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25 February 2009 @ 06:28 am
Context Theatre: Autism, Asperger's and Geek Culture Crossover  
Follow-up to this.

For those of you who hadn't already figured it out, I was trying to take an anecdotal measure of how much crossover there is between Autistic/Asperger's culture and geek culture. (Why yes, I am lumping pretty much all of my friends into geek culture, and yes there are exceptions, but not so very many ;> )

It was all inspired by a ridiculously uncanny amount of "me too" occurring as Oliver Sacks, author, and Temple Grandin, an autistic adult (woman) who happens to have very similar pattern recognition facilities to me and who also happens to be a social anthroplogist in her own way, asserted cultural patterns of autism in a chapter about her in Sacks' book An Anthropologist on Mars, a book which I loved and highly recommend. It covers several case studies in neuroscience, including 2 chapters on autism and an amazing account of a 65-year-old visual artist who lost his entire ability to interpret color and was left, not with monochrome but rather merely lightness and darkness.

p. 251 another not building with bricks but lining them up endlessly, in neat, monotonous rows. All were engaged in solitary, repetitive activities;

p. 251 create social surfaces they could present to the world

p. 253 peculiar narrational gaps and discontinuities, sudden, perplexing changes of topic,

p. 253 failure "to appreciate that her reader does not share the important background information that she possesses."

p. 253 fail to realize their own or their readers' states of mind.

p. 254 she speaks of her ears, at the age of two or three, as helpless microphones, transmitting everything, irrespective of relevance, at full, overwhelming volume

p. 254 soon developed an immense power of concentration, a selectivity of attention so intense that it could create a world of its own, a place of calm and order in the chaos and tumult

p. 254 Authentic memories from the second (perhaps even the first) ear of life, though not available to "normals", may be recalled, with veridical detail, by autistic people.

p. 255 It is not clear whether this hyperfocus of attention - an attention as narrow as it is intense - is a primary phenomenon in autism or a reaction or adaptation to an overwhelming, uninhibitid barrage of sensation. A similar hyperfocus is sometimes seen in Tourette's syndrome.

p. 256 an indifference to social conventions, appearance, or ornament, an absence of frills, an absolute directness of manner and mind.

p. 256 Her gait seemed to me slightly clumsy or uncouth, as is often the case with autistic adults.

p. 256 she thought of Icarus in particular - how he had flown too near the sun and his wings had melted and he had plummeted to his death. "I understand Nemesis and Hubris," she said. But the loves of the gods, I ascertained, left her unmoved - and puzzled. It was similar with Shakespeare's plays. She was bewildered

p. 256 She said that she could understand "simple, strong, universal" emotions but was stumped by more complex emotions and the games people play. "Much of the time," she said, "I feel like an anthroplogist on Mars."

p. 256 She was at pains to keep her own life simple, she said, and to make everything very clear and explicit.

p. 261 My interests are factual and my recreational reading consists mostly of science and livestock publications. I have little interest in novels with complicated interpersonal relationships, because I am unable to remember the sequence of events. Detailed descriptions of new technologies in science fiction or descriptions of exotic places are much more interesting.

p. 264 With her characteristic stubbornness, tenacity, single-mindedness, and bravery - along with a complete absence of inhibition or hesitation - Temple ignored all these comments and reactions and determined to find a scientific "validation" for her feelings.

p. 265 A light touch will make them pull away, a firm touch calms them.

p. 266 Temple has always been a powerful visualizer. She was astonished when she discovered that her own near-hallucinatory power of visual imagery was not universal - that there were others who, apparently, had other ways to think. She is still very puzzled by this.

p. 269 Expressions of raw impulse, violence, pain, she perceived, reacted to, straightaway.

p. 271 [childhood] now-incessant talking and questioning

p. 272 there was something about the way she talked, the way she acted, that seemed to alienate others

p. 273 it was only when she had finished college and was launched on her career, she said, that she could afford to calm down. Indeed, she felt she to; otherwise her body would destroy itself. [...] imipramine, a drug marketed as an antidepressant [...] Gone are the frenzied searches for the basic meaning of life.

p. 273 The provocative stimuli may be very different from one person to another: one autistic person will be intolerant of high-pitched noises, another of low-pitched noises, one of a fan, another of a washing machine. There may also be various visual, tactile, and olfactory idiosyncracies.

p. 275 the self-examination she forces on herself daily, struggling, as always, to understand and live with autism in a nonautistic world

p. 275 her favorite character is Data, an adroid who, for all his emotionlessness, has a great curiosity, a wistulness, about being human. He observes human behavior minutely, and sometimes impersonates it, but longs, above all, to be human. A surprising number of people with autism identify with Dara, or with his predecessor, Mr. Spock.

p. 276 Many high-functioning autistic people describe a great fondness for, almost an addiction to, alternative worlds, imaginary words such as those of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, or worlds they imagine themselves.

In conclusion: among my friends, there is a sizable crossover between the autistic and geek culture, and due to the follow-up Baron-Cohen quiz, also very few among my friends who are likely to have Asperger's syndrome (high-functioning autism). Those who triggered for it were told so at the end of the quiz, so if you don't already know, you didn't trigger it. (And while I did receive a higher score than average, I did not trigger for autism)

It's not much of a conclusion, but I have to say that the crossover fascinates me. Why do you suppose that is?

Related: Newsweek article about women and Asperger's (thank you for the link, cirocco!)
butterflake on February 25th, 2009 06:22 pm (UTC)
A couple of years back I was very intrigued with the causes of autism and its role in sexual selection. From what I remember, this area of the country and silicon valley have the two highest rates of autism in the country... because pattern making minds are moving to these areas and finding each other to mate, and aspergers and autism are minds that are too focused on patterns and too focused inside themselves to be social. Almost like a short circuit in what could be an incredibly high functioning brain. There are some interesting statistics about couples who met in engineering colleges and their offspring's rates of autism as well.
butterflake on February 25th, 2009 08:19 pm (UTC)
Here is a fascinating Article from Seed I am referencing

indie: blue daisyindiefic on February 26th, 2009 02:06 am (UTC)
I'm feeling far too lazy to go find a link right now, but I think I shared it with you. The autistic woman who is pretty non-functional in person but has an incredible online presence ... gods, my brain isn't working today. Anyway, I was really intrigued by her assertions that autism wasn't an affliction. It was just different. It wasn't that the autistic mind needed to be fixed or that autistic people needed to be rehabilitated in any way, but simply that their brains functioned in a fundamentally different way than so called "normals". I think I had a point when I started this, but it's now gone.
Vulturevulture23 on February 26th, 2009 09:11 am (UTC)
Huh. When I read that list of questions, it actually struck me as being heavily correlated with ADD/ADHD symptoms. I've known for quite a while that the two disorders have similar symptoms, but I had no idea (and am just a little shocked) at just how much overlap there actually is.

(This is not to say that ADD is related to Asperger's. I believe that they are considered to have rather different causes. OTOH, ADD does seem to (possibly) be related to Tourette's....)
sculptruth on February 28th, 2009 07:26 am (UTC)
I was going to highlight a couple of things and give my virtual internet omg me too and then it turned into kind of almost everything.

Very curious, very. Very very. I must read this, I think.