviour and people with autism spectrum disorders are clueless about people.”
    Dr Darwin Eton M.D. ADHD and Autism Specialist.

    One of the most obvious traits of a sociopath is that they are pathological liars, so nothing they say can ever be truly trusted without independent verification. It disturbs me a great deal to read around the Internet such ill-informed comments about people like us that virtually liken us to violent sadistic killers, sociopaths, people that claim to know about us, but in reality are doing nothing more that jumping to conclusions and guessing.

    Let me close with a quote from Tony Attwood:

    “People with Asperger’s syndrome are some of the kindest, most caring people I know.”
    – Dr Tony Attwood

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