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Kistaro Windrider, Reptillian Situation Assessor

Unfortunately, I Really Am That Nerdy

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Thoughts on the increasing prevalence of Asperger's syndrome
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Something I've seen a number of news stories on recently and not so recently: the apparent increase in the frequency of Asperger's Syndrome or autism. Of course, this is usually framed in terms of how horrible this plague taking children's minds away from the world is, and how even people with Asperger's are horribly broken and can't function in society and all people with either disorder need to be medicated and "treated" to normality. Obviously, I take exception and some offense to that, but there's really nothing I can do about it; I shall simply continue to be a happy and functional person with Asperger's. (And my use of "person with Asperger's" is not some politically correct garbage, it's because most of y'all probably wouldn't know what to make of "Aspie". I don't think it's quite correct to state it that way, to be honest- I'm not a person with a disorder. The autistic traits of my behaviour and thought cannot be removed or separated from me in some way without that person failing to be me. There's also a running gag that we tend to be people with language processing issues- if I don't seem to, it's because you've never tried to hold a verbal conversation with me- and we Do Not Need a back-asswards construct like "person with autism" when "autistic" gets the point across. And this parenthetical aside has exceeded the length of the rest of the paragraph. Oops.)

There has been news story after news story blaming the combined MMR vaccine, traditionally given to American infants at six months of age unless I'm badly mistaken, on the rise of Asperger's syndrome. The problem is, the strongest evidence they have is a correlation between the rise in children with Asperger's and the introduction of the vaccine. That, my friends, is not evidence. That is not a study. That is a half-assed guess. There are a bunch of other things that happened about then, too, and why aren't they being blamed? Even more interesting is that many properly controlled experimental studies have shown no correlation- no matter who's funding it.

It's hardly surprising. From my family history, it seems probable that it has a genetic component- my father and grandfather both clearly show traits of Asperger's syndrome. One case, of course, is hardly any better "proof" than a time-correlation, but I've seen a few web sites I can't remember links to at the moment that also said there are strong signs of a genetic basis. So why should a vaccine have an effect on a genetically-induced trait? It's a mutation, and unlike in the cartoons, that doesn't usually happen because of accidental release of uranium-coated insects, it happens because of freak accidents of the standard mechanics of genetics. (Sex is a messy affair in more ways than one.) It's quite plausible for genetics to give someone a predisposition to something without directly inducing it- heart attacks are a classic example- and Asperger's could be the same, with the vaccine tending to activate it. However, that still seems a stretch, and there is so far no evidence of a direct causal relationship- or explanation for what the mechanism would be.

I propose a much more plausible causal relationship. I hypothesize that the rise in Asperger's syndrome is due entirely to it becoming a much more desirable trait within the breeding grounds of secondary sexual characteristics. In short, Asperger's traits somehow became sexy about a generation ago.

What else became popular and, most importantly, profitible on about that time frame? Computers. Computers and computer-related fields suddenly became extremely profitible about then, so suddenly the geeks were getting rich. Not just sort of rich, but very, very rich. Wealth is already a secondary sexual characteristic, and traits likely to lead to wealth are generally considered sexy by any given society. With the advent of computers, geeks got sexy. As a direct result, they tended to reproduce more.

Consider the vaguely recent articles and discussions of why geeks are better targets for flirtation, how movie stars seem to be favoring geeks, and similar social moves. That's not simply a random social force- my Social Psychology book does a wonderful job of explaining how traits can become attractive in a society as they become more and more strongly correlated to genetic success. Suddenly, the social deficits of the traditional geek are no longer such a burden- it turns out that we tend to be nice, caring people- and, with today's market, rich people. And guess what? All the stereotypical geek traits? Why, there's a perfect correlation between that and Asperger's syndrome! And suddenly, Asperger's Syndrome became sexy.

The direct result? More Aspies with children. And if it does have a genetic basis, that has to mean more children with Asperger's syndrome.

Does that seem like a reasonable chain of thought to y'all? And in a typical gratuitous bit of famewhoring, yes it's fine to link this from arbitrary places- I've occasionally been asked before about that, so yes, don't worry.

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*snickers* Sex is a messy affair in more ways than one just made me giggle. Way more than it should... eh. Blame it on just having woken up.

Makes sense - now, back yourself up. List off the common traits (or linkify to somewhere that does so clearly) and make it clear how those are geeky. For bonus points, define Asperger's/autism - preferably making it clear what the differences are.

*grins, ducks*

Pardon my use of sarcasm to get a point across...

I remember back in the day when NOBODY has Assburgers. And then *ohes teh noes* everyone started getting diagnosed with it! That means it's an epidemic, spreading across the world by means of public toilet seats! Break out the scientists, this must be controlled!

What I'm trying to say is, these made-up-nonsense "mental diseases" were simply made to push more drugs around and diagnose people that have even slightly deviant personalities.

If I went to a shrink and talked b'ness with him, he'd probably come out saying I'm slightly autistic. That's just the way I am.

There's no epidemic; doctors are just getting trigger-happy with diagnosing patients with all the latest made-up diseases. That's what I think. Remember ADD and ritalin? Since its introduction a while ago, it has had its days, but now there's ADHD, Adult ADD, and god knows what else out there just to market drugs.

A word of agreeance

Psychologists are just too eager to make a name for themselves, and the easiest way to get your name out is to make up some sort of syndrome. You find someone with several, but not all, the aspects of an autist and slap your name on it. Imagine a zoologist stating that the emu is not a bird because it doesn't fly! Or a physicist stating that a feather falls to the ground not because of gravity, but because of the slower [insert-name-here] effect!

Psychology is such an imprecice origin of a science, and for some reason psychologists seem to think that the way to understand the human mind is by examining individual cases of deviance. Then they take their newfound knowledge and make a law out of it, ignoring the fact that most of the population do not corform to it.

And since you brought up ADHD: kids are not supposed to sit straight up and be quiet. They're kids! They're supposed to be a bit wild! But it is so much easier and relaxing to just drug them down. Grrr...

Or how about how depression is abnormal and should be treated at the first signs of it? I am quite content with my depressions, axieties and extended periods of melancholy, thank you very much! If half the people recieving perscription uppers actually need them, I'd be suprised.

Well.. that's enough vitriol for me today. Hehe.

I think that in today's society it's almost impossible not to have some kind of condition for which a psychiatrist/psychologist would happily see you.

But, the MMR thing is rather vacuous. I think in the UK at least it's given at more like age three than six, and as a statistician pointed out on a programme I saw about this issue, given the age at which people tend to be diagnosed, approximately one hundred children in the UK per month would be diagnosed within one month of receiving the MMR. There's also no evidence I know of as to how the MMR would cause autism, and I believe that wider-ranged epidemiological studies have so far shown that there is no link.

There is probably some validity to your hypothesis, though I don't really think the "increase" is due to a sudden surge of popularity for the geekier folk. That would take several generations to bring about an increase.

Much more likely is a change in diagnostic practices. People with Asperger's symptoms were not actually diagnosed in the past. Now, like ADHD, it's a trendy diagnosis and consequently we hear a lot more about it.

It's sort of like something I saw in a documentary about artist Frank Frazetta recently. He had a thyroid problem, which can affect you psychologically. He became anxiety ridden and antisocial. All sorts of specialists, including the Mayo Clinic, kept telling him that his fantasy artwork was abnormal and was "driving him insane". But it turned out to be a thyroid imbalance, easily treatable with medication, and had nothing to do with the artwork. Whether Aspergers was underdiagnosed in the past or is being overdiagnosed now is very difficult to judge. I suspect it's some of both.

Hm. It occurs to me that news stories shouldn't be placing blame on anything. They should only be reporting that others place blame on something.

It's a small point; I just happen to be in a journalism class right now, so that stuck out to me.

Asperger's syndrome, and autistic spectrum disorders, do have a strong genetic component. That's well known. A person with either syndrome is very likely to have a child with an autistic spectrum disorder, and siblings are much more likely than the general populace to both have an autistic spectrum disorder. This is true even in cases where kids have been seperated at birth and raised in different households.

As for Asperger's being socially trendy, I think it is, because individuality is trendy, and there's some screwed-up correlation between having personality quirks vs. being mentally ill. I don't think Aspergers is necessarilly a debilitating illness (definately not) but it -can- be. THe same goes for certain other "diseases", which can be a problem but aren't in all people a disability. A lot of people with Asperger's aren't nearly as well-adjusted and functional as you. Some are, and will never be diagnosed as having Asperger's because they are functional in society. The same goes for a lot of adults with ADD. The same goes for a lot of multiplicity.

I don't think geekyness has been trendy enough for a long enough period of time though to back up the "Aspies are breeding more Aspies!" argument. Asperger's syndrome has a lot in common with "geekyness", but my bet is that there simply wasn't a disorder called Asperger's Syndrome fifty years ago. It's a new classification, and as the definition gets worked out, more people get diagnosed with it, both wrongly and rightly. Psychology is a young science and most "new" disorders seem to be running rampant, mainly because the diagnostic criteria is blurry and open to interpretation. There's also a huge amoung of self-diagnosis going on by people who don't actually have a disorder, and mis-diagnosis by hurried and sloppy mental health professionals. Autism and Asperger's are hot in the psychology field right now, which means your average mental health professional is hearing more about them than usual. That means they're more likely to diagnose the disorder (rightly or wrongly) simply because they're hearing so much about it. It equips them to spot it better by being very familiar with it, but it also makes them more likely to jump at shadows and make a flawed diagnosis.

There's a plague of autism now because we know more about autism and people who would have been mis-classified or ignored now fit under the category. Not because there are more autistic people.

I'm writing that one down.

I don't know much about mental disorders, and such, but that corellation between sexyness,geeks,computers,and asprgers syndrome seems to be rational.

No, no, it's "back-asswards".
There ya go.


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