Archive for the ‘Polarities’ category

Aspergarian Zero and the Sensitivian

April 28, 2009

An event from some years ago. I don’t remember when. I’m not good with dates.

While stopped and waiting to turn right my friend and I were approached by a stranger. With no inhibition and in a flat, unemotional tone he looked at my bumper and began to give us very detailed instructions. All pleasantries were ignored. He didn’t ask any questions or for that matter even pause to catch his breath. This was not a conversation.

My bumper had been torn off in a fight with a fence post and this stranger was going to tell my friend and me exactly what we needed to do to fix the situation. Exactly and with a precision completely off the charts including the serial number for the part required which he correctly identified as a fascia, not a bumper.

If we needed a mechanic instead of a parts store he knew of several in the area, their exact distance from our current location and how to get to each garage. His driving instructions included all the vitals but he also went on to describe in minute detail the landmarks one might find useful including buildings categorized by architectural style and building material, species of trees and notable (to him at least) elements of urban infrastructure. And of course the distance to each destination down to a tenth of a kilometer.

No opportunity was given us to engage with  him except to listen (very carefully).We thanked him, mouths agape, which he ignored and walked away. He appeared to be neither offended nor happy to have been of assistance. But I knew this experience may well have required a monumental effort. Not for the incredible recall and coherent, nano-detailed instructions but rather for the fact of his even approaching two people from whom he was probably utterly incapable of reading social and emotional cues.

“Wow, how Aspergerian was that!” I said to my friend after a long silence.

Personally it was less the birth of a neologism that stuck with me. I had been fascinated with Autism since working with Autistic children – albeit in a limited capacity- as a young man. Asperger Syndrome , a part of the Autistic spectrum, is also known as Autistic Spectrum Disorder. What struck me about this fellow was that his attempt  at social interaction  (probably a very brave one for him) turned out to be such a naked exposure of his affliction.

Aspergarians will often completely overlook generalities while possessing an overwhelming recall of – and ability to detect – detail. Dates, places, numbers, patterns. These abilities can be very useful in certain occupations and also prove to be debilitating as Aspergarians cannot easily grasp abstractions, metaphors and most importantly lack the ability to read (what for us are blatant) clues necessary to read the feelings of others.

This does not amount to lack of empathy -that is sociopath territory – more the inability to read others. Social illiteracy.

I have used this term “Aspergarian” around others. Some, a social-worker/family therapist find it offensive. Some, like my psychiatrist, find it useful as a descriptive term and he has even noticed others at his clinic beginning to use the word.

But a word is not a diagnosis. I am not in any position to make a diagnosis. It is descriptive, yes, but runs the risk of becoming derisive. Asperger Syndrome is a disability. The word needs to be used with care.

My interest runs deeper in any case.

Just as political extremes can diverge to such a degree that they almost meet at other end , so the Aspergerian shares much with his opposite. Problem is, that opposite is not clearly defined.

The opposite would be the person who is so sensitive to social cues they become deafening. Like the Aspergerian this is not about empathy. In fact for the Sensitivian, over-reading can mean paranoia and delusion  – the assumption that a person or people feel a certain way when they do not. Or at last not to their knowledge.

The slightest, most subtle nuance or gesture can provoke the Sensitivian into  a highly exaggerated response – whether externalized or not- which is completely out of scale with the triggering cue. Out of scale, but not entirely inaccurate.

Similarly, the Sensitivian can be overwhelmed by his physical environment, especially if it is new or foreign, something else shared with the Aspergerian. But the Sensitivian is far more likely to respond by translating his experience of the physical world into an abstraction.

This can come in handy for the artist, musician or designer but  such hyper-sensitivity can make engagement withe the outside world so unpleasant he loses touch with the very sources of his imagination.

The similarities are as numerous as the differences. The Sensitivian often engages in rumination (patterned and highly repetitive thinking) to drown out the deafening cues and hem in flights of imagination for example. He can become anxious in new social situations and  can rely heavily on routine. He may feel misunderstood and isolated and, like the Aspergerian, tend toward depression and obsessive-compulsiveness.

The Sensitivian Zero.

On when Is should be Has

May 14, 2006

mefullfrightblue.jpgmefullfaceleftblue.jpg He is schizophrenic. She is bipolar. He is a depressive.She is developmentally delayed. He is schizoid.She is mentally ill.

The illnesses may be frightening to some but if we're just talking verbs here none of the above sounds troubling, correct? In fact it's how we refer to people with mental illness and most often how people with mental illnesses refer to themselves. (Did you think I'd say the mentally ill?)They are their illnesses.

And here is how it works for just about every other medical condition. He has cancer. She has heart disease. He has the flu. She has mad cow disease. He has cerebral palsy. She has cystic fibrosis. He has multiple sclerosis. She has a fractured hip. He has AIDS.

This list goes on and on. Almost every medical condition one can think of is one in which someone HAS rather than IS something. Except when it comes to mental illness.

Imagine if non-psychiatric medical conditions were treated like mental illnesses. Lets try it.

He is heart diseased. She is cancerous. He is flu-ic. She is mad cowic. He is a cerebral palsyist. She is a fractured hip-er. He is an AIDSist.

Though rarely used in conversation or by physicians and especially not by people with these psychiatric conditions, its is possible to apply has to mental illnesses. However it is much more common, especially in the case of 'first-axis' disorders that a person inevitably is their illness.

How often do you hear "he has manic depressive illness" or "she has schizophrenia"?

I would be remiss for not pointing out exceptions in both categories. The exceptions are themselves informative. She has a personality disorder. He has OCD.She has an anxiety disorder.None of these are considered first axis and more importantly psychosis is rarely present. Insight is maintained.
There are also a few non-psychiatric conditions where people are branded as their illness. He is diabetic. She is hypoglycemic. He is HIV positive. In these cases we say is because the illnesses are chronic, life-long and and require substantial and regular medical intervention such as insulin injections, dialysis or prophylactic medications.Then there are those conditions which are poorly understood and especially those which are stigmatized.She is HIV positive? He is a leper? Why do we say such things?

But serious psychiatric conditions get the worst of both worlds. They are often poorly understood (by the general public and too often by physicians themselves) and deeply stigmatized. Add to that the necessity for insight in treatment and you have an environment that encourages people with mental illness to brand themselves according to their illness. The paradox is that only when you know you are ill can you begin to recover. Put more crudely; if you know you're crazy, you're not crazy anymore. (more…)