April 24, 2011

Why Do Autistics Score Poorly On The Eyes Test?

eyestestFace18.jpg
"I think she wants me."  Wrong.

Asking what's lacking in an autistic kid is like asking what's lacking in a car.  Fuel efficiency?  Horns?  A duck?

There's no consistency in diagnosis, even though the diagnosis is immensely reliable.  That means that ten doctors will all agree a person has "ASD," but that person may look nothing like the other people all who have reliably been diagnosed.  This makes offering them treatment even more difficult.

So we have choices: try to refine the diagnostic criteria, or create separable categories, or dig backwards in time to find the "neurodevelopmental deficits" that existed in common. 

Trouble is, even an identical, genetically determined, structural pathology-- e.g. "larger cerebellum"-- may result in different phenotypes as each kid will learn different strategies to cope.  How, without the eye of God,  am I supposed to tell if someone has it?

II.

"Reading the Mind in the Eyes" Test was devised by Simon Baron-Cohen, and revised in 2001 to improve sensitivity.  The test is widely employed and widely criticized, but it's useful to understand his logic first.

The test is 36 pictures of eyes like the one above.  The woman's eyes, above, have choices:

a) decisive
b) amused
c) aghast
d) bored 

The test is here-- but DON'T TAKE IT until you read this whole post first.  A similar version for children is here, using the same eyes but different words:

a) made up her mind
b) joking
c) surprised
d) bored


Here is a distribution of scores generated with normals:

eyes test distribution.JPGIn this particular study, the "high functioning autism" group scored 21.9 +/- 6.6.

What does Baron-Cohen think this test tests?  One starts from the assumption that ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder-- i.e. a "static encephalopathy."  Something happened early, and though it may not be progressing, it is a physical limitation.

The point of this test is to be able to detect, even in a person who appears normal, whether they have this "static encephalopathy."   Do they have true deficits in social cognition that occurred early but have been masked by learning?

Hence the Eyes test.  The test is NOT testing the ability of the person to read faces or interpret their emotions, that's exactly the opposite of the point of it. People can have learned adaptive strategies to get at the right answer. This test is supposed to be immune to those tricks. 

This test was conceived of as a test of how well the participant can put themselves into the mind of the other person, and "tune in" to their mental state.

Importantly, this requires that the person understand their own emotions and have language to articulate it, which is what Baron-Cohen and others believe is the core deficiency of ASD: the "absent self."  So to do well on the Eyes test,  they must not be alexithymic.  You can't interpret the eyes as "judgmental" (lacking the "hints" that come from the mouth, forehead, context, etc) unless you understand that emotion in yourself.  The relationship between alexithymia and low Eyes Test scores has been directly measured.

For example: do psychopaths have difficulty "tuning into" the mental state of others, or can they do it just fine but don't care?  I've always felt the latter, and so I'd predict psychopaths do fine on the Eyes Test.  They do.  (Which, BTW, speaks to the legal question of sanity.)

III.

Is the test flawed, i.e., does it really detect these pre-learning deficits?  Lots of ASD people do well on it, especially women, so the test may not be very sensitive after all.  Can we at least say that those who score poorly do have the deficits in social cognition?  That the test isn't particularly sensitive, but it is specific?

I have very little experience with ASD patients, but I had occasion over this holiday break to cover an ASD unit.  An occupational therapist was explaining this test to me, and we showed some of the eyes to a 6 year old boy with ASD who was hospitalized (his second) for behavioral dyscontrol.  The kid got several wrong, for example this one:

eyes test friendly.jpg
Baron-Cohen's theory of autism is predicated on a reduced ability to imagine the thoughts and feelings of the other person substantially because they cannot recognize them in themselves.

So I took the ones he got wrong, and three others that he had gotten right, and asked him to guess again, but this time I told him to imitate the eyes himself.  Doing it this way, he got them all right.  All of them.

Obviously, this surprised me.  Admittedly, it was a slow process, but of interest was why it was slow.  I watched him "get into character"-- it took five or so seconds to sculpt his eye muscles, individually, into the proper configuration, but once he had done this the answer came easily.

Which tells me that this kid has the ability not to "learn adaptive strategies" or "fake it till you make it," but truly access his own inner state and then apply it to others, i.e. to truly empathize.  What he seemed to be lacking is... practice?

So now I ask you to take the test yourself; when you click "Get Score" it will show you the ones you got wrong.  Cover the words, look at the numbers, and then go back and try to imitate the eyes for the ones you got wrong.  Did it help?



---



You might also enjoy:

Are You Good At Reading Faces?












Comments

I've scored 28 intially the... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2011 12:24 PM | Posted by ed: | Reply

I've scored 28 intially then imitated (just the incorrect ones) the eyes and scored 33 (I'm a foreigner, some of the terms were somewhat confusing, perhaps i should have taken the kids test...)

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
the first time i scored 26.... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2011 12:33 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

the first time i scored 26. with imitating, i scored 2

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
I scored 31. Almost... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2011 12:41 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply


I scored 31. Almost all the ones I missed were women. As a gay male, that kind of made sense to me. Imitating the eyes definitely helped.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (2 votes cast)
29 then 35, though I probab... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2011 12:51 PM | Posted by asd;flkj: | Reply

29 then 35, though I probably would have gotten that even without imitating, since there's usually not more than two choices that make any sense.

Maybe what's lacking in an autistic kid is mirror neurons (and horns and a duck).

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 3 (3 votes cast)
I found it very difficult a... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2011 12:57 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I found it very difficult and hard to know what the eyes meant in most cases, so I found myself going by gut. But I scored 30 initially. I scored 33 on repeat, not sure that's better than chance after eliminating a known false.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
Wow. i did terribly.... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2011 1:01 PM | Posted by Scott: | Reply

Wow. i did terribly.
21.

But yes. Absolutely. Each one i got wrong i absolutely nailed when imitating them. Though like your 6 year old subject, it was slow going.

Many of them are so subtle. i would get my eyes how i thought theirs were... and still be stumped. But after a moment, i would realize there was some detail i'd missed. Once i'd corrected on my own face accordingly, the answer was obvious.

i wonder what missing those details says about myself? Uh oh.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 4 (4 votes cast)
33 then 34. Interesting pos... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2011 2:23 PM | Posted by Dan G: | Reply

33 then 34. Interesting post!

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
As a person who is a bit As... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2011 2:43 PM | Posted by TJIC: | Reply

As a person who is a bit Aspergers-ish, I was worried about taking this test.

First time through: 23 (whew! relief! Within the normal range!)

Imitating eyes: 30.

Wow.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 2 (2 votes cast)
Btw, I'm amused that I got ... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2011 2:46 PM | Posted by TJIC: | Reply

Btw, I'm amused that I got a 23 and was relieved, and the commenter two before me got a 21 and was horrified.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 4 (4 votes cast)
I guess it did help (13 wro... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2011 3:02 PM | Posted by Tomas Sedovic: | Reply

I guess it did help (13 wrong vs. 7 wrong) but I'm not sure how much as there was one answer already ruled out (the one I did previously).

For it to be more telling, the two attempts should probably be separated by some time (an our, a day?) and the second one should start afresh -- without seeing the previous answers.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
24 the first time. 28 the s... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2011 4:21 PM | Posted by Liz: | Reply

24 the first time. 28 the second. (Although, as far more intelligent commenters than I have pointed out, eliminating one of the wrong options might make it easier.

I find these tests quite intimidating, for some reason(s). I think it's a mixture of hating tests in general and the feeling that, if I don't get an absolutely stellar score, then there's something "wrong" with me.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 2 (2 votes cast)
I got 18 for the first time... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2011 4:30 PM | Posted by sla: | Reply

I got 18 for the first time. I think I was trying to "outsmart" the test, so I think I ended up guessing.

For the second time I tried to imitate the eyes and get in their skin.
Also go more with my premonition.
I got 30.

Thats really interesting.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
25I found on many ... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2011 5:34 PM | Posted by Adam: | Reply

25

I found on many of them that I couldn't decipher what the eyes said until I looked at the possible answers.

The multiple choice format seems to give clues to what is going on. After clued in, I could guess better.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
I scored 21 the first time,... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2011 6:06 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I scored 21 the first time, and 25 the second, and struggled to do the test a second time thru - hyper-aware that my "other clues" - especially mouth - were missing. I wished the answers were a reveal of the complete face and not just a word. And I found the amount of eye makeup on the women distracting/slightly annoying. Some thoughts on my low score:

I'm female, I'm not on the autism spectrum (confirmed by the other tests on the site) and I don't have trouble identifying others's emotions - though I do get sick & tired of picking up on other people's emotions.

I'm left handed. This test felt the opposite for me of when I read in my teens that lefties can write in mirror image, then picked up a pen and did it. This test took effort. I did the other tests on the site and scored like a typical man...

I'm "shy" - I'm very aware that I rarely make eye contact even with people I love - and think it is more a protective habit than a simple behavioral difference. Babies and animals are a different story. I enjoy and seek eye contact with them...on my own terms, admittedly.

I've been diagnosed with dysthymia & seasonal-affective disorder but don't currently get treatment. I am emotionally reactive and it isn't that I have such a problem with identifying my emotions as coping with them/their triggers. I'd describe the tough ones as mostly coming in sets (fear mixed with embarrassment mixed with anger that results in sadness) rather than as discrete emotions.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (2 votes cast)
How many of you had vision ... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2011 6:11 PM | Posted by Casandre Trine: | Reply

How many of you had vision issues as children?

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
Question: did the subjects... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2011 6:15 PM | Posted by BHE: | Reply

Question: did the subjects in the photos experience the emotions, or just fake it?

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 8 (8 votes cast)
Got 30 on first run, 34 aft... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2011 7:10 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Got 30 on first run, 34 after imitating the eyes. 6 and 20 got wrong both times, no idea what those two are thinking.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
29 first try, 30 when imita... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2011 7:50 PM | Posted by Chris: | Reply

29 first try, 30 when imitating. I did notice however that I answered quite a few differently the second time, despite the similar score.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
Alone's response: This i... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2011 8:30 PM | Posted, in reply to BHE's comment, by Alone: | Reply

Alone's response: This is an interesting point that I thought would distract from the original post, but: the photos are faked, i.e. the subjects are told to affect a gaze. In my mind, this would make the test even more difficult, in that it requires you to guess what their best approximation of an emotion is.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 5 (5 votes cast)
I've always resented that t... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2011 9:42 PM | Posted by Huh?: | Reply

I've always resented that these kinds of tests use actors but claim they test understanding what people are REALLY feeling. Usually you only learn that they are actors if you dig deeply into the methodology verbiage. The abstracts, the references, and certainly the press reports all make it sound as though the people were really experiencing the emotion. And yes, I know actors can often "method" themselves into feeling the emotions they are portraying.

But I maintain that it is unfair to set up a test that tells you "you are below average at judging what people are really feeling" when the truth is that "you are below average at judging what people are acting like they are feeling".

I saw a poster at Stanford where someone designed a similar test but got REAL emotions, elicited by getting people to tell stories about things that had really affected them emotionally. I think the purpose of the study was different, something about looking for differences in Chinese and European facial expressions for emotions (I think they found far less differences than they expected). But the photos from this study seemed SO much more realistic to me. I didn't need to study the pictures for 5 seconds and guess which emotion "might" be right, I could tell att a glance. I wish all such studies would use the most "real" emotions they can get.

Now, I actually scored high on the eyes test presented here (31, and I did it without reading the stuff on this page about shaping your eyes). But as with other tests like this that I've seen, I felt that I often was sensing the actor's "real" emotion which made it harder to guess the "supposed" emotion. Amused at being asked to act pensive, or bored with being asked to act aghast, or whatever (those aren't spoilers, I'm just making them up as examples).

Back in high school a good friend had a class photo taken that I especially liked, I said because "it looks exactly like how you think." He thought that was funny because the photographer had told him "think sex". I didn't argue...protesting too much and all that. But it was perfectly clear to me in the photo that he wasn't thinking about sex, he was thinking about what a jerk the photographer was, and that's what captured the essence, to me, of how my friend thought.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 8 (8 votes cast)
I do have asperger's. And I... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2011 10:16 PM | Posted, in reply to Huh?'s comment, by iop: | Reply

I do have asperger's. And I had already made that test...Don't remember how I'd scored. But I completely agree with "Huh?". Most of those pictures are extremely ridiculous, and seems like they was taken from a 90's advertisement. I truly think that this tests lacks a more serious study on the impacts of image, it ignores the previous repertoire from the observer, and it seems he didn't even gave it a minute to think on what those photos resemble, and what sort of signification they imply beyond the emotions. I really don't think it is possible to measure something as empathy on a bunch of photos taken from a December's edition of 1992's Time magazine.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
originally scored a 29, and... (Below threshold)

April 25, 2011 11:08 PM | Posted by ThomasR: | Reply

originally scored a 29, and then went back to the ones that I missed and they were all obvious. Like someone else said, there's never more than two probable answers, and eliminating one...

I partially agree with the objection about faked emotions, but I feel like most of the actors did a good job looking like the emotion they were supposed to. There were a few that were ambiguous.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
After you explained imitati... (Below threshold)

April 26, 2011 12:35 AM | Posted by Rooster: | Reply

After you explained imitation, I couldn't help but imitate each time I had a doubt. This is not how you test people! First make them take the test, then explain imitation, then retest.

It's a neat trick, though. Something of a test-specific cheat, but still useful for cold reading and such parlor games.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
I think this test is biased... (Below threshold)

April 26, 2011 2:18 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

I think this test is biased toward an attraction to females, being a biological male. As a female, the female eyes didn't make sense to me. Women in general do not look at women that way. I've never been in a situation where a woman was looking at me with "desire". Most of the other eyes (which were sexually neutral) I could guess by first hand experience having interacted with people - "oh that guy is serious" whatever. I've never had a pair of female eyes gaze at me with sexual interest or admiration (many male eyes, though). It required me to pretend that the eyes were looking at someone else, so that I could "imagine" it and get the answer.


I scored a 27. I'm shocked I did so well because I am a social retard.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 4 (4 votes cast)
Yeah, after reading the art... (Below threshold)

April 26, 2011 2:58 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Yeah, after reading the article I couldn't help but do the imitation thing.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
I got 20 a week ago, 22 try... (Below threshold)

April 26, 2011 3:31 AM | Posted by Iris: | Reply

I got 20 a week ago, 22 trying to imitate.

This made me suspect that I'm not that great at naming my emotions. Whenever I try, it's always either positive (happy), neutral (meh) or negative (PO'd). Anything more complex has to be inferred.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
I scored 32 first time, the... (Below threshold)

April 26, 2011 7:23 AM | Posted by brigit: | Reply

I scored 32 first time, then two more after imitating. I admit that I often try to read people beyond their spoken words, but I had always put my success down to intuition. Maybe it comes down to practice after all.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
I scored 23 the first time,... (Below threshold)

April 26, 2011 8:00 AM | Posted by LibbyC: | Reply

I scored 23 the first time, 26 the second. For what it's worth, I'm a left-handed female. People do sometimes say to me "Couldn't you see the look on her/his face?"

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
Very interesting! I tested ... (Below threshold)

April 26, 2011 11:19 AM | Posted by 300baud: | Reply

Very interesting! I tested 30.

I think Baron-Cohen is right in a couple of ways.

I definitely used a lot of emotional introspection to get through this. I suspect I was unconsciously imitating expressions (my introspection was definitely partly face-based), and I'm pretty sure I read that normal people do that kind of mirroring as part of communicating. I also read a pop-sci article recently suggesting that botox harms the ability to read emotions. So I buy his theory about what the test tests.

But I'm also a card-carrying member of the autism spectrum. I'm a software developer. I grew up hella nerdy, with a huge deficit in social awareness and skills. Temple Grandin is my homegirl. But I've changed a lot after ~8 years of buspar, therapy, yoga, meditation, and conscious efforts to develop introspection, emotional awareness, and social skills. As a teenager, I wasn't able to honestly answer the question, "How are you?" I just said plausible things. Now I actually know. So I also buy his theory about what makes me and my people different from you neurotypicals.


And Alone, you're right, this stuff is learnable. The problem for me has always been that it comes so naturally for normal people that most of you have no access to it. When I asked people how they did social or emotional things, it was like asking them how they raised their arm to get a glass out of the cabinet.

Well, that wasn't the only problem. The deeper problem was that I was so out of sync there was no opportunity to learn. It was like a 5-year-old trying to play tackle football with adults. Unless they consciously change the game from "football" to "let's teach football to the incompetent person", then the outcome is brutality, not learning. I now know this only because I've changed enough that I often find myself on the other side of it.

However, I don't think a lot of the autism spectrum is actually a neurodevelopmental disorder. I believe that full-blown autism is to nerdiness what sickle-cell anemia is to malaria resistance. Nerdiness is a useful adaptation that in excess causes problems. But it's basically a different way of being human, not a disorder. I think in the same way normal people need a lot of structured training and repetition to get math or computer programming, my people need that curriculum for dealing with our bodies, our emotional selves, and our social context.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 9 (11 votes cast)
You need to freakin' get in... (Below threshold)

April 26, 2011 12:17 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

You need to freakin' get into contact with paul ekman ASAP and get that crap published if it isn't already. We might find out who you are, but it's worth it.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
I imitated eyes first, got ... (Below threshold)

April 26, 2011 2:32 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I imitated eyes first, got a 19, then retook whole test quickly just going on intuition, got a 25.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
of course you're going to d... (Below threshold)

April 26, 2011 9:55 PM | Posted by negativedge: | Reply

of course you're going to do better after you know which ones you got wrong. you can safely eliminate one of the four answers. and you have something to go by. you might "feel" like imitating the eyes made the guessing easier, but you might also be tricking yourself into thinking that since you've recently been told it will likely be the case.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
"If for genetic re... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2011 1:12 AM | Posted by Indemous: | Reply

"If for genetic reasons, for example, you have low empathy, it might be much harder to restore it but I remain optimistic even in those situations that there are therapeutic or educational methods that could be tried to improve anybody's empathy," he [Baron-Cohen) says.

Article

That's the whole point of Baron-Cohen's research. He's looking for therapeutic ways to teach people empathy.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
Sorry, here's the <a href="... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2011 1:14 AM | Posted by Indemous: | Reply

Sorry, here's the link.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
I don't think imitating the... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2011 1:55 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I don't think imitating the eyes helps.

Speaking personally I approached this test like any multiple choice. There are two obviously wrong answers, and two which are similar enough to trip you up. You eliminate it to two choices. I think skill in taking standardized multiple choice tests is another factor which is influencing results. I have taken a loooooot of tests for my schooling and learned to be quite good at it. People with GEDs would do poorly on this test because they have poor test taking skills.

So, lets eliminate the crowd to those who are good at taking multiple choice tests. This would be most people who are scoring in normal range or better.
If you take the test, and say you choose incorrectly on 7 answers. Odds are the right answer was the "other one". You had it narrowed down to either surprise or fear; they are similar enough emotions (brow action and frozen interested eyes). The other two choices made no sense, like "happiness" and "desire" as these emotions feature relaxed brows/forehead/eyes. So you KNOW it is either "surprise" or "terror".

You guessed "terror" because you interjected a narrative where the mouth was all O shaped and you vicariously imagined a grizzly bear on the other end of the eyes. This is a common test taking mistake - reading too much into the question and adding crap that isn't there. Most of the answers I got wrong, I did that (I was like "well those eyes look like he is sternly talking to his son, I bet his son messed up in school... he's being authoritative!" when that wasn't going on and it biased my choice).

So when you see that you got that number wrong... immediately you realize your mistake and you know the right answer was surprise. He wasn't all O shaped and there was no grizzly, the mouth was actually smiling and there was a surprise birthday party there for him. How foolish of me!


I was able to answer all the questions correctly the second time not because imitating helped, but because I am good at taking multiple choice tests (and I am good at knowing what facial expressions look like correlating with emotions, due to learning this).

I scored a 27 but I suspect I am way more socially retarded than that, LOLOLOLZ.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 2 (2 votes cast)
Dude, "I don't think a lot ... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2011 12:38 PM | Posted, in reply to 300baud's comment, by Hay: | Reply

Dude, "I don't think a lot of the autism spectrum is actually a neurodevelopmental disorder." Really? My son is severely autistic and clinically mentally retarded. Despite years of intensive therapy, my son can still barely communicate. I guess I'm just really confused by your statement.

Honestly, I get really jealous when parents talk about how "nerdy" their autistic kids are. Families like mine, with children who are severely autistic, would *kill* for their sons/daughters to magically turn into savant type dorks. I would love that.

Autism is so confusing to me. My son will most likely never post an intelligent comment on a blog. My son cannot follow directions well enough to even take The Eyes Test. From the depths of my soul, I cannot figure out how you an my son even have the same freaking disorder. Is that what you were trying to say with your comment?

I'm just... sad. I like to pretend that with more therapy and time, my son could be like you, but I know that will probably never happen. But here's to hope. And semi anonymous comments.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 4 (4 votes cast)
Hay, I'm right there with y... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2011 1:15 PM | Posted by mwigdahl: | Reply

Hay, I'm right there with you. My daughter has profound communication deficits, along with Tourette's Syndrome, and I'd kill to somehow transform her into a "standard" Asperger's case.

I think "300baud" makes the same mistake many other people make, including Baron-Cohen -- imputing a single cause of autism and trying to connect it through the characteristic social deficits.

My daughter does well in new or crowded situations, is interested in observing people most of the time and has fairly good eye contact. She loves horses and dressing up and other typically girly activities. She has no notable interest in math or technology. But she also has the echolalia, lack of joint attention and profound communication deficits that got her her diagnosis.

If those issues were fixed, I have no doubt she would be a very girly girl. Perhaps that makes her not one of "300baud"'s "people". But she's still autistic by all the broadly accepted diagnostic criteria, and her autism is still a profoundly impairing neurological disorder.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
300baud: "I believe that f... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2011 1:27 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

300baud: "I believe that full-blown autism is to nerdiness what sickle-cell anemia is to malaria resistance".

The problem with this statement is that there's no one type of autism (let alone "full-blown" autism), just like there's no one type of nerdiness. Music geeks are quite a bit different than computer geeks.

And even if we go with the technocentric definition of nerdiness, I don't think comparing it to malaria resistance is valid. When a person has one sickle-cell gene, they get malaria resistance with no negative consequences in that individual. Techno-nerdiness pairs increased aptitude for technology with social deficits -- as you yourself describe!

A better analogy might be that being born without legs leads to people with generally stronger arms. It's cool to have more upper-body strength, but the lack of legs is a problem, no matter how you slice it.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
Hay: There are definitely p... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2011 5:38 PM | Posted, in reply to Hay's comment, by 300baud: | Reply

Hay: There are definitely people who are diagnosed with autism that have severe issues, and I'm not trying to minimize that. I think we're 50 years out from a solid understanding of how minds work and how they go wrong. All of our current disease categorizations are blind men groping at elephants.

Your son and I could well not have the same disorder. But there are definitely people who do have a much more severe form of what I have that have been helped by intense, 40-hours-a-week training in social skills and behaviors. In retrospect, I and many others I know would have benefited from some of that as well.

My point about a big chunk of the autism spectrum not being a disorder is that it's adaptive in certain circumstances. Being different is not a disease. My youthful issues with social perception were painful, but only because I had to live in a context optimized for others. Being short is not a disability when the major problem is not being able to get things off of shelves that were built by the thoughtless tall.

Not that "Anonymous" above can get that: to him, I'm as bad off as a person without legs. Whereas from my perspective, neurotypicals have an egregious overfocus on social stimuli that keeps them from understanding things that are actually interesting and important. They spend all their time on politics and soap operas, and can't be bothered with a little math or a little logic. Which would be fine if it didn't lead to absurd outcomes, like the current budgetary clusterfuck.

Of course, neither is a bad way to be human. But if the disease model is the only model we have, then everything different has to be a disorder.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 2 (2 votes cast)
I had a 29 the first time, ... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2011 6:01 PM | Posted by Arctic Silver: | Reply

I had a 29 the first time, so there was no sense in repeating it, at least for me. But I will ask my autistic son If he'll take the kids test tomorrow.

Like others, I used to think the word applied to the extreme cases only, then found out through personal experience why they call it "spectrum". (Though I must agree, things get muddled at the edge of the rainbow.)

While some do, many people with autism don't remain fixed on one spot developmentally. I guess it depends on how bad the Sensory Integration Dysfunction is and whether the brain can somehow work around it. That's how you end up getting some dads (like Michael Burry scroll down to page 2) or even granddads telling you "that's ok, I was the same way and grew out of it". *facepalm* *hairpull*

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
I really dislike the idea t... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2011 6:46 PM | Posted by Hay: | Reply

I really dislike the idea that ASD kids are just "different" and need to be "understood." Like somehow ASD is not a disease. I am all for self advocacy, but please be aware that some individuals are so incredibly affected by this disorder that they cannot self advocate at all.

My son's social skills are so poor that he is constantly gets into dangerous situations without even realizing it. My son will never hold a job, get married, or have children. All of these institutions require a high degree of social skills.

I don't know if this is the equivalent of a person without legs, but I know that I would willingly give up my legs if my son's brain was somehow magically restored to normal. Autism is not a lifestyle choice or a personality type. Autism is a disease that severely negatively impacts the lives of people living with it.

My son's uniqueness sometimes makes me smile, and I appreciate it when people try to look at the bright side of things. In all honesty, I do get what you're saying. I want people to accept you as you are. My son is way beyond average acceptance, though. He's not quirky or nerdy. He's mentally retarded, and I'm super tired of random people making it seem like all he needs is a little understanding.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 3 (3 votes cast)
Didn't follow instructions ... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2011 7:50 PM | Posted by StandsWithAGist: | Reply

Didn't follow instructions to read before test and got a 34. The 2 I missed were females (I'm female) and I found the Cosmo-type poses of the female eyes (and the descriptions) to be the hardest to read: they all looked like they were giving the come-hither stare...

I still think I was right on 25: incredulous, not interested.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
Can't remember, but thought... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2011 7:52 PM | Posted, in reply to StandsWithAGist's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Can't remember, but thought I had read there's a tendency for people with BPD to do better on these tests? True?

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
300baud: "Not that "Anonym... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2011 8:58 PM | Posted by mwigdahl: | Reply

300baud: "Not that "Anonymous" above can get that: to him, I'm as bad off as a person without legs."

That was me, actually. Sorry, forgot to put in my name the second time around.

I was incomplete in my analogy. And it is an analogy, not an equivalence; I don't think you're as bad off as a person without legs, but I think dysfunction of the legs is a better analogy for autism in several ways than your sickle-cell analogy.

In the leg model, I would compare you to someone who was born with a weak leg, which, let's say, meant that you couldn't play sports or run as a child. Later in life you went through an extensive exercise regimen and now you have near full function in your legs, plus the extra upper body development you compensated with as a child. Make no mistake -- that's to be applauded.

But all the exercise in the world won't help a person that doesn't have legs in the first place, or lacks the neural wiring to make them work. So while there may be a superficial similarity between those extremes of the "leg dysfunction spectrum", I contend that there's enough of a qualitative difference that they are effectively different conditions.

That qualitative difference means that a person with a limp does _not_ understand what it's like to be a paraplegic, and similarly, high-functioning autistics _don't_ understand what it's like to be totally disabled on the extreme end of the autism spectrum.

That's why (some of) those of us with severely impaired children tend to get frustrated when high-functioning autistics both presume to speak for all autistic spectrum people, and then also make blanket statements about our children (without any first-hand knowledge about them) that fly in the face of the experience of those of us who are caring for them every day.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 2 (2 votes cast)
I think the poster meant th... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2011 11:54 PM | Posted, in reply to Hay's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

I think the poster meant that a lot of the autistic SPECTRUM... as in, those people who are not obviously mentally handicapped. Someone like your son who sounds severely autistic and obviously neurodevelopmentally handicapped.

However, the tempermentally asocial/introverted nerds who spent their entire childhoods on computers and videogames never learning social skills, those kids might not necessarily have a genuine mental biological handicap, there may be a large part of learning having to do with their abysmal failure to socialize normally or take interest in people.

Some of us have extremely sensitive dopamine systems; some of us are anxious and shy by temperament; some of us are less interested in socialization by temperament; some of us are highly interested in systems and "things" by temperament.

These personality traits are genetic. They are clearly adaptive in a sprawling agricultural society, as they gear the organism to mastering a specific set of skills which would be useful, giving them a valuable niche. You will be the most awesome carpenter in your whole VILLAGE god damn it, if you have this anti-people, pro-understanding the smallest details of interesting subjects sort of brain. This kind of brain was made for a post agricultural society where there are a lot of people and a ton of highly specialized roles. The genetics which create it were certainly selected relatively recently.

However, they were selected in a world which did NOT have all the outlets for drugging and addicting such a mind into obsessive isolation.

When "autistic spectrum" genes were selected we did not have the internet, computers, warcraft, collections of various things to organize and obsess over all day, divorces, no family communications, latch key kids, television.

When "autistic spectrum" genes were selected, all human beings HAD to be social, be in relationships to some degree. There was no chinese take out, no internet. There was not the million and one obsessive fanatical interests brains like this can drop out of life and fixate on.


It's sort of like obesity. When humans selected genes for the tendency to store fat in response to seasonal indicators of coming winter (e.g. low dopamine levels, higher carbohydrate intake) ... this was done in an environment where obesity was not possible because we did not figure out how to hydrolyze government subsidized corn starch into 40/60 fructose/glucose blends, making the resultant product HFCS as ubiquitous as water. We did not live in a world where people chronically had abnormal sun light exposure patterns (way too little) and abnormal darkness exposure patterns (also way too little). So these once super duper adaptive genes which made us pack on just a little bit of extra padding, and run a little bit higher blood sugar in the colder months, now make us pathologically obese and break down our glucose metabolism.

Yea, "autism spectrum" is sorta like that.

The traits are adaptive... you'll totally be the most masterful wahtever in your whole village... but like, in today's world, all that will happen is you will have zero social skills, no relationships, way sub par understanding of social cues, an extensive collection of star trek memorabilia knowing the smallest details of every episode, die a virgin with a level 120 sorcerer in whatever RPG you play 18 hours per day.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (2 votes cast)
Actually, all nerds are fun... (Below threshold)

April 28, 2011 12:21 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Actually, all nerds are fundamentally similar. People who specialize in music are only slightly different from people who specialize in math. They feature very similar brain processes (e.g. a highly sensitive pattern recognition function in the brain, emphasizing logic and systems, deemphasizing empathy/emotions/people).
Interest in music vs interest in math is as different as an artistic person who's fond of blue vs an artistic person who's fond of green. They are not radically different; they are still color - artist people. So one has a more developed musical ability and the other is more spatial I guess.

Your analogy is off because people without legs develop strong arms as an adaptation to having no legs. This is not the same thing as having a nerd brain, because people with nerd brains have innate talents that normal people don't have. This sort of brain (which I have) is awesome at focusing and homing in on the smallest details of any subject. The lack of interest in the "big picture" and function of a thing (e.g. door hinges exist to open doors) is a result of an excessive interest in the details and mechanics and excruciating minutiae of the smallest building blocks. This ability - to be extremely, painfully analytical and detailed and focused - is something "extra". It is not an adaptation to social retardation. If anything, social retardation is the result of having a magnet brain. Hypersensitive dopamine system means playing with a door hinge all day is extremely stimulating, people and the larger world are lost to you.

Nerds have magnet brains.


It's like being on your own, innate drugs. Drug addicts behave in a similar way - they lose interest in people, activities, because they are injecting life into their blood stream. When you are shooting up with exorphins and flooding your brain with dopamine 24/7, why bother going out and doing things and having relationships or interest in "normal" activities? All the stimulation your brain needs is right here in this plant derived narcotic, all of your neurotransmitter receptors perpetually occupied (and then downregulated from overstimulation, but that's of no consequence now in a drug-replete environment, only later in withdrawal is it a problem).

What makes nerds fundamentally different from normal people who behave / think "normally" (pro-social, not too obsessive or magnet minded) is that they do not have this hypersensitive dopamine/endorphin situation going on here.


This is the foundation for autism interventions like the low casein-gluten diet. Certain proteins in our diet stimulate our endorphin receptors, exacerbating the personality traits of an autistic person (indifference to people/world due to innate hyperstimulation). If you change the diet to be low exorphin then this motivates the person to seek stimulation and be more communicative and interested in the world outside.

But of course, its highly hypothetical controversial and is probably only effective in a fraction of "autistic spectrumed" people.

Rambling.

Point I was making is that nerd minded people are not "deficient", like the person-without-legs-getting-mad-built arms... but rather nerd minded people are "gifted" in that they have an EXTRAORDINARY ability to see details and focus/stick their minds onto things.
It is like having a magnet brain, I have lived with it my whole life.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
300baud made it abundantly ... (Below threshold)

April 28, 2011 12:34 AM | Posted, in reply to Hay's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

300baud made it abundantly clear he differentiated between clearly mentally handicapped individuals like your son, vs "aspbergers" people who may or may not have a genuine brain development problem. His argument was that on the fringes of the "autism spectrum" you have a whole lot of people who are tempermentally, personality-wise extreme people who aren't really diseased per se but rather just atypical. This does not apply to your son who is clearly handicapped and cannot and will never function.
An "aspbergers" person is not severely handicapped. They are functional. They are different sorts of people and we are pathologizing them simply because they function differently than most people do. They might even be considered gifted in some areas, being good at things "normal" people are not so good at, like specializing in subjects of interest... normal social-minded people are very poor at focusing and mastering subjects, skills, knowledge because they are not as easily stimulated and fixated.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (2 votes cast)
If so, I would hope they co... (Below threshold)

April 28, 2011 12:35 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

If so, I would hope they controlled for male/female because almost all BPD people are female and females in general are better at any social task than males in general.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
Your reading comprehension ... (Below threshold)

April 28, 2011 12:48 AM | Posted, in reply to mwigdahl's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Your reading comprehension is poor.

300baud's analogy was entirely appropriate. People like your child are the unfortunate, worst-case scenario of a set of genetic traits which manifested improperly, perhaps due to early life environmental insults (e.g. alcohol exposure, or exposure to anti-seizure medications can cause abnormal brain development and retardation), or additional genetic mutations (e.g. poor quality sperm/eggs from older, unhealthy parents), will result in this otherwise situationally adaptive genetic tendency being manifest in a wholely dysfunctional and maladaptive way (the offspring is retarded and completely nonfunctional with highly repetitive stereotyped fixed low level interests and no / minimal communication ability and intellectual deficits... vaguely phenotypically like the personality type of a nerd which is otherwise functional, and may have been what your child would have been had he or she developed properly).


It's like, manic depression is a severe and pathological manifestation of a set of genetic traits which make a person more likely to be creative, ingenuitive, novel thinking and situationally motivated. It is demonstrated that family members of manic depressives are more creative and do better in tasks which measure novel , independent, creative thinking. Manic depressives themselves also have these traits, but unfortuantely they also become severely depressed and wildly out of control high out of their minds. Their family members might just have gentle lulls in the fall and mild highs in the spring (and yes, cyclothymia is much more common in the families of manic depressives)... for the cyclothymic person, the personality temperament might even be an advantage, giving them an edge on other people when they are high, without the severe debilitation of the depressive lows. They may even be a prolific high achieving person due to their internal boosts of energy and novel thinking, without going overboard into crazy town or too low into falling off the earth and ruining your life.

In the unfortunate manic depressive person, those genes manifested in a maladaptive way, possibly due to early life insults and deficiencies (viral infections and older parents/damaged eggs and damaged sperm and severe nutritional deficiencies).
There won't be any WINNING like charlie sheen, just lots of crazed outbursts about god and getting locked up over and over again, and months spent on the couch in a torpor depression, and a nice SSI check and government cheese and obesity/diabetes from zyprexa.

The manic depressive is NOT fundamentally different from the cyclothymic... the only difference is that the former took what is age old genes, normal human variation and the brain didn't develop properly, got damaged somehow, severe stresses, viral infections, damaged genes, no omega 3 fatty acids in your diet, etc etc etc, and wham loony bin time at 21 years old when you flipped out totally, because that gentle high aint so gentle.

IF THESE were totally different disorders, then we would NOT see cyclothymia being more common among manic depressives families. We would NOT see cyclothymia sometimes turn into manic depression. But we do se this... cyclothymic personality is common in the family of manic depressives, and sometimes cylcothymics do turn out to go crazy. They must be genetically related predispositions.


Autism is similar. You have normal human variation (genetics), which then manifests in a big bad way for whatever reason and you end up with a little boy who stares at a door hinge eternally fascinated, highly stereotyped repetitive behaviors, locked in their own world, no ability to communicate, no interest in anything except extreme interests in only a few things which make no sense to normal people.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (4 votes cast)
People with developmental d... (Below threshold)

April 28, 2011 3:26 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

People with developmental disabilities, even and especially profound developmental disabilities, have value. They're worthy of the utmost kindness and respect and their families are, too. I was a caregiver, for a short time, decades(?) ago, & this post brought back a flood of memories for me. I was deeply moved by what I shared with & saw in my "charges", even in tough moments, which at the time seemed unfathomably tough. Not quite so much now that I'm a parent tho'. What was really missing in my workplace was a functional support network and solid ideas from the supposedly normal people who were in charge. I hope that's changed and continues to get better.

Out of that, my question for Alone would be, do you think the social connection that you made with your patient could account for any of the difference in outcome? (What was his reward for the effort that you noted? Getting the right answer?)

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
Anonymous I find your compa... (Below threshold)

April 28, 2011 4:23 AM | Posted by Arctic Silver: | Reply

Anonymous I find your comparison of manic depression and autism very interesting. Makes a lot of sense.

For me, using the Sensory factor explains why autism is a spectrum:

Mentally retarded with mild or severe Sensory Integration Dysfunction = not much one can do about that, though probably much easier if mild sensory issues.

Mentally normal with severe Sensory Integration Dysfunction = those are the ones who can learn to communicate through computers but still low functioning.

Mentally normal with mid-range Sensory Integration Dysfunction = high functioning autism. They often make a make a normal impression at first glance until the teacher notices that they spent most of the day writing all numbers from 1 to 2000 in evenly spaced columns. Take away the crutches and they fall apart. Could spend most of the day stimming (ie. repetitive behaviors) if you let them. Prone to nasty regressions.
Hmmm, I think you can tell I have one of those at home.

There's many such combinations.

Like islands of ability combined with severe SID = can learn the telephone book by heart but little else. Then you have those with savant abilities but mild SID. As they learn how to work through the sensory issue they often lose their savant ability - it becomes less easier to sketch an entire city from memory.

That's why to me it's a spectrum and one would find similar results for bipolar.

The "little boy who stares at a door hinge eternally fascinated" has no sensory filter. At that moment, the door is just as important even more important than his own mother.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
My reading comprehension is... (Below threshold)

April 28, 2011 10:05 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by mwigdahl: | Reply

My reading comprehension is just fine, thanks! :)

The sickle-cell analogy is flawed in at least two major ways:

1. It compares mild autism, such as Asperger's, to malarial resistance. As both you and 300baud admit, mild autism _is_ maladaptive in some ways -- it's diagnosed through impairments to
normal cognitive function, not by identifying the adaptive strengths you claim. Malarial resistance through having one sickle-cell gene does not have any obvious maladaptive component.

2. Sickle-cell anemia is a binary condition. You either have sickle-cell or you don't, and there's only one manifestation of the disease. Autism has a bewildering array of manifestations, and any speculation that there's a single underlying cause (or even a single set of behavioral tendencies) is completely unwarranted speculation at this point.

The sickle-cell analogy _is_ good in that it does deal with the adaptive component, as you point out. And the rest of your post on manic depression was interesting.

Frankly, I don't really care what analogy you use as long as my primary point is taken: Having a mild form of some condition doesn't necessarily mean you have any idea what it's like to have a more severe version. A creative person doesn't understand what it's like to have out-of-control manic depression. Starving to death isn't just a "stronger" form of wanting a snack. And garden-variety nerds don't understand and have no special standing to speak for severely disabled autistics.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -1 (1 votes cast)
By the way, this:"... (Below threshold)

April 28, 2011 10:52 AM | Posted by mwigdahl: | Reply

By the way, this:

"People like your child are the unfortunate, worst-case scenario of a set of genetic traits which manifested improperly, perhaps due to early life environmental insults (e.g. alcohol exposure, or exposure to anti-seizure medications can cause abnormal brain development and retardation), or additional genetic mutations (e.g. poor quality sperm/eggs from older, unhealthy parents), will result in this otherwise situationally adaptive genetic tendency being manifest in a wholely dysfunctional and maladaptive way (the offspring is retarded and completely nonfunctional with highly repetitive stereotyped fixed low level interests and no / minimal communication ability and intellectual deficits... vaguely phenotypically like the personality type of a nerd which is otherwise functional, and may have been what your child would have been had he or she developed properly)"

... is both pompous and willfully ignorant. Generic rehash of the current theories of the cause of autism, which for all its wordiness could be boiled down to "something went wrong", followed by a minimal yet still redundant listing of standard autistic symptoms, which only partially overlap my child's presentation, followed by a prediction of what my daughter might have been like. Based on what? Your personal interview with her? Her genetic test results?

Maybe it was based on how I described her in my post above? You could have used that information, but because what I said about her doesn't conform to your one-size-fits-all, one-dimensional view of autism, you just ignored it.

And you tweak me about _my_ reading comprehension?

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (2 votes cast)
Nerdiness is not autism, or... (Below threshold)

April 28, 2011 11:35 AM | Posted by Hay: | Reply

Nerdiness is not autism, or even aspergers. Being introverted, focused, and socially awkward is not a diagnosis for any disorder whatsoever. Some individuals with ASD will be stereotypically nerdy, others will not. Plenty (millions of people) are insanely dorky without ASD.

The early signs of autism are:
1. Not making eye contact
2. Not smiling when others smile at him
3. Not responding to cuddling
4. Not responding to name when called
5. Not babbling

I'm going to go ahead and guess that the vast majority of nerds made eye contact with their mommies, smiled, enjoyed cuddling, and talked. Then they went on to be crazy obsessed with dinosaurs or legos. This is normal. This is good. This is *NOT* autism.

And your comment about the causes of autism was both rude and incredibly stupid. It's fine though. Being the parent of an autistic child, I'm really accustomed to hearing all kinds of half baked, untested claims about what causes autism. *GASP* Vaccines!!!!


Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -1 (1 votes cast)
"Plenty (millions of people... (Below threshold)

April 28, 2011 12:55 PM | Posted, in reply to Hay's comment, by AnAnon: | Reply

"Plenty (millions of people) are insanely dorky without ASD."

Oh so true! And, really, "dorky" is in the eye of the beholder. Some of the coolest people I know are actually dorks, or reformed dorks, of some kind (the arts, where cool and dorkdom meet - one part of the dork army is creating the infrastructure, the other is creating culture non-dorks can hollow out and wear as a "cool" uniform that signifies ones individuality/uniqueness...which when not hollowed out, of is considered "dorkiness" or "weird" ;-)

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
What 300baud meant was thi... (Below threshold)

April 28, 2011 4:27 PM | Posted, in reply to mwigdahl's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

What 300baud meant was this:
The genetics which make severe autism possible, were evolved and selected for because they helped human beings adapt to life ina sprawling, huge agricultural society. When manifested "properly" you get nerdishness. When "additional factors" such as brain damage and genetic mutations due to older/unhealthy parents and viral infections prenatally and exposure to toxic chemicals like alcohol and antiepileptic medications and allergens during key points of brain develop... when these occur the child develops a specific form of mental retardation which is called severe autism.

SO the argument is that yes, the genetics for autism may be related to the genetics for high level mental processes in human beings. Autism itself is not high level special thinking, but the unique ways autistic people are mentally handicapped (such as being extremely focused and detailed and disinterested in the world due to this intense stimulation from such low level behavior)... this is clearly related to specific mental functions (you might even say advantages, talents) in otherwise healthy people.


So in that way, autism is to "nerdishness" as sickle cell is to malarial resistance. From a POPULATION PERSPECTIVE, the genes which make sickle cell possible evolved because they helped the humans in that population resist malaria. Similarly, from a POPULATION PERSPECTIVE, the genes that make severe autism possible (a very specific form of mental retardation) evolved and were selected for because agricultural societies have many jobs with specific niches which makes such a type of a brain useful (intensely focused and disinterested in people) . When this brain develops improperly, you see a specific form of mental debilitation and retardation where children have no interest in people but intense interest in "things", highly sensitive and stimulated to the point where a door hinge is totally the bomb.


Mild autism is NOT the farthest edge of the "autistic spectrum". All levels of proper autism feature mental disability without benefit, but the "aspbergers syndrome" represents levels of autism which are not inherently disabling and might even be beneficial. Look at Bill Gates. His capacity to care less about socialization /people and care more about focusing on creating systems and "things" like computers have made him a bajillionaire. Bill Gates has aspbergers syndrome and it would be incredibly naive to assume his specific sort of brain has no role in making him wildly successful in modern society.

The agricultural society (like the one we live in) with gajillions of people over huge stretches of land is relatively new in human evolution, and it is a direct result to our food source changing (from hunter/gatherer bands with less food resulting in less people, to humans learning how to grow their own food resulting in population explosions that could be supported, and societies covering more land than was ever possible during the bulk of our evolution).
Because humans found themselves living in in an entirely novel social structure, they found that there was a need for highly specialized jobs and talents in a way that was never needed before.

This lead to certain "personality" dispositions arising... genetics being selected and thriving which promoted people with intense fixed interests in systems/logic/patterns and less interest in social connections/empathy. These mental processes help people adapt to an agricultural society because it promotes specialization and mastering skills.

People with aspbergers used to be called "nerds' or "dorks" and the word nerd/dork generally refers to a young adult, almost always a male, who has no social skills and is perpetually socially retarded, but has intense fixed interests in things like math or fantasy games or cars and airplanes or what have you.

One thing I will agree with you on is that people with aspbergers have no idea what it is like to have, or care for, a child with severe autism, just as a cyclothymic doesn't understand what its like to go to the nut house because you thought you were god, or to lose your job when your depression becomes so severe you just can't go in anymore.


But 300baud clearly stated that people with severe autism have a pathological condition, which is related to an atypical but otherwise adaptive and functional type of brain (i.e. aspbergers). He never claimed to know what it is like for a severely autistic child and he never claimed to be one. YOu interjected thta rant all by yourself, presumably out of frustration having a handicapped child.

I'm sorry about your childs condition, but attacking other people on the internet who are having a conversation about autism is not going to help. The sum of your argument seems to be this:

"PEOPLE WITH ASPBERGERS DONT HAVE THE TRAUMATIC CONDITION MY CHILD HAS, THEREFORE I COMPLETELY REJECT ANY CONJECTURE OR RESEARCH WHICH DEMONSTRATES GENETIC OVERLAP AND I COMPLETELY REFUSE TO SAY THEY HAVE EVEN REMOTELY THE SAME PROBLEM, AND I TOTALLY TURN AWAY FROM THE CONCEPT THAT GENETICS WHICH MAKE AUTISM POSSIBLE MAY ACTUALLY PROMOTE TALENTS AND SKILLS IN PEOPLE LIKE BILL GATES, SO INSTEAD I AM JUST GOING TO RANT AND COMPLAIN ALL DAY ON THE INTERNET"

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
But the thing is, th... (Below threshold)

April 28, 2011 4:39 PM | Posted, in reply to Hay's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply


But the thing is, the original inception of the "nerd" personality was clearly referring to autistic spectrum (aspbergers) people. It describes a young person, usually male, with no social skills , limited social interest, and intense fixed interests and rigid behaviors in systems and logical activities like math, and bizarre outbursts or behavior (e.g. freaking out inappropriately because of something in the environment). This in a bundle is a "nerd". This is the classic "nerd" and it was clearly a social slang term to define what we would now call someone with aspbergers.
There are a lot of people who believe being a nerd is "cool" (e.g. the mid 90s pop rock band "weezer" made it cool to identify as a nerd). Many people will use the term nerd improperly to describe someone with high levels of social skills, emotional sensitivity, who simply has atypical interests in whimsical fantastical things which seem odd to other people.
This is not a nerd, this is an artistic person. Their social foibles are a result of their emotional sensitivity to the world (this is the opposite of autism) and their highly creative artistic mind resulting in interests in fantasy worlds (which again, is the opposite of autism , because strange behaviors in autism are resulting from being very stimulated by low level ordinary tasks or events, which is the opposite of having an expansive creative mind that can see things as being different than what they are, such as emotional sensitivity and creativity).
"Nerd" has become this counter culture badge of honor, because of how misunderstood and seemingly mentally intense they are. However, the true classical "nerd" was a very specific sort of person who is socially retarded (i.e. incapable of socializing normally) and abnormally intense and fixated typically on maths or science and other non-people activities.
Just because Rivers Cuomo calls himself a "nerd", or the emo kids at school say they are "nerds", does not change the fact that they are not nerds and the true definition of a nerd is redundant with and pretty much interchangeable for aspbergers syndrome.

Look at this definition of aspbergbers, and then tell me that this is not basically describing a nerd.

And yes, as the wiki article suggests, traits for "aspbergers" children are found in family members, especially fathers, and all throughout the family, in even milder forms than that of the aspbergers person.

Aspbergers is considered the mildest threshhold of "autism", but clearly we see even milder manifestations of similar personalities.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
You may be right about the ... (Below threshold)

April 28, 2011 10:20 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by mwigdahl: | Reply

You may be right about the putative evolution of autism-related genes, or you might not. The case is hardly open and shut. Either way, I guess the data will eventually either prove you wrong or right. Personally, I question whether genes that stifle empathy and social behavior would be adaptive in the context of a subsistence-level, interdependent society, whether it was agrarian or hunter-gatherer.

It doesn't really matter. What I took issue with was that 300baud identified with the entire "autism spectrum":

"But I'm also a card-carrying member of the autism spectrum. I'm a software developer. I grew up hella nerdy, with a huge deficit in social awareness and skills. Temple Grandin is my homegirl."

And then followed up with this:

"However, I don't think a lot of the autism spectrum is actually a neurodevelopmental disorder."

For this to be true, he, and I guess you, must redefine "a lot of the autism spectrum" to be conditions less severe than Asperger's, and hence undiagnosable, since the diagnostic criteria for Asperger's I read about in the article you linked is diagnosed solely through deficits and restrictions in social behavior and empathy, not through any sort of positive adaptive behaviors.

Similarly, you say: "'aspbergers syndrome' represents levels of autism which are not inherently disabling and might even be beneficial."

But it doesn't. Read the article you linked to. Diagnosis of Asperger's involves recognition of: significant difficulties in social interaction, restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, lack of nonverbal communication skills, and limited empathy.

I'll certainly back you up that these do not have to be "disabling" per se, but "impairing" seems a given based on the diagnostic criteria themselves. These are hardly beneficial. Nowhere in the article does it note any positive adaptive side effects to Asperger's -- the closest statement is this:

"Although most students with AS/HFA have average mathematical ability and test slightly worse in mathematics than in general intelligence, some are gifted in mathematics." Well, duh. Some neurotypicals are gifted in mathematics as well.

Really, all I was trying to get across was that if 300baud thinks he can speak for what's going on with severely disabled autistics, he is mistaken. He never came back to either debate or acknowledge the point. You did, for which I thank you. Also, thanks for the expression of sympathy. I don't know about the other parents of severly autistic kids, but I'll take whatever level of support I can get!

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
I think when 300baud wrote ... (Below threshold)

April 29, 2011 1:12 AM | Posted, in reply to mwigdahl's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

I think when 300baud wrote this:
"However, I don't think a lot of the autism spectrum is actually a neurodevelopmental disorder.""
I think what he meant was is this:
"A lot of people being diagnosed as aspbergers don't have a serious neurodevelopmental disorder."
I'm not 300baud. However, when he wrote :
"However, I don't think a lot of the autism spectrum is actually a neurodevelopmental disorder.""
I think what he meant was is this:
"A lot of people being diagnosed as aspbergers don't have a serious neurodevelopmental disorder."

He said "a lot of the autistic spectrum" but I interpreted it as "a lot of people in the autistic spectrum" meaning aspbergers individuals. All levels of autism are impairing, but aspbergers is only questionably impairing because there are benefits as well as limitations.

This brings me to my main point. Aspbergers and subclinical autistic-like personality traits can be an advantage and thats why they exist, thats why they were selected for. I'm sorry for what you and your child go through, but I don't think you are fully understanding that the type of brain processes exhibited by severe autistic children are also found in talented, high acheiving scientists engineers and others.

You are wrong when you say that aspbergers is defined only by disability. This criterion is an advantage, as well as a limitation, it works both ways:

Restricted and repetitive interests and behavior
People with Asperger syndrome often display behavior, interests, and activities that are restricted and repetitive and are sometimes abnormally intense or focused. They may stick to inflexible routines, move in stereotyped and repetitive ways, or preoccupy themselves with parts of objects.[24]
Pursuit of specific and narrow areas of interest is one of the most striking features of AS.[3] Individuals with AS may collect volumes of detailed information on a relatively narrow topic such as weather data or star names, without necessarily having genuine understanding of the broader topic.[3][7] For example, a child might memorize camera model numbers while caring little about photography.[3] This behavior is usually apparent by grade school, typically age 5 or 6 in the United States.[3] Although these special interests may change from time to time, they typically become more unusual and narrowly focused, and often dominate social interaction so much that the entire family may become immersed. Because narrow topics often capture the interest of children, this symptom may go unrecognized.[7]

It is this intense, fixed, passionate and unwavering interest in subjects which allows people with aspbergers (and even milder, subclinical manifestations) become so wildly successful and knowledgable and experts in their fields. This capacity for superhuman focus on a subject, and passionate interest in it, is how anything ever got discovered in science and math.
If not for this trait, bill gates would not be bill gates and microsoft would not exist and I would not be using windows right now. Temple Grandin totally redefined factory farming, making it much more humane, as a direct result of her obsessiveness with reducing hyperstimulation.


Speaking personally... and I really, really hate to jump into the self-defining autism spectrum group... but my family has this type of brain, these traits. It runs down my maternal grandfather's side, and I have first hand witnessed the benefit of an obsessive, fanatical focused mind with narrow interests and indifference to people. I had some of the signs of autism as a young child, such as refusing to answer my name, shunning people (instead I loved to sit in a corner by myself and play with legos and anything that could be built or structured), I had very little emotional expression as a baby and if you watch the films my parents took of me they were always asking me to either 1) respond to them, 2) smile or show emotion 3) care about them. This was very different from my siblings (who are more people-people) and they did not "shut out the world" as much as me.
I enjoyed being read to, but unlike most children my favorite book was the dictionary. I didn't as much care for stories, because I viewed the story part as uninteresting, not as interesting as lists of words which were arranged and organized.

I've always had a brain that was not as people-oriented and more structure-oriented.

I don't want to say I'm autistic, but clearly I'm a bit touched with the personality of it.
I'm getting somewhere. The things my grandfather did, and my mother did, and even I can do, amaze other people, because it requires such obsession and capacity to see details, normal minded people can't care that much, for that long. Normal minded people sorta browse, sorta jump from thing to thing, are interested in social activities and people. My grandfather, my mother, and myself, have special brains. We lock ourselves in rooms, we completely shut out the world, we don't care about the world, we get no pleasure from people... we get hooked on something, some subject, some idea, and we obsess on it and learn everything about it and do it until we are experts and the world is like "what the hell, how did you do that, how did you know that, how did you build that?" In fact, I would assume most scientists and engineers were subclinically or fully clinically aspbergers.

A few times, when I was a child, other kids asked me if I was like "those people who were retarded but in a good way" (e.g. rain man). I've also been called "robot" or "computer" a few times, even in adulthood. Why do people call me a savant, a robot, a computer? I am so helpeless and hopelessly socially retarded, so literal, so blunt, so socially defunct... but my talents and skills and fixed focused knowledge are so out of the realm of normal, like a specialized machine.

I'm not autistic, but I know what its like to have a magnet mind that glues on intensely to stuff, is easily stimulated, and doesnt get (or care that much) about people. I do think that the genetic personality I have, my mother has, and my grandfather had, is somewhat related to the severe disorder of autism. It is NOT autism, but it is somehow genetically similar, which is why we see subclinical personality traits of autism clustering in the families of autistic people.


So, when you say that there is no benefit to aspbergers, only limitations... you haven't met many people with it as adults. Yes, to a young child, obsessiveness may be a limitation. A young child won't be able to do anything with their obsessive interests, and as a child such a mind is usually limiting (because childhood is a time of new experiences, it prevents you from diversifying and learning social skills)..... but as they mature into a teen and an adult, assuming they are intelligent, then watch out. When the intelligent aspbergers person comes into adulthood and their brain matures, they can be extremely talented and brilliant.

In fact, I would venture to guess that scientific discovery and engineering would come to a halt if not for autistic genetics.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
I think we're talking past ... (Below threshold)

April 29, 2011 9:58 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by mwigdahl: | Reply

I think we're talking past each other a bit (and have been for a while).

I'll agree with your summary: "When the intelligent aspbergers person comes into adulthood and their brain matures, they can be extremely talented and brilliant."

If they're smart, and if their area of focus is in an area conducive to success, they certainly can succeed and succeed brilliantly. Bill Gates (although I don't think he's ever had an "official" diagnosis) and Temple Grandin do certainly fall in this category, and I'm sure there are many others.

I don't go as far as you do -- I don't think scientific discovery and engineering would "come to a halt" without autistic genetics, simply because I'm not convinced, as you are, that all mechanical, scientific, and technological aptitude is mediated by "autism-related genes" of some sort. Mainly because I myself am a very successful software developer with a mechanical engineering background, and I don't fit the profile of Asperger's, even subclinically. It doesn't require Asperger's brain wiring to learn science and math, it requires diligence and intelligence. Perseverence, not necessarily perseveration.

To me, the sticking point is when you say this:

"He said 'a lot of the autistic spectrum' but I interpreted it as 'a lot of people in the autistic spectrum' meaning aspbergers individuals."

My point is that this an egregious redefinition of the term "autistic". To go back to the leg analogy, it's tantamount to a person with a limp saying that he's "a card-carrying member of the paraplegic spectrum" and then saying that a lot of people on the "paraplegic spectrum" don't have a true medical condition. It co-opts and dilutes the meaning of the term "paraplegic".

Similarly, I just think that successful, high-functioning Asperger's people are so far removed in presentation and experience from the people that fit the original definition of "autism" -- Kanner's Syndrome autistics and the like -- that it is inappropriate for the Aspies to use the terms "autism" or "autistic" to describe themselves. It dilutes the connotations of the word and changes the perception of the condition.

You've been sensitive to the original definition of the term "nerd" in this discussion; surely you can see why people in my situation would be sensitive to the dilution of meaning going on with the term "autism".

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (2 votes cast)
Well...I'm a bit con... (Below threshold)

April 30, 2011 12:14 AM | Posted by BrazilianDude: | Reply

Well...
I'm a bit concerned... I took the child's test (I'm not an english native speaker, and I wanted feel sure), and got only 19 right answers...

I have a longterm diffulty to relate to others... and this annoys me a lot... in fact, this makes me a little bit angry and depressed...

I know that I shall see a local clinician, but could you give me any piece of advice?

Thanks

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
I got 17, based off intuiti... (Below threshold)

May 2, 2011 3:22 AM | Posted by Francis: | Reply

I got 17, based off intuition. I'm a bit concerned now....

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
I got 17, based off intuiti... (Below threshold)

May 2, 2011 3:22 AM | Posted by Francis: | Reply

I got 17, based off intuition. I'm a bit concerned now....

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
i did the test after readin... (Below threshold)

May 3, 2011 5:01 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

i did the test after reading,

rushed through, but did it in a combination of intuition and trying to imitate when i got stuck on one

professionally diagnosed ASD, i got 30

but yeah I am on the mild end of the spectrum

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
I haven't yet taken ... (Below threshold)

May 3, 2011 2:56 PM | Posted by TheDavid: | Reply


I haven't yet taken the test. I have found the eyes in the photo above to be wearing too much makeup and probably false lashes, i.e. unattractive and unnatural.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
I read the post before taki... (Below threshold)

May 4, 2011 8:25 PM | Posted by JohnJ: | Reply

I read the post before taking the test. I felt like I had a hard time with it, but I got a 32. Trying to imitate the eyes didn't seem to help me.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
Holy shit this is awesome. ... (Below threshold)

May 4, 2011 10:27 PM | Posted by Sonya : | Reply

Holy shit this is awesome. TLP -- please work with more autistic kids and publish this! Baron-Cohen is total moron and needs someone to stand up to him in the publishing realm. The shit he spreads about autistic people is repugnant -- they don't feel love, they don't have empathy, they don't have a sense of self or an understanding that others have their own thoughts. Pure bullshit. Sickening, dehumanizing crap. Being able to parse facial expressions is innate skill for many, and it's just a bit broken in autistics. They have a self, they have love, and they care quite a lot about others and connecting with others -- they just can't figure out how.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (4 votes cast)
24 first time around; 32 wh... (Below threshold)

May 7, 2011 4:13 PM | Posted by PsychLik: | Reply

24 first time around; 32 when imitating. I agree having one answer ruled out helped (especially since it was my first guess, I might have opted for it again, had it been an option).
That said, when imitating, I felt a distinct "sense" of the emotion form, in my mind, as a result of the facial muscle action. There may be something to the pop-sci article about botox inhibiting the reading of others' facial expressions. It makes great sense to me that mirror neurons' actions may be facilitated by afferent inputs from the facial musculature.
This is good work, Alone. Come on out of the shadows and publish the shit...

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
Have you heard of Porges's ... (Below threshold)

August 19, 2011 10:17 AM | Posted by Ilya: | Reply

Have you heard of Porges's "Polyvagal Theory" and its brilliant application to Autism?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyvagal_Theory

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
How weird is it that I star... (Below threshold)

January 24, 2013 9:39 AM | Posted by DD: | Reply

How weird is it that I started reading this article with the imitation strategy in mind? I was not 100% sure that the first pic of the article was decisive so I made the face myself and became more certain. I scored a 28 on the test trying to not imitate so that's not bad but that was an immediately obvious strategy to do better at something that isn't necessarily that easy. I also think that the test is a bit unfair because it keep throwing in aghast or terrified or and it's NEVER that. That's unfair because people who are less sure of themselves will want to pick at least a few of those. I suppose that those options exist because thinking that a lot of those faces are terrified or hateful would be a pretty serious problem. There are also some clear pitfalls of all tests like the one that has both embarrassed an guilty as options so one can figure that it's neither of those because they're too similar. The answer choices should just be the same 6-8 options again and again.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
Scored 28 via the algorithm... (Below threshold)

January 24, 2013 10:57 AM | Posted by Thales: | Reply

Scored 28 via the algorithm of choosing the answer which seemed the least wrong, which I *guess* is good enough to detect autism, but far and away from being Voight-Kampff. It felt like half of the pictures were crops from deliberate poses of a perhaps neutral affect, or the actor/model was simply faking it (which is what actors do) marginally. Trying to replicate the eye poses didn’t help because looking to the side or scrunching one’s eyelids is ambiguous.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
I scored a 24, which was fa... (Below threshold)

January 24, 2013 12:45 PM | Posted by sinnerforhire: | Reply

I scored a 24, which was far higher than I expected. However, the really intriguing part was that every one of my wrong answers involved a male model. My father was likely borderline, Asperger's, social phobic, or all 3 (in addition to PTSD, as he was a wounded Vietnam vet), and he died when I was nine. I've always feared men to the point that most clinical professionals seem convinced that I was molested as a child (I'm 100% sure I was not), so I wonder if there's some significance to the fact that all my wrong answers involved men?

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
30 at the first try, 27 whe... (Below threshold)

January 25, 2013 10:20 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

30 at the first try, 27 when imitating.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)

Post a Comment


Live Comment Preview

April 23, 2014 15:12 PM | Posted by Anonymous: