I recently took an on-line test for Asperger’s syndrome: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.12/aqtest.html
As you probably know, Asperger’s is a pervasive developmental disorder that is characterized by an inability to understand how to interact socially. Typical features of the syndrome also may include clumsy and uncoordinated motor movements, social impairment with extreme egocentricity, limited interests and unusual preoccupations, repetitive routines or rituals, speech and language peculiarities, and non-verbal communication problems. See: http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=9675
I took the test not because I feel I possess Asperger-like symptoms but because both my father was and my son were/are deeply affected by the condition.
According to the website, 80% of people diagnosed with the syndrome score 32 points or more but I scored just 16, well with within the range of most people. I then did the test as if I were my father [he scored 40] and my son who scored 47.
When my father was alive, we had never heard of Aspreger’s syndrome and put his oddities of character down to the fact that he was born in a small mountain village in Cyprus long ago, he lived through a World War and was exceptionally selfish. Over the years, my brother and I came up with forms of words that seemed to sum him up. I thought he was probably mentally ill and my brother described him to me after he died as a “sociopath”. What was he like, I hear you ask?
He could hear no-one’s voice but his own. There was no one of any significance in his universe but himself. He was entirely lacking in empathy and saw both my brother and myself as physical extensions of him. He pushed both of us into unsuitable careers [the Banking industry and the Stock Exchange] because these were careers he would have liked to have pursued. When my Mother had a small stroke, he was incapable of recognizing it. He had an amazing will. He gave up smoking 60 cigarettes a day just like that but when he decided he had “cured” himself of heart-disease by breathing in lungfuls of mountain air and stopped taking his heart medicines, three weeks later he keeled over and died.
Living in the same household as my father was a strain on all of us. My mother was always saying “don’t upset your father”. She said this because the simplest thing [like disagreeing with him about a newspaper story], would send him off into a towering rage. He would shout at the top of his voice things like “I am surrounded by idiots!” We would all walk on eggshells around him and keep out of his way as much as possible.
He had no friends outside of one or two he made during the War, no interests outside of reading the newspapers and watching the news on the television. He seldom took my mother to a restaurant and didn’t have any interest in music, theater or books. His fixations [that he tried to impose on my brother and I] were money and the stock market.
Unsurprisingly, I left home as soon as I could and returned only occasionally, to spend time with my mother. After we left, the strain was more than she could bear and she died of a heart attack at the age of 62.
Young people of today living with Asperger’s are more aware of themselves as a group than any previous generation. There are many self-help and support groups dedicated to “Aspies” as they call themselves. Although there is no such thing as a “cure” from the syndrome, treatments involving drugs and psycho-social interventions, behavioral modification, social skills training, educational interventions and mood stabilizers, beta blockers, and tricyclic-type antidepressants have been imposed on individuals. Most people with Aspergers however, would suggest there is nothing “wrong” with them and they should be allowed to be themselves…
To an extent they are right, if someone is different do we have the right or duty to try to make them more socially acceptable to the majority? Such was the case with gay people in Europe and the United States until very recently indeed, clinic in countries like India still advertise “cures” for homosexuality.
My son is as they say in PC circles “differently abled”. He obsesses about matters that interest him and talks at you rather than to you. He is confused by verbal jokes and has difficulty understanding what is socially appropriate behaviour. He is though bright and has an amazing memory for certain things. He thinks you could say, in straight lines. If he were minded to, he might make an excellent accountant or computer programmer.
The world of today is generally speaking a more generous place towards people who are different. In the UK at least, multiculturalism feels normal and different versions of the family are to be found on every street.
My hope is that in the UK and similar enlightened environments his difference will not only be accepted but in some way celebrated so that he will not have to resort to the rages my father experienced by being a round peg being hammered into a square hole.
To find out more about Asperger’s Syndrome: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asperger_syndrome