The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Sunday, November 3, 2013
Aspergers ... Brain / Mind ...

I’m not a psychologist or therapist, and I haven’t made much use of their services in my lifetime. But I still try to keep up with what goes on in “shrink world”, i.e. within the realm of the mind and brain, with the theories on how they work and the practices meant to help make them work better. From what I can see, one of the biggest fault lines and sources of tension in the whole field right now revolves around the old classic “nature versus nurture” issue. And it’s not just a dry, academic debate amidst the trained elite anymore; it’s becoming a matter of what the consumers of these services demand from shrink world.

For most of the time since Freud, psychotherapy and applied psychology has mostly involved talking; i.e. the good old “couch method” where the therapist and patient discuss what’s going on in the latter’s head, e.g. fears, compulsions, desires, frustrations, envy, attraction, etc. Sure, psychologists also perform some behavioral observation studies and surveys, plus they administer and analyze the results of standardized written tests as to gauge what is going on in the minds of their subjects. But for the most part, the whole thing revolves around Freud’s paradigm of “the talking cure”, i.e. a long-term interactive process through which the therapist figures out what the patient’s hang-ups are, and slowly directs the patient toward attitudes and behaviors meant to overcome negative, harmful patterns (neuroses), so as to develop healthy patterns that allow personal growth and positive achievement. At least that’s the theory.

In the past generation, talk therapy has become less and less prevalent;  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:55 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, January 21, 2012
Aspergers ... Psychology ...

I’ve had my problems with the rest of the human race. I generally like people, but as I get older I have more and more trouble relating to them. Maybe it’s just a part of the process of turning into an old fogie. But for a while there, I thought it was all because of Aspergers Syndrome.

I first read about Aspergers maybe 5 or 6 years ago, and a lot of the characteristics of Aspie-people seemed to hit home with me. Supposedly, kids who like science and who get rabidly interested in something like trains and railroads often have Aspergers, especially if they maintain such obsessive interests into adulthood. I still like science but I can’t say that I’m currently obsessed with trains. Nonetheless, I did have a Lionel layout as a kid, and I was a fairly rabid railran photographer while in high school and college and even a decade or so beyond that (ah, innocent days, fun days they were).

So then, after discovering Aspergers, it seemed as though I finally had my finger on what it is that sometimes  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:37 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Aspergers ... Science ...

A few days ago I wrote an entry here about “socio-Aspergers Syndrome”, using Wittgenstein’s concept of “family resemblance” as used to describe the approximate way that most words are defined in our language. I contrasted this to “clinical autism” (the classical “Kanner Syndrome” version of autism, with its effects on communication skills, learning achievement, socialization, etc.). I believed that “core autism” had a more strict, scientific definition.

But a few days later I read an article on the Scientific American web site about continuing research into autism and its genetic markers. Well, it turns out that there is no one “smoking gun” in the genes that determines autism. The genetic factors are in fact all over the place, with certain overlapping trends that cover maybe 20 to 30% of all autistics, but never a definitive set of genetic conditions common to all autistic people. So, even in the DNA realm, autism is a mixed-up fruit salad, a “family resemblance” thing. Oh well, just shows how wrong we all can be!

[Unless the study was “polluted” by the “spectrum” concept – i.e., if the researchers are not focusing on the “clear cut” cases, but instead  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:03 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, June 9, 2011
Aspergers ... Philosophy ... Society ...

During my readings today I happened across a discussion regarding philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s thoughts on words and language. Wittgenstein made the point that most common nouns do not have a precise definition, one that would satisfy the rules of science. That’s not too surprising, as most languages and words evolved long before humankind conjured up the rules of science. According to Wittgenstein, things like chairs and tables and trees are recognized for their “chair-ness” or “tree-ness” by having a significant number of “family resemblances”. However, any one chair need not have ALL of the basic characteristics that chairs can have; it’s as if there were a menu of “chairness” features, and when an object has enough of those features (but not all of them), then it’s a chair. The next chair probably has a different set of features, but with some overlap.

And if you had a hundred different chairs, no one element on the “chairness” list would be present in every chair. But each chair would share at least a handful of characteristics with any other one. That’s just the nature of common language, that’s just how our minds work for day-to-day things. When science came along, it taught us the benefit of having strict definitions; so we can say that beryllium must have a certain number of protons in order to be beryllium (I think the number is four; beryllium is a very light metal, versus uranium with its 92 protons).

This made me think about Aspergers Syndrome. As I’ve said before, Aspergers Syndrome and I have some common ground; I’m not formally diagnosed with it,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:17 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Monday, October 11, 2010
Aspergers ... Brain / Mind ... Personal Reflections ...

There’s a nice article in the October Atlantic Magazine about Donald Triplett, the first human being diagnosed with autism. This is a well written article containing a very edifying human interest story; but most important (to me, anyway), it provides a valuable perspective on just what we do and do not know about autism. Bottom line here: we’re still not really sure just what autism is, despite all of the pontifications by the medical and psychological sciences pretending to have strict definitions and diagnostic tools. At bottom, “we know autism when we see it”.

Over the past year or so, I have ‘studied up’ on the question of Aspergers Syndrome and the dreaded “autism spectrum”. I have read articles and books, watched videos about autistic people, and have rubbed elbows with a group of young adults who identify themselves as “Aspies” or “high functioning autistics” (at a monthly Meet-Up group). Obviously I’m trying to learn more about myself, about where I fit in. Yes, I could pay a shrink a couple of thousand bucks to get a “professional diagnosis”, but I’d rather “take the journey” and save myself the grand or two.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:29 am       Read Comments (4) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Aspergers ... Socrates Cafe ...

The Socrates Cafe question of the evening – Is Morality Deeply Rooted in Empathy?

The initial impressions were favorable; morality is strongly tied to empathy. But what is empathy? Most of the group appeared to be conflating empathy, the ability to detect and understand another person’s mindset, with sympathy, which is a positive and favorable feeling towards the other person and their mindset. A late-arriving participant cut thru the fog and made the distinction. I finally threw in my .02, that morality is close to sympathy, but would not necessarily emerge from empathy in and of itself.

This question interests me given that I have certain behavioral and cognitive patterns that can be associated with Asperger Syndrome; mostly regarding my lack of EMPATHY. I am clearly not an “empathic” person; I have a hard time picking up clues about what is going on in another person’s mind. Once I get to know someone, I get a general sense; but for strangers or people that I am just starting to know, I am “mind blind”. So does that make me an immoral person? And thus, does that make all Aspies, people who are mostly “mind blind”, immoral?

I’d like to think not. I may not be a saint  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:45 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Aspergers ... Brain / Mind ...

As I have noted previously, I share some behavioral characteristics that could be identified with Asperger Syndrome; i.e. relative difficulty and clumsiness in relating with other people. (I.e., it takes more effort for me in dealing with others, as I don’t possess natural grace; but I generally like people so I try to make the effort, nonetheless). Thus, I’ve taken an interest in this condition.

Whether I could be formally diagnosed with Aspergers hasn’t been terribly important to me, however, given that nothing can be done for an adult Aspie other than have some therapist talk you to death while simultaneously bleeding your savings to death. An occasional vacation or spending spree with the money seems to have more “supportive bang for the buck”; for me, anyway.

I see, however, that researchers are experimenting with  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:58 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Aspergers ...

BOOK REVIEW: Asperger Syndrome and Anxiety by Nick Dubin. As I’ve said before on this blog, I have taken an interest in Asperger Syndrome over the past few years. A lot of what I read about Asperger sounds familiar. I’m not formally diagnosed, and I don’t fit all of the major characteristics that the typical “Aspie” is said to possess. But a lot of those characteristics do hit home with me, especially the characteristic of anxiety. Anxiety is indeed an issue in my life.

Well, you might want to respond here that anxiety is an issue in EVERYONE’S life. True, but Aspies have a special way with it. They (we?) have various mental techniques to create anxiety even when there is no rational justification for it. And of course, when there IS justification for being anxious, we take it to the max; we see doom and dark clouds in every little set-back. Obviously, that is not good for one’s health and well-being. It isn’t a pleasant way to live one’s life.

So, Dr. Nick Dubin, a recent doctorate in psychology and an Aspie himself, recently wrote a book about anxiety issues in the lives of adults with Asperger Syndrome. I recently read it, and overall I give it a “thumbs up”. Dr. Dubin subtitled this book “A Guide to Successful Stress Management”. In other words, this is not an academic study on why people with Aspergers seem to have anxiety issues, nor is it addressed to professional shrinks and therapists who treat Aspies. This book is aimed at the nervous adult like me who constantly struggles with “being different” from the crowd, thinking differently and seeing life thru different sunglasses. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a “self-help” or “do-it-yourself” book, as Dr. Dubin clearly urges readers to seek professional help. But he also provides much thought and many techniques that the typical Aspie can use to help control their own bouts of anxiety. Again, though, he does not promise that these alone will be enough; in fact, he clearly states that most Aspies can NOT take care of their anxiety issues alone, even if they faithfully apply what he lays out.

Just what does Nick Dubin lay out regarding Aspie anxiety? Mostly he provides a “talking cure”, or better said, a “thinking cure”. Under the banner of “cognitive behavioral therapy” or CBT for short, he explains logically why many Aspies feel apprehensive, and how they take this logic way too far, to the point of irrational fear and panic. Dr. Dubin prescribes a variety of “schemas” to show that “there’s not as much to fear” as the anxious Aspie thinks.

Basically, this is the faith of the psychotherapist; i.e., that an affective problem can be talked-through (at a cost of maybe $100 per hour). With enough talking (and enough $$$ to pay for all that talking with the shrink), the person suffering a psychological imbalance will see the light of reason and get themselves back together. I.e., they will get well. Dr. Dubin points out that there are anti-anxiety medications that a psychiatrist can prescribe, and that these do have their place. But, he concludes that “alleviating anxiety takes hard work; a pill alone won’t do it”. Obviously, that hard work involves lots of talking and thinking it over.

As such, it’s not surprising that Dr. Dubin does not at all mention in his book the growing research into brain structure factors that could contribute to heightened anxiety in people with Aspergers. Just a quick Google search will bring up a variety of information about neuron connectivity differences and lower-capacity connection structures between the limbic system (the emotional center of the brain, especially the amygdala) and the pre-frontal cortex (where most of the thinking and logic gets done). In other words, it IS possible that Aspies are fighting something that is partly genetic, something that is hard-wired in their brains. I.e., something that might require drug therapy to fully compensate, if the neurological problem can be fully understood and an appropriate medication devised and fully tested . That could be many years away; for now, the available anti-anxiety medications are relatively crude and un-targeted to the Aspie’s particular brain factors, and thus can be expected to have varying effectiveness along with negative side-effects.

Thus, at present there’s not much that the typical Aspie can do directly if in fact he or she is “wired up differently”. But I think it would have been good for Dr. Dubin to have included something about this, as it might help those of us dealing with the anxiety monster to feel a bit better about ourselves. Dr. Dubin devotes a whole chapter to “Anxiety and Shame” (chapter 9), and talks about “forgiving yourself” for having all these problems. Yes, I myself feel stupid sometimes for getting so wound up about little things. As such, I believe that it would help to know that a lot of the problem is not your fault, that it was locked-in genetically on the day that you were conceived.

By the same token, there is much temptation to take such information as a crutch, as an excuse not to try to get better. But Dr. Dubin makes a good case that “talking cures”, especially if done with a professional therapist, can be effective in helping Aspies to deal with anxiety (although he does not cite any effectiveness studies in that regard), and that self-forgiveness is a step in the process. In the context of his overall message, I feel that ignoring the neuro-structural factors relating to Aspergers Syndrome is regrettable.

If Dr. Dubin did miss one important aspect to understanding and dealing with anxiety in the life of an Aspie, he did not ignore another issue that is of major proportion: i.e., the question of SPIRITUALITY. Wow, imagine that — an acolyte of the great religion of psychology (and that’s what it ultimately is today, a religious faith system) admitting in effect that shrinks and their logic can only go so far!

Ya think?

Dubin thus includes an important chapter on “Anxiety and Spirituality” (i.e., Chapter 11). He tells us that although he was brought up in one of the major faith traditions, he is not today a practicing member of it. However, he has much regard for its spiritual wisdom, and seems to give some credence to the notion that “there’s something more” to reality than science and logic can explain. Or, at least BELIEVING that there is can help with the ultimate issue that we all face, i.e. death and dying. Obviously, scientific and quasi-scientific psychological logic are having their problems in helping people in this regard. Ultimately, all anxiety points to the issue of death. Most modern therapists and psychological researchers don’t want to admit this, as they don’t have a very good answer to it. (Freud would have done a lot better had he stuck to the death issue and not gotten so hung up on sex.) Dr. Dubin is to be commended for facing up to it.

Dr. Dubin’s approach to spirituality is a fairly typical modern mash of eastern wisdom and stretching some of the implications of modern scientific paradigms beyond their empirical boundaries (e.g., quantum weirdness, non-local quantum entanglement, ‘butterfly effects’ of chaos theory, and Dubin’s favorite, “morphogenetic fields”, which is based on X-file implications regarding certain strange events like monkeys across thousands of miles learning at the same time how to wash potatoes, or birds simultaneously learning how to remove caps from milk bottles. Coincidence? I don’t think so!). He doesn’t mention Ken Wilber, but that’s basically what we’re talking about. And yet, Dr. Dubin does tip his hat a bit to good old fashioned Judaism and Christianity. In sum, Dr. Dubin wants to help heal people, and he seems to recognize that modern psychology alone isn’t doing the job. So he’s willing to cross some lines and risk taking heat from the defenders of the “hard science” approach.

That is why I like this book so much. You can tell that Nick Dubin wrote it because he really wants to help others. There’s a warmth that comes through in his writing style. He shares a lot about himself throughout the book, including a discussion of the failures of his dating life to date (but he’s only 31, still has lots of time to get it together yet), and an interview with his parents regarding his childhood. He is willing to be vulnerable in order to get across some ideas that he believes will really help adult Aspies to deal with the many challenges in their lives. There are a lot of books out these days about Asperger Syndrome, some of which were written by people with Asperger Syndrome; but I can’t think of any Aspie books (and I’ve read a handful of them) that seem so warm and caring.

It is commonly believed that Aspies are robot-like geeks who lack empathy and are ultimately incapable of expressing emotion. And in person, a lot of Aspies come across that way; I know that I do at times. Perhaps Dr. Dubin is also like that face-to-face; I couldn’t say (but here’s a YouTube interview; he does seem a bit geeky). But down inside, many Aspies really DO care about others, even if they can’t always express it in the ways that society recognizes. Nick Dubin has shown that he does care, and has used this book to express it. That’s worth the price of the book alone. Even if his CBT techniques or schemas never do the reader any good, the anxious Aspie will feel better just knowing that Nick Dubin cares (and that it’s good for them to care for others too).

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:53 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Monday, January 11, 2010
Aspergers ...

AB&C: Autism Bickering & Confusion. As someone with Aspergers Syndrome in my life (but not controlling my life), I have taken an interest in the various discussions going on in newspapers, magazines, books and on the web regarding this condition’s relationship to autism. As a whole, the field of psychology now classifies Aspergers as an “Autism Spectrum Disorder”. Researchers seem to feel that Aspies substantially share the same set of environmental and genetic circumstances that cause what some call “classic autism”, i.e. where the person cannot function independently and experiences severe learning and behavioral disabilities along with social deficits. According to the psychology “mainstream” view, the difference between an Aspie who is the president of a successful computer software company and an institutionalized adult with an IQ of 60 who can hardly speak, wears diapers and bangs his head at the wall, is mostly a matter of degree along this spectrum.

Admittedly, I am not qualified to give an authoritative answer on this. I don’t know anyone with classic autism, although a woman at work who sits a few cubicles away from me has an institutionalized 35 year old son with autism. I overhear many of the details of her relationship with him. I have read that the psychologists and neuroscientists are not unanimous about the “spectral view”; some see significant differences in the brain structures and environmental patterns of Aspies versus “classic autistics”. I do know from surfing the web that putting Aspergers in the “autism ship” has caused disagreements and bickering between parents with autistic children, advocates for research and therapy, and people who themselves claim to have either Aspergers or high-functioning autism. (Obviously, people who are “lower” on the spectrum cannot voice their thoughts on this).

If I’m getting it right, there are several camps. First, there are the Aspies who embrace the autistic categorization and call for what is called “neurodiversity”. This viewpoint in effect asserts that the world needs to give autistic people a break, i.e. be more open minded to their quirks and differences. It’s another variant of a civil rights movement. It says that autistics should not be looked at using a “pathological” model.

Next, there are the autistic advocates who argue against neurodiversity. It’s not that they don’t want Aspies to be welcomed and better understood by the public; it’s just that they feel that the Aspie crowd is stealing the political spotlight from them and their own needs. The Aspie crowd are the new kids on the block; whereas the relatives of classic autistics have lived in the proverbial neighborhood for a long time. They want more public funding for research and treatment for those suffering significant impairment from autism. They want a cure, not public sympathy. They realize that neurodiversity can happen on the cheap; genetic therapy for autistic infants cannot. One of the most noted proponents of this view is Len Schafer.

(Oh, there are also the “mercury people”, mostly parents of autistic children who want to believe, despite many scientific studies to the contrary, that autism is caused by mercury preservatives in vaccines. I won’t touch that one, since I don’t have children at all and certainly know nothing of what it would be like to have an autistic child.)

In response to Schafer and his like, some Aspie-neurodiversity people (e.g. Michael John Carley) have expressed sympathy (but not agreement) with those who want a cure for autism. The “old time autism” advocates nonetheless remain wary, convinced that all of the neurodiversity people are dead set against a cure for autism. The old-timers also seem to wonder whether Aspies would still care about low-functioning autistics once they receive their tokens of public recognition and acceptance.

There’s an interesting and related side effect from the increased attention that Aspergers Syndrome has drawn over the past few years. A lot of people have produced books, articles, web sites and videos proclaiming themselves to be Aspies and telling of their great relief now that they know “what’s wrong with them”, i.e. why they never seem to fit in with the world around them. Some of them have not been professionally diagnosed by a shrink. (Hey, I guess that includes me!). “Self DX-ing” is fairly common and generally accepted in the “Aspie community”. But there is a reaction brewing amidst the more cynical members of the public, i.e. that many self DX-ers (and even those with a shrink’s opinion) are often “slackers” and “whiners”. They’re just people looking for an excuse, just looking to justify their own failings. They just don’t want to do the work needed to be successful in this world. They’re almost as bad as the proverbial “welfare queens” of the inner city.

Interestingly, some of this reaction comes from those who clearly do suffer from “classical” autistic deficits or from those who take care of such people (e.g., parents). They send e-mails saying “you don’t have autism or Aspergers”. And in response, those accused of “slacking” publish their justifications, listing their autistic “credentials” and explaining how they’ve “paid their dues”. One interesting example is from a woman named Rudy Simone, a self-DX’d author of various books on AS. Ms. Simone recently put out a YouTube video presenting her own such ‘apologia’. Quite interesting.

As for me, here’s where I stand. I may well have Aspergers in my life, but Aspergers does not RUN my life. It could explain some things about me, but it doesn’t remove any of the responsibility that I will take for what has happened and for what is yet to happen in my life. I’m still at the wheel; I’ll take all of the blame and any of the praise (if there is any to be had from this skeptical world!). If anything, knowing about Aspergers and how it influenced my life gives me increased opportunity to use the rest of my life in a positive fashion. And it doesn’t take away any responsibility for what has already occurred. I can’t say that learning about Aspergers was a total surprise to me. My second grade teacher, Mrs. LaGreca, told both me and my parents that I was “different” (but not different enough to be put in special ed). Some older guys that I knew on the railroad back when I was 16 said just about the same thing. But they said that I had a “good difference”, i.e. I was more responsible and intelligent than most kids, if a bit weirder.

I am discussing Aspergers on my blog now, but I’m not asking for pity. I’m just putting out some thoughts that others might find interesting, and hopefully useful.

Next, as to whether I think that I myself should be considered “on the autistic spectrum”. Again, I’m not qualified to talk as a professional researcher or therapist. BUT, something about it doesn’t feel right to me. Perhaps there are genetic and environmental similaritie
s between me and my co-worker’s institutionalized son, which are of interest to the taxonomists within the psychological field. But in daily life, in the world of politics and laws and customs and social rituals – I think it’s a bad fit. Allison Singer also seems to have her doubts.

Perhaps this makes me a renegade from political correctness. If so, then so be it. I am not trying to throw shadows on those like my co-worker’s son. But given what my co-worker has gone through in her life, given all the angst she suffers regarding her son, I would love to see a cure for him. I am not afraid that the availability of such a cure would have hypothetically altered my life and my personality (especially since there probably will never be a true cure for a complex genetic condition like autism, just a number of ways to mitigate its more debilitating aspects; i.e., severe autistics might be made more like Aspies).

As to “neurodiversity rights” for those who have good minds but don’t have such good social sense; perhaps greater public awareness and acceptance would help. I realize that there are many Aspies who are living messed-up lives, people who can’t hold a job and can’t make friends or fall in love. I believe that our society should try to be kinder and gentler to everyone; I think there should be more understanding and compassion. BUT, I will admit that skepticism can also be healthy; people do get lazy and whiny sometimes, and need a little “cruel to be kind”. We do need standards. As with everything else in this world, it’s a question of finding the right balance. The whole Aspergers thing is a relatively new item on the public agenda, and it will indeed take a while to strike that balance.

But I think that balance will best be struck if Aspergers and neurodiversity is uncoupled from classic autism, and the “spectrum” is sent back to the ivory towers of psychological academia, from whence it sprung.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:23 pm       Read Comments (5) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Aspergers ... Personal Reflections ...

I was reading something the other day about the ancient kingdom of the Hittites in central Turkey. One of the early rulers of the Hittites was Hattusili, and his followers complied a book of legend about him, entitled “The Manly Deeds of Hattusili”. The Hittites were a war-mongering bunch; they liked to send their army out to plunder cities outside their realm, as to bring back slaves and gold and other booty. They weren’t out to colonize or control the Mediterranean, as the Romans later did. They were just in it for the plunder.

As you might guess, the “Manly Deeds” is quite full of bragging and bluster. The Hittites were indeed proud of their aggressiveness and warrior spirit. They obviously wrote down this treatise about their glorious conquests so as to impress future generations. One thing that they didn’t figure on is that changing languages and cultural notions can cause distortions, such that what they thought was so terribly fearsome and impressive can come across as rather comical. One of their most proud achievements was to conquer the kingdom of Hahha. They brag of how past monarchs failed to subjugate Hahha, but they filed many carts with booty and had the king of Hahha drag one of those carts back to the Hittite capitol.

Yea, fine, but . . . modern Americans will read this and say, is this a joke? Bragging about the conquest of “Hah Ha” ? Is this a stand-up comedy routine? Indeed, something gets lost in the translation.

INTERESTING FACTOID: I am interested in Aspergers Syndrome, since it rings a bell with many of my own life  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:38 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
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