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.

We’re Women with Autism – Not Mystical Imps, Sprites or Fairies….. Get it right.

Artwork by Devushka
Artwork by Devushka
Sorry to disappoint all of those who wish to believe that Women with Autism are made out of some kind of unique fairy dust that endows all of us with “special talents” or “super powers”, because we are not magical beings.

We are Women Wired Differently…. not Women Wired Magically.

Please stop confusing our different skill sets, ie, our tendency to focus on the finer details of life that often make us more likely to pick up on the inconsistencies that are usually hidden within the bigger picture that people present to us, with being the equivalent of having a “super power”, “gift”, “unearned talent” or whatever else some would like to call it.

The truth is, that for us, our intense focus on fine details, whilst it may have started out as a fascination, has also become a survival mechanism.

Our intense focus is not magical. It’s practical. It’s what we do when we can’t “read” a person’s level of sincerity simply by looking into their eyes, listening for and recognizing the tonality in their voice or knowing automatically whether or not a smile is authentic at a glance.

Yes we may see the world in ways that others do not, but it’s still the same world and we’re still viewing it with eyes that are made up of all of the same biological matter as everyone else’s eyes are.

Yes at times it may seem as if we see more, but that’s not because we’re psychic beings floating about in fairy dust, it’s simply because we look harder and longer at the simplest of gestures, in order to decipher and makes sense of them for ourselves.

When we feel an emotion, we often feel it deeply but that’s not because we’re “super empaths” or somehow magically connected to the pain of another, it’s because we feel in fine detail too.

Yes we have a degree of empathy for others that may run deeper than most, but that’s not because we’re psychic, it’s because we’re focused.

Just as we focus visually and intellectually on the finer points that others may have missed, we can also focus our feelings on the finer points of emotions that others may have by passed.

We feel all of our emotions often simultaneously specifically because we live our lives without the benefit of having the filters that other people apply to their thoughts, their feelings, even their ways of seeing.

Which is why we can become so overwhelmed by our emotions that it makes it difficult for us to talk about or even explain them.

The depth of our feelings does not make us magical beings simply because we can feel that which we cannot explain.

It in no way means that we are magical beings. It simply means that we are unfiltered beings.

We’re not made up of different stuff or fairy dust at all. We just don’t have a way of filtering out the world around us the way that other people do.

I know that some would like to believe that this state of affairs somehow also makes us “purer beings”…. but does it?

Does it really?

And isn’t the idea of “purity” also linked to “innocence”, which is also linked to “children”…. as in the “innocence of a child”…….

Just think about it. We’re not magical, we’re not pure and we’re not children. We’re Women who take in and understand the world differently simply because we see it differently.

Do we really want the realities of our lives as Autistic Women being overlooked and marginalized simply because we’re being linked to the infantile ideals and imagery that being viewed as either ‘supernatural’ or ‘overtly innocent beings’, brings along with it?

 

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

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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 WrongPlanet.net, 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 – http://aegis-strife.net

Article originally sourced and reproduced  from: http://www.thestar.com/life/health_wellness/diseases_cures/2009/05/14/aspergers

Other sources related to this article can be found at the following links.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2009/05/11/a-radical-new-autism-theory.html  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/2976839/Autism-is-caused-by-a-supercharged-mind-scientists-claim.html                                                                           

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19926741.700-do-supercharged-brains-give-rise-to-autism.html

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