Asperger’s Syndrome – Could the concept of Superpowers be causing more harm than good?


There’s been a lot of talk about the increasingly popular idea that people with Asperger’s Syndrome possess some kind of superpower.

Indeed, many people seem to genuinely believe it.

Search any website on the topic and you’re sure to find groups of people who freely name their superpower and then describe in minute detail the extraordinary things that whatever their particular superpower of choice may be, enables them to do.

To me, such talk of there being any form of an Asperger type superpower is ultimately harmful as it reflects the misbegotten and much argued against concept that those with Asperger’s Syndrome view themselves as being, in many ways, superior to everyone who does not have Asperger’s.

It wasn’t all that long ago that we were fighting against the claim that all people with Asperger’s Syndrome were arrogant, detached, cold, sub-human, robot type intellectual beings, who were capable of memorizing complex physics equations , but who were also seen as being every bit as humorless , heartless and as incapable of feeling empathy as a toaster is.

Fortunately, we’ve come an awfully long way since those days.

As a society, we are now able to openly acknowledge that individuals with Asperger’s are extremely loyal and loving people who are just as capable of feeling empathy and sympathy as everyone else.

We also know that individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome give as much care and devotion to those whom they love as the rest of the population do.

We simply could not account for the fact that there are so many happily married and/or dedicated and loving parents with Asperger’s if the opposite were true.

Yet it seems that correcting the many myths and multiple misnomer’s that once served to create the image of individuals with Asperger’s as cold, heartless, intellectual machines, is simply not enough for some people.

Now, we are being encouraged, if not told, to believe that we must all tow the party line and admit to having some kind of hidden, yet terribly important, superpower.

A superpower that only those with Asperger’s Syndrome can have.

A superpower that serves , once again, to prevent us from being seen as existing within the realms of common humanity by re-framing us as having powers that go beyond the scope of an average human being.

Given that we’ve spent years fighting for the acknowledgement that we are human beings who just happen to be differently neurologically wired, as opposed to being weird, cold and sub-human beings with a superiority complex, I find it incredibly ironic that there is now a movement out there that is openly seeking to regenerate the whole ‘superiority’ angle by declaring that we have superpowers.

Apart from the fact that such claims are all pretty much bunkum, to what end does it serve to seek to over emphasize a whole range of weird and wonderful , mystical, new age types of manifestations or hidden talents within individuals with Asperger’s ?

Okay it may be good for an individual’s level of self-esteem to believe or feel as if their talents are valued, but as for the rest of the en mass movement toward claiming superpowers as an Asperger’s only thing….. Well I just don’t get it.

Yes we have empathy for others and in some cases we can be overwhelmed by the empathy we feel due to not being able to process it and understand it for what it is, as quickly as others do, but why on earth are some people striving so hard to rename this difficulty in storing empathy and in not being able to release it, as a superpower?

Why are some people now saying that someone who is good at storing information, regardless of whether or not they actually want to store that information, now has an information storing superpower?

Or that someone who has a photographic memory now has a photographic memory superpower.

Should someone who can play a piece of music after only hearing it once now be said to have a music playing superpower?

Should someone who can sing in a pitch perfect tone each and every time they sing, now be given the title of having a pitch perfect superpower?

Does someone who can draw a perfect skyline based solely on memory have the superpower of drawing, memory or both?

You’ll have to forgive me but not so long ago, we simply called these unique attributes skills or talents.

We certainly didn’t call them superpowers.

And we certainly didn’t ascribe to the belief that only those with Asperger’s Syndrome could do such things and thus hold such superpowers.

There are many people out there who are good at storing information that don’t have Asperger’s Syndrome. Take pub trivia nights for example or quiz shows like Sale of the Century or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. You cannot seriously tell me that every single person who’s ever won big on any of those shows has Asperger’s.

(Here’s a hint, a contestant with Asperger’s would likely by so nervous or stuck in the midst of experiencing sensory overload due to the bright lights, movement of cameras and audience noises, that they’d have to be working extremely hard on just hearing and processing the questions, let alone getting out all of the answers required to win in that environment).

There are also numerous people who can play music by ear, draw pictures from memory and sing pitch perfectly every time, without ever first holding the prerequisite of having Asperger’s Syndrome in order to have their talents recognized without turning them into superpowers.

As far as I’m concerned, the minute we claim that the skills and talents that have always been apparent within a sub-set of the general population belong only to one particular sub-group, and we then name those skills and talents superpowers, we are falsely claiming a degree of superiority over every other group or individual, no matter how talented, that are not of our chosen ilk.

I believe that anytime a sub-set of the population declares itself to be the holder of superpowers; they are in a very real way, also declaring themselves to be superior to every other group and are therefore actively seeking to set themselves not just apart, but above, all other groupings within society.

I believe that in making the claim toward having superpowers and therefore superiority over the rest of society, some within the Asperger’s community are indeed trying to set themselves both apart and above society.

Which to me makes no sense at all, as up until now, the emphasis for many within the Autism Community has been on creating acceptance via the understanding that we are all, each and every single one of us, equal as human beings, no matter what our neurological status may be.

So please, think about what it is you are actually saying when you say that [insert type of skill here]  is my superpower because when you actually claim this as an individual with Asperger’s, you are effectively adding to the erroneous myth that each and every person with Asperger’s either is or considers themselves to be gifted and talented beyond all normal human measures.

After all, isn’t that exactly what a superpower?

So I ask you, is this really just a harmless way of making individuals with Asperger’s feel better about their unique traits, skills and talents, or is it something that could potentially cause more harm than good in terms of the concepts of equality and acceptance for all within our society?

Autism – What will I gain from being diagnosed later in life? It won’t change anything for me, so why should I bother?”


People often ask me: “What will I gain from being diagnosed later in life? It won’t change anything for me, so why should I bother?”

Well, my answer as to whether or not anyone should “bother” to get diagnosed is this.

Firstly, on a purely personal level, it depends entirely on what your personal circumstances are and what the biggest issues are that you’re facing at any given point in time.

If you’re a person who’s main problem is that you’re always feeling misunderstood or blamed by your family member for being the way that you are, then perhaps receiving a formal diagnosis may help your family members to comprehend and accept that some of the onus for understanding both who and how you are, falls upon them to make more of an effort to accept you as you are, rather than allowing them to continue to always view you as being the one who needs to change.

Secondly, if you find that you may be in need of some form of formal support or assistance, then receiving a diagnosis may help you to better be able to access whatever support systems are in place within your area.

A diagnosis should also, at the very least, help others around you to become aware that you are genuinely more in need of care, understanding and support than they had previously thought.

Thirdly, if you want to increase your own levels self-understanding and awareness or further seek to validate your own understandings of yourself as being both true and accurate, then receiving a diagnosis may also provide these assurances for you.

But, if you are a strong-willed person who is confident enough to be able to self-identify with having Asperger’s, without feeling any twinges of doubt about it what so ever, then you’ll most likely feel that either the seeking out, or the receiving a diagnosis, is not for you as it holds little potential to offer you any great benefits.

And that’s okay.

But for me, I have found that those who benefit the most from older women such as myself coming forward and being diagnosed, are the generations of girls who are yet to come and the generation of girls and women who are still today, young enough to incorporate this deeper understanding of themselves as females who are Autistic,  into their daily lives and move on.

At my age, receiving a formal diagnosis offers me purely the ability to understand myself better and enables me to finally ask for the things I’ve known for so long that I’ve needed all of my life, things such as solitude, peace and quiet, but have never been made to feel as if it were okay for me to ask for these things, because I am a woman and women are supposed to love company and to always want to be social creatures.

I had no way of explaining to anyone, let alone myself, why I’ve always felt that I needed so much time alone.

Yet for girls of my daughter’s age, receiving a diagnosis is offering them so much more.

It is offering them the opportunity of being able to grow up with the gift of truly knowing not only who they are, but also understanding how they are, and that they’re okay.

That it’s okay to be different.

And this to me, as both a woman and a mother, is the gift of understanding that I truly believe is worth fighting for.

I am so glad that there were women in the past who had the strength, courage and forethought, to lead the way forward and to lay the foundations that so many of us today are now standing on, by arguing, on our behalf’s, that High Functioning Female Autism is a very real phenomenon.
Believe me when I tell you that I am all too aware that if no woman had ever dared challenge the male based status quo of the understandings of Asperger’s Syndrome of the past, that neither my daughter nor I, would now be diagnosed.

So how exactly does receiving a diagnosis later in life help anyone and what does it solve anyway even if you do get one?

Well, for one thing, it is likely to allow many women to make sense of their pasts.

To knit all of the previously unresolved elements of their lives, their personalities, their characteristics and their traits, into some semblance of a perspective that will finally make sense to them.

So if that one singular perspective that makes sense of your life is the one thing that you’ve been missing, then getting a diagnosis, even at a much later stage in life, can still provide you with a huge feeling of relief.

In terms of gaining greater access to benefits and assistance, if you are already financially secure or successfully working, then no, receiving a diagnosis later in life, may not help you in any way in terms of on the job support training and alike.

But what it will do, is benefit your children, and your children’s children.

And if you’re not a mother yourself, then please understand that your actions and your choices, may end up benefiting your sister’s or your brother’s children.

The knowledge and validity that we as women gain from receiving a formal diagnosis, could well prevent future generations of girls from having to put up with the kinds of constant bullying that are caused by male bias ignorance.

This will enable them to grow up holding all of the answers to all of the questions that we once, as children held locked inside of our own heads, like fragile eggs, and were too afraid to ask why it was that we were so different from everybody else.

If being diagnosed later in life can help to take away from another child, that awful sense of confusion and self-loathing that comes from knowing that they don’t belong, without ever fully knowing or understanding why, then I’m all for it.

So whilst a formal diagnosis may not seem to be such an important deal individually, in the grand scheme of things, I can see how each and every woman and girl, diagnosed today, can help create a stronger, better defined and more brightly lit path, for our Autistic girls of the future to walk upon.

Unlike us, they won’t have to spend over half of their lifetimes stumbling around in the deep and uncertain dark, and that’s a good thing.

I’m not sure whether holding ideas like these makes me a dreamer, or simply yet another deluded fool.

Either way, the more women and girls who are diagnosed today, the harder it will be for the powers that be, to dismiss the needs of Autistic Women in the future.

I understand that this way of looking at things is not everybody’s cup of tea, but it certainly is mine. So comment and let me know whether or not you agree.

Women with Autism – Beware we wear masks (well supposedly anyway).


I think it’s interesting that many of the articles I’ve read all state, in one way or another, that girls and women on the Autism Spectrum are hard to diagnose because they “mask” their symptoms.

Yet when I look back on my life I don’t see any evidence that I “masked” any of my symptoms at all.

In fact, more often than not, my symptoms/differences were repeatedly pointed out to me and criticized by others.

So what I tend to see, when I look back, is the exact opposite of the claims made by others that women and girls “mask” their differences.

All throughout my  childhood  there is clear evidence that although those around me knew that I was ‘different’, no-one was prepared enough to take any steps toward understanding either how or why my behaviors were so different to those of the children around me.

So for me, I find the statement that girls/women on the Autism Spectrum “mask” their ‘differences’ to be both a very misleading and a potentially harmful one.

One that in a round – about kind of way, ends up placing the blame for the lack of awareness regarding females with Autism, right back at our own feminine feet.

After all, we were the tricky ones who were supposedly “masking” our own behavior’s in order to evade detection.

Is it just me or is anyone else  beginning to feel slightly perplexed by the repetition of this very insidious form of circular  reasoning?


Autism/Asperger’s Awareness in Women – A Teenagers Perspective – Written by Marnie


“I wrote this for an all-girls group I am part of and thought that maybe I should share it and see what others have to say. Be nice ok. It took a lot for me to be able to talk about this.”

Autism and Asperger’s displays itself very differently in woman than it does in men.

Most Autistic traits in males are very obvious, they don’t hide them and it’s very clear.

With women, we actually subconsciously try to hide it, it’s in the female nature to fit in; you may find you mimic your female friends in different ways.

For example, you might copy certain phrases they use, figures of speech, accents, physical stances and behavioural habits.

I, for one, used to copy my friends self-harming and it wasn’t to get attention, it was because I assumed this was normal behaviour for other girls.

When I was in primary school I tried to fit in by soaking up every bit of knowledge about makeup and hair that I could because at the age of 7 years old I thought  this would stop girls from picking on me.

It didn’t work; it made them hate me because I knew more than they did.

Go figure.

I ended up hanging out with all the boys, playing rugby, play fighting and developing a very masculine attitude towards sports.

I LOVED running, I ADORED horse riding and even at a young age I felt that the ache that you get after a long trek on horseback, was the best thing in the world.

Even at the age of 11 I had this attitude, hell I even secretly loved the smell of sweat.

I also loved the smells at my friend’s farm because it smelt right.

I was still trying to fit in with the girls though, so I started wearing a bra to get noticed and saying that I had developed a crush on the boys, even though I hadn’t.

To me, boys were just there to be jumped on and knocked around and generally enjoy a good old rough n tumble with.

When my only female friend and best friend moved down to England I changed.

I wouldn’t speak to anyone because I felt as though someone had wrenched something out of my chest.

The girls who picked on me realized that I was extremely vulnerable so they took me under their wings and then threw me in the dirt for fun.

So I turned to books and the Harry Potter books saved my life.

I would sit and read ALL the time, hell I learned to walk while reading, write and kick a ball all at once.

I had a talent for reading and literature at school and was a total bookworm but I couldn’t do maths if my life depended on it. This made school very difficult for me.

In primary school I had a very nasty, abusive teacher and this together with the fact that I lost all my grandparents in the space of 5 months, meant that I fell behind in my school work.

I was moved to the Secondary School in the next village because of how horrendous the bullying of me had become.

The school there was filled with kids who were mostly brought up out in the middle of nowhere, on farms, so I got on amazingly with them!

Unfortunately at this point I had stopped horse riding due to my parents using it against me to get me to do simple things like cleaning.

I got bullied for a while during my first year there but I soon learned to stick up for myself, realizing the teachers here would actually do something (the head in primary school ‘solved’ bullying with a group hug and when physical contact scares the shit out of you anyway, it does not help) and the teachers didn’t look down at you.

In second year I had a fantastic English teacher who figured out I wouldn’t do homework but if she gave me clear instructions during class and made it interesting, I could get it done in 30 minutes flat.

She was, and still is, my favorite teacher. She was feared by most students but I adored her, she understood me.

I still struggled with maths and it caused me many issues.

I adored art, I wasn’t good at it but I loved it, especially my friends artwork because it was beautiful and I liked to just sit and look at the seniors artwork because it never failed to amuse me in one way or another.

I didn’t do well in P.E. because it meant someone was telling me how to do sport and that someone would be watching my every move, but I was exceedingly good at skiing, badminton and running.

If a teacher suddenly changed what we were going to be doing, it often ended in a full-scale meltdown because it made me uncomfortable.

By this time, my parents had noticed that I was becoming withdrawn, depressed and generally not my usual self.

So, I was being looked at for depression but I had too many happy moments to be ‘properly depressed’. Then I was being looked at for Bipolar disorder and this is when things got really interesting.

The woman seeing me about this was puzzled, I showed all the right symptoms but in her eyes something didn’t match, there was something missing.

Sure, I had insane mood swings but I also had social anxiety issues, if I got stressed I became physically ill (usually cystitis).

I was exceedingly intelligent but the knowledge was there in dribs and drabs, it never encompassed the whole of anything, rather it was filled by all of the  peculiar facts I clung to simply because I liked them.

I acted like a sponge for knowledge, though remembering that knowledge was a huge issue.

I showed signs of dyspraxia (Sp) and dyscalculia (sp) but not enough to make a definite diagnosis.

Then my little brother got diagnosed with Autism and they asked about me, mum said she had a light bulb moment and it all made sense.

Never getting over losing my one good friend, being easily distracted, not being able to handle large social groups, loud noises sending me into over drive and causing catastrophic melt downs, too much noise leaving me seemingly deaf, being scared of touch unless it’s invited by me, loving soft fluffy things, being overly sensitive to smells but not minding natural smells like body odour and farm smells, finding comfort in the company of animals more than people.

Well, the list goes on but it’s scarily hard to describe to a stranger what you are like when it takes 17 years before your problems are even noticed.

And Why?

Simple, males with autism have very prominent signs because the ‘hierarchy’ within men isn’t so severe.

Us women will do almost anything to fit in and to try to seem normal, so the girls with autism or Asperger’s strive to be like the others, to be ‘normal’, so it masks the majority of the signs.

They used to think Autism was less common in women but recently they’ve realized that the problem actually is that girls get misdiagnosed.

They get accused of being Bipolar/Manic Depressive or having attention deficit disorders or of just being plain weird.

You are NOT weird if you have an Autism Spectrum Disorder/Condition, you are different, you see the world differently and you have an AMAZING eye for truth.

You take things literally a lot, can’t tell the difference between sarcasm or being bullied at times, sure but you know what?

All you want is the truth; you strive for people to be honest, you NEED control, perfection and order or it stresses you out.

Nothing wrong with that.

It makes you YOU.

There are many other ‘disorders’ that pile on after you find out you have this, please don’t worry, its part and parcel of this amazing gift you have.

You may be ‘weird’ and you may feel like you don’t excel in the things you want to excel in but do you know why? It’s because people like us, have a tendency to be truly talented at something amazing.

You get autistic people who struggled with literature and creativity but are amazing at science, maths and things really involving raw intelligence.

Then there are autistic kids (like myself) that struggle with raw intelligence but adore literature, writing and using your creativity in art or music.

I still haven’t accepted myself for who I am because when I got diagnosed, I lost all of my friends.

I found out the hard way that they were judgmental and easily lead by a bully.

You may feel weird but I promise you, you are an amazing person.

You have such a unique way of seeing the world around you; you don’t need to fit in with that crowd of popular kids because they are false.

You like the truth, you need it.

I know this seems like a ramble but it’s how my mind works. Due to having Asperger’s I don’t really answer questions straight up, I ‘waffle on’, as one of my other English teachers was fond of saying to me.

But please, never be ashamed of having Asperger’s or Autism or of being on the spectrum at all.

If you have family members who are on the spectrum, please respect them; be honest with them because all they want is the truth.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep, if you break a promise to someone on the spectrum, it’s kind of like you broke the law.

Respect that we can be very edgy about our ‘personal bubbles’ at times while at others you might end up with us scrambling onto your lap for a cuddle simply because we are cold and you happen to be warm and squishy.

Respect that we don’t like loud noises, we can’t concentrate on more than one sound like most people can and it will confuse us.

Respect that we may have habits like, rocking, spinning, jumping, dancing, humming, snapping fingers and making silly noises.

We don’t mean to be annoying but when we get excited or depressed these things calm us down or express our need to show you we are excited.

Respect that if you have something colourful and pretty we might take it from you or stare at it because we have become entranced by its beauty.

Respect that if you take us outside where there are flowers we will insist on running through them, touching them and we will get upset if you take us away.

Respect that if you smell good we might sit and sniff your hair or we might stare at our food simply because it smells amazing.

Respect that we might not eat something because it looks ‘funny’ or its texture is ‘squelchy’ or just plain wrong.

Sure we can be as weird as all get out, but I can promise you this, we will have you in stitches laughing at our oddities and tendency to turn around and whisper rather loudly “look at that woman’s make up! She looks like a walking talking orange!” or “You smell funny” and then walk off like nothing happened.

Don’t be offended, we don’t mean to be nasty; we are just honest and a little strange.

I hope this adds a little insight.

I hope you all read this and find it helpful or that it at least puts a smile on your face.

“DISCLAIMER: This is written from my point of view as a girl with Asperger’s Syndrome If you are a teenage girl please DO NOT SELF DIAGNOSE all of a sudden based on this information, please. It’s the worst thing you can do; having issues doesn’t make you cool.”

You can view Marnie’s original post and more of her amazing writing at:


Women and Autism – How one woman’s letter to a psychologist finally helped her receive an ASD diagnosis after years of personal invalidation.


This amazing letter was written by a woman who suspected that she may be on the Autism Spectrum, prior to meeting her psychologist for the first time. Here’s what she had to say.

“Dear Dr L—

I hope in this letter I can give you a more thorough explanation of how I feel, the way these feelings affect me and why I think a diagnosis and continued support would be beneficial to me.

I have an over-active mind and experience high anxiety.

I constantly see things at multiple levels, including thinking processes and analyse my existence, the meaning of life, the meaning of everything continually.

Nothing is taken for granted, simplified, or easy.

Everything is complex.

Being serious and matter-of-fact has caused me many problems and I have been told on numerous occasions that I come across as rude and/or abrupt.

Every year my work progress development report says that I would benefit from some kind of people management course, which to date has never happened.

Making friends or developing relationships has always been and still is very difficult for me.

As a child, I was convinced that I was away the day everyone decided who they would be friends with.

This has always been an area that has caused me confusion.

I still have a constant feeling that I am misplaced, isolated, overwhelmed, and have been plopped down in the wrong universe.

If I had friends, my tendency was to blindly follow wherever they went and to escape my own identity by taking on theirs.

I dressed like them, spoke like and adapted myself to his/her likes and dislikes.

I have had a couple of “friends” in my life for a very long time but I mostly talk to them online as I do not like leaving the comfort of my safe environment.

Even with people I know well I do not like being in their houses as my anxiety levels hit the roof.

I get agitated and uncomfortable not knowing what to say, what to do, if I’ve over stayed my welcome or would it be rude if I left now, have I stayed long enough.

This leads to seriously high stress levels, nasty thoughts in my head, sweating, increased heart rate and a sudden urgency to flee.

When I know I don’t have to be anywhere, talk to anyone, answer any calls, or leave the house, I can take a deep breath and relax.

Even something as simple as a self-imposed obligation, such as leaving the house to walk the dog can cause extreme anxiety.

It’s more than just going out into society; it’s all the steps that are involved in leaving–all the rules, routines, and norms.

Choices can be overwhelming: what to wear, to shower or not, what to eat, what time to be back, how to organize time, how to act outside the house….all these thoughts can pop up.

I struggle when I’m out with sounds, textures, smells and tastes, which in turn creates a sense of generalized anxiety and/or the sense that I am always unsafe or in pending danger, particularly in crowded public places.

There have been times in crowded places like shops where the confusion and anxiety has gotten so high that I have had to just say “I need to go” and have walked out and straight to the car to gather my thoughts and calm down.

Counting, categorizing, organizing, rearranging, numbers brings me some ease and has been with me ever since I can remember.

Over the years I have sought out answers as to why I seemed to see the world differently than others, only to be told I’m an attention seeker, paranoid, hypochondriac, or too focused on diagnoses and labels.

My personhood was challenged on the sole basis that I “knew” I was different but couldn’t prove it to the world.

My personhood was further oppressed as I attempted to be and act like someone I’m not.

I have children diagnosed with ASD and am concerned that I am not doing the best for them due to my own inhibitions.

Still I question my place in the world, even more so now that my son has a diagnosis of ASD and I see so many similarities between what he’s going through and my own personal experiences.

How can I help them to adapt and learn when I don’t know myself how to deal with the situations that are causing them the most problems?

I would really benefit from help in learning to deal with my issues.

Now that I understand the Autism Spectrum and am convinced I am well within the spectrum, the hope is that I will get support and advice can benefit me and allow me to help my children.

My hope is that through diagnosis and the support that should follow; I will be able to work on the areas that I lack the necessary skills for dealing with society, in.

If I can get help for myself it will put me in a better position to guide and help my children.

Apologies for the lengthy explanation, I hope I have given you the information you were seeking. If not please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely



Amanda is sharing this letter in the hope that it may help other woman avoid some of the pain and confusion she’s experienced in her own life. Thank you so much for your willingness to help others Amanda <3


The Gendering of Autism – How a few deliberately biased questions turned Autism into a men’s only club.


Since the 1980s, the prevalence of those with Autism associated with science, computing and other hi-tech industries, has once again singled out Autism as being a primarily male condition.

Diagnosing famous scientists, engineers, and computer scientists with autism has become both a parlour game and a cottage industry—Albert Einstein, Paul Dirac, Bill Gates, and Isaac Newton are among the most commonly cited in this category.

Contemporary understandings of geek masculinity have become one of the more common, gendered screens through which autism is now understood.

According to the Extreme Male Brain (EMB) theory of autism, people with autism possess hyper-male brains, therefore the existence and/or severity of their Autism, can be graded based on a scale that views those who are less adept at systemizing tasks (mostly women) as non-autistic, and those with extremely high systemizing abilities (mainly men) as being people with Autism.

To achieve this male and female interests are categorized as either “systemizing” or its opposite, “empathizing,” and then placed along a scale that grades from female to male to the extreme male (or autistic).

In particular, the EMB theory takes the form of a “double hierarchy,” in which an established series (e.g., male-female) forms the basis for a second series (systemizing-empathizing).

In a 2009 study Baron-Cohen co-authored with Bonnie Auyeung, et al., the authors provide these points of evidence for their extreme male brain theory:

-“The typical male brain is heavier than the female brain and individuals with autism have heavier brains than typical males”.

-“The amygdala is also disproportionately large in boys compared to girls … and children with autism have enlarged amygdala”.

Not only does this evidentiary criteria over emphasize differences between those with autism and those without; but it also forces males and females further apart by exaggerating the differences between average women, average men, and autistic people.

Further to this Baron-Cohen claims men are more interested in systemizing tasks, such as engineering, computer programming, and mathematics, or hobbies based on mechanics, construction, and categorizing—metalworking, boat-building, crafting musical instruments, even bird-spotting.

Whereas women tend to enjoy “having supper with friends, advising them on relationship problems, or caring for people or pets, or working for volunteer phone-lines listening to depressed, hurt, needy, or even suicidal anonymous callers”.

Based on these insights, Baron-Cohen devised a series of three tests:

-The systemizing quotient (SQ),

-The empathizing quotient (EQ),

-The Autism quotient (AQ).

All of which reflect his predetermined, gendered notions of male and female-appropriate activities.

On the Systemizing Quotient Test, testers are asked to rank their answers on a Likert scale to such questions as -“If I were buying a car, I would want to obtain specific information about its engine capacity” and “If there was a problem with the electrical wiring in my home, I’d be able to fix it myself”.

Meanwhile, the Empathy Quotient test includes such prompts as “I try to keep up with the current trends and fashions” and “When I talk to people, I tend to talk about their experiences rather than my own”.

In these prompts it can be seen that stereotypically masculine activities are assumed to reflect systemizing, while stereotypically feminine activities are assumed to reflect empathizing.

Clearly, these questions can easily be seen to reflect socialization as well as biology.

Therefore changing even a small number of the questions to more gender-neutral issues could have easily reduced or removed the sex differences found within SQ scores.

In 2006, Sally Wheelwright, Baron-Cohen, and their collaborators published a revised version of the SQ, the SQ-R, which included a wider range of questions about systemizing.

The original SQ, the authors admitted, “Were drawn primarily from traditionally male domains.” For this reason, the SQ-R included “more items that might be relevant to females in the general population,” a feature that would allow the researchers to determine whether men would continue to score higher on the SQ “even with the inclusion of items selected from traditionally female domains” (Wheelwright et al).

Some of the new prompts included “When I have a lot of shopping to do, I like to plan which shops I am going to visit and in what order” and “My clothes are not carefully organised into different types in my wardrobe” (answering “no” on this prompt presumably indicates an SQ type of brain).

The SQ-R successfully shifted the results. In the original SQ, men had a higher mean score on 86 percent of the questions, while women had a higher mean on only 13.2 percent. In the revised version, men scored higher on 68 percent and women on 32 percent—a rather dramatic shift in the sex ratio.

The SQ-R itself demonstrates that these sex differences may largely be an artefact of the testing prompts and the specific mix of questions applied.

One might therefore, hypothesize that the SQ could be revised even further in ways that would more drastically equalize the scores.

This article consists of excerpts form an academic paper written by J. Jack and published in 2011.


Theory finds that individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome don’t lack empathy – in fact if anything they empathize too much

Art work by Aegis Mario S. Nevado

Art work by Aegis Mario S. Nevado

“A ground-breaking theory suggests people with autism-spectrum disorders such as Asperger’s do not lack empathy – rather, they feel others’ emotions too intensely to cope.”

“People with Asperger’s syndrome, a high functioning form of autism, are often stereotyped as distant loners or robotic geeks. But what if what looks like coldness to the outside world is a response to being overwhelmed by emotion – an excess of empathy, not a lack of it?

This idea resonates with many people suffering from autism-spectrum disorders and their families. It also jibes with the “intense world” theory, a new way of thinking about the nature of autism.

As posited by Henry and Kamila Markram of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, the theory suggests that the fundamental problem in autism-spectrum disorders is not a social deficiency but, rather, a hypersensitivity to experience, which includes an overwhelming fear response.

“I can walk into a room and feel what everyone is feeling,” Kamila Markram says. “The problem is that it all comes in faster than I can process it. There are those who say autistic people don’t feel enough. We’re saying exactly the opposite: They feel too much.”

Virtually all people with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, report various types of over-sensitivity and intense fear. The Markrams argue that social difficulties of those with autism spectrum disorders stem from trying to cope with a world where someone has turned the volume on all the senses and feelings up past 10.

If hearing your parents’ voices while sitting in your crib felt like listening to Lou Reed‘s Metal Machine Music on acid, you, too, might prefer to curl in a corner and rock.

But, of course, this sort of withdrawal and self-soothing behaviour – repetitive movements; echoing words or actions; failing to make eye contact – interferes with social development. Without the experience other kids get through ordinary social interactions, children on the spectrum never learn to understand subtle signals.

Phil Schwarz, vice-president of the Asperger’s Association of New England adds, “I think most people with ASD feel emotional empathy and care about the welfare of others very deeply.”

So, why do so many people see a lack of empathy as a defining characteristic of autism spectrum disorder?

The problem starts with the complexity of empathy itself. One aspect is simply the ability to see the world from the perspective of another. Another is more emotional – the ability to imagine what the other is feeling and care about their pain as a result.

Autistic children tend to develop the first part of empathy – which is called “theory of mind” – later than other kids. This was established in a classic experiment. Children are asked to watch two puppets, Sally and Anne. Sally takes a marble and places it in a basket, then leaves the stage. While she’s gone, Anne takes the marble out and puts it in a box. The children are then asked: Where will Sally look first for her marble when she returns?

Most 4-year-olds know Sally didn’t see Anne move the marble, so they get it right. By 10 or 11, children with developmental disabilities who have verbal IQs equivalent to 3-year-olds also get it right. But 80 per cent of autistic children age 10 to 11 guess that Sally will look in the box, because they know that’s where the marble is and they don’t realize other people don’t share all of their knowledge.

Of course, if you don’t realize others are seeing and feeling different things, you might well act less caring toward them.

It takes autistic children far longer than children without autism to realize other people have different experiences and perspectives – and the timing of this development varies greatly. But that doesn’t mean, once people with autism spectrum disorder do become aware of other people’s experience, that they don’t care or want to connect.

Schwarz, of the New England Asperger’s association, says all the autistic adults he knows over the age of 18 have a better sense of what others know than the Sally/Anne test suggests.

When it comes to not understanding the inner state of minds too different from our own, most people also do a lousy job, Schwarz says. “But the non-autistic majority gets a free pass because, if they assume that the other person’s mind works like their own, they have a much better chance of being right.”

Thus, when, for example, a child with Asperger’s talks incessantly about his intense interests, he isn’t deliberately dominating the conversation so much as simply failing to consider that there may be a difference between his interests and those of his peers.

In terms of the caring aspect of empathy, a lively discussion that would seem to support  Markrams’ theory appeared on the website for people with autism spectrum disorder called, after a mother wrote to ask whether her empathetic but socially immature daughter could possibly have Asperger’s.

“If anything, I struggle with having too much empathy,” one person says. “If someone else is upset, I am upset. There were times during school when other people were misbehaving and, if the teacher scolded them, I felt like they were scolding me.”

Said another, “I am clueless when it comes to reading subtle cues but I am very empathic. I can walk into a room and feel what everyone is feeling and I think this is actually quite common in AS/autism. The problem is that it all comes in faster than I can process it.”

Studies have found that when people are overwhelmed by empathetic feelings, they tend to pull back. When someone else’s pain affects you deeply, it can be hard to reach out rather than turn away.

For people with autism spectrum disorder, these empathetic feelings might be so intense that they withdraw in a way that appears cold or uncaring.

“These children are really not unemotional. They do want to interact – it’s just difficult for them,” Markram says. “It’s quite sad, because these are quite capable people. But the world is just too intense, so they have to withdraw.”

Article written by Maia Szalavitz

Amazing original art work by Aegis Mario S. Nevado –

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