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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Comment from a neurologist on Aspies

A commenter with a background in neurology recently said something interesting on the Do Aspies span the full range of morality post. Here it is, with a few edits:

As a Neurology student with extensive background of general biology I might have some answers. It's very difficult to understand the cause and mechanism of Aspergers Syndrome because it has strong genetic influences and is quite paradoxical. However, I meticulously searched out advanced sources on the internet, and between that and observing the behaviors of Aspies I know personally, I think I can paint a broader picture of Aspergers, particularly in regard to mass shooters.

It's foolish to think that Aspies don't have the capability and/or intent/will to commit harm. I am going to argue, based on from what I know, that people with Aspergers actually have very low cognitive and emotional empathy. It's got less to do with morality and more to do with ability. Aspies have above average connectivity (synapses between neurons) which overwhelms the neurons with constant signals, that's why they have extreme sensitivity and because of that they usually seem to be disassociative and avoidant to cruelty and malice, not because they are truly good compassionate people but because they simply get overwhelmed. On the surface they seem to have virtuous or just philosophies, but that's because with their already hypertensive state of mind they can't afford to invest in other people's endeavors. 

The strange thing is unlike neurotypicals and sociopaths they use their frontal lobes rather than the limbic system to intellectually deduce what the other person feels, rather than just doing it instinctively and quickly like we do. In that regards they seem colder than sociopaths but their neurological methods of socializing are inferior and inefficient. They behave superficially politely or compassionately, since it's better for them to avoid confrontation. The thing is, the hyperconnectivity can go both ways: they can experience above average intense stimulations that explains their obsessive narrow behaviors and because they are so hypertensive they can even experience pleasure more intensely (in certain activities) and theres no reason to think that these activities can't involve downright cruel aggression and sadism. Contrary to popular belief, Aspies have the potential to be even more cruel than sociopaths; Lanza and Elliot Rodgers certainly experienced great pleasure in killing those people.

You have ubiquitous comments from Cassandras who date Aspie men saying things like "But he's so nice and gentle, the other day he walked an old grandma across the street," and "he treats animals nicely," however this is actually misleading.

Aspies, as I mentioned, don't use the necessary parts of the lymbic system in the midbrain region like we do for social communication; instead they use the frontal lobes, where logical thinking and concrete reasoning works, therefore they have a very technical, pedantic, robotic awareness of social norms. Aspies usually try hard to please people and try to follow every moral, social and ethical convention. They also lie less because they want to avoid conflict and confrontation because to them it's the path of least resistance. However, neurologically speaking, this is actually just selfishness: they don't do these good deeds to help people, but rather to make themselves socially presentable.

Like schizoids, they are scared to be judged, confronted, and criticized.

I don't necessarily agree with everything this commenter said. For instance, I'm still not convinced that Adam Lanza and Elliot Rodgers took the same kind of pleasure in their killings that, say, a Ted Bundy did. But the description of the over-connectivity in an Aspie brain was new to me and made perfect sense: much of their behavior is a defense against overstimulation. I've witnessed that myself, and have heard Aspies cry out, "Too much chaos!" if two people are doing different things in a room at the same time. And they are bothered by, for instance, television commercials, in a way that NT's never are. And if anybody even jokingly pretends to be cruel, Aspies will lecture them about their "morality."

And his description of their "technical, pedantic, robotic awareness of social norms" was right on target as well. 


Anonymous said...

That post has a lot of crazy, barely literate, comments on it.

John Craig said...

Anon --
You should see the comments on the original one about Aspergers, from 2011:

gambino dellacroce said...

What is meant by intellectual deduction?

John Craig said...

Gambino Dellacroce --
I think what he means at the beginning of his third paragraph is that an Aspie has to think about what the subtext of a statement might be rather than just feel it instinctively the way most people do. So rather than being on others' wavelength, when, say, others are bantering, an Aspie might take other peoples' comments literally and become insulted because he didn't "get" the joking intent behind it. When he DOES "get" the joke, it's only after he thought about it.

gambino dellacroce said...

John Craig:

Interesting. I did post-graduate studies with a guy who, within 3 minutes, you could tell had a strong case of Aspergers. He was quite odd, but quite endearing and intelligent and perceptive of other people (just he couldn't act on it in real time). Unusually for Aspergers, he was quite receptive to feedback and would thank you afterwards. He formed part of the social circle I was in of say 10-12 people. I am still friends with him to this day (although only in small doses - I stayed at his house once for 5 days in between leases and he drove me nuts).

It became a running joke in the group that we would mimic holding up flash cards to denote the intent of what someone was saying, e.g. if it was sarcastic ('sarcastic'), serious ('serious') etc. He was also the last (if not at all) one to get the joke. More often then not we would have to explain it in depth, which would be followed up by the Aspergers typical endless volley of questions.

John Craig said...

Gambino Dellacroce --
You understand then. You just gave a perfect description of an Aspie -- they're not bad people, they're just sort of clueless and have no instinctive feel for what's going on around them, for the tone of the wordplay, for the concepts of banter and joking. They just have this stiff, sort of formal way of interacting that to the untutored eye might seem like a charmingly old-fashioned way of doing things, but on closer inspection you see it merely masks an inability to relate normally.

Rifleman said...

Forget about Ted Bundy.......what about Ted Cruz??

How weird is that guy? He has to be a high functioning autistic/Aspergers type.

Smart and clueless at the same time.

John Craig said...

Rifleman -
I honestly think he's a more likely sociopath than Aspie, though I'm not quite willing to call him one yet. And I don't see him as weird, just as dishonest, sleazy, and ambitious. All that talk about family values and religion and it turns out he had mistresses (okay, allegedly) and someone just told me today he's been with prostitutes, too. (Haven't heard that corroborated.) He took that pledge to support the Republican nominee, and is now going back on it. He has a history of opportunism and questionable campaign tactics.

That said, I can understand why he wouldn't endorse Trump (though I think he should have). Trump insulted his wife, and his father, and called him "Lyin' Ted." If someone did that to me I'd be hard pressed to give him my endorsement. Then again, Cruz should have been bigger than that, and should have showed some party loyalty and honored the party goal of defeating Hillary. But his ambitions for 2020 mean that he's secretly, or perhaps not so secretly, rooting for Hillary this time around.

I don't understand how they let him give a speech at the RNC without checking beforehand to see whether he'd endorse Trump.

Anonymous said...

Look I am neither very much proficient on this whole aspie stuff nor am I a scientist and after I read the comments of the link you provided it shows that aspies reacted very angerly and I know why.

Well its because you condescended them. Sure you do mention that aspies are not bad people however you did point out their disabilities regarding socialisation and did insinuate that they were sorta inferior.

The truth is that people weather be apsie or not respond much more aggressively when their abilities are questioned and attacked rather than their morals, that is precisely why sociopaths simply wouldn't care much if you exposed their true nature ( in fact they would boast about it) because you are mostly appealing to morals and ethics when cirtising sociopaths whereas an aspie usually isn't ciritisized for his morals but rather for his weaknesses and inabilities.

gambino dellacroce said...


Unfortunately Aspies will not take criticism well, no matter how diplomatically, tactfully, gently etc etc it is raised.

Anonymous said...

Asperger men? This poster seems to be the kind who thinks "woman can't get aspergers". Also this poster does not understand aspergers spans a spectrum with multiple directions with multiple causes and offers some explanation for it as a fact even though many scientists still are unsure of the cuases, and for a neurology student this person does not make any comment on the rapid need for a cure to exist now nor seems to have any interest in curing it based on the tone.
I have aspergers but did some tests which show my theory of mind and affective empathy is intact, my cognitive empathy is lower but not absent like severe cases (I must be a mild case.)

There needs to be a cure yet I do not see millions of dollars be raised for one, it's like they don't want to fix the problem but point and laugh at it or have it as something to feel angry at. If the above poster is correct, then he or she should try to help invent a freaking cure.

Anonymous said...
Pro cure blog by Autistic man.

Also Google methylone, a guy tried it and felt cured.

The only way for there to be a cure is if neurodiversity bullcrap is thrown down the drain.

Anonymous said...

Oh and you all need to remember, the one who truly suffers the most in the autistic individual, not the strangers who are annoyed by them on the street.

Imagine every second, thousands of needles poking you. The sounds, smells, sights, etc. assaulting you every second and your brain assaulting you every second with intrusive thoughts reducing you to a walking robot, a soulless husk filled with pain.

That is aspergers. They suffer, you suffer, he suffers, for god's sake why aren't people rallying to raise funds for a cure?

You know one of the reasons? Anti-cure idiots. I have aspergers and know how destructive special interests are to one's dopamine, destroying grey matter and ruining other areas of the brain like cocaine or video game addiction does. These idiots are so low functioning they don't mind be addicted idiots.

Anonymous said...

Please reply to this:
I really dislike this post, not because its untrue completely but because it is not true for all aspergergians. Asperger syndrome in my opinion is an outdated term because more and more research shows that autism disorders are not caused by the same things in each person nor are they consistent for every patient. It's like blindness or mental retardation, a symptom with hundreds of causes. People who are autistic are a group of people with many things coincidentally in common /9but also having wild variation/0, hence it's hard to nail down what exactly is going on. I doubt this person is a neurologist or at least a well researched one because this fact is well known among actual researchers. Would anyone in their right mind think every single person in a wheelchair has "can't walk legs no work syndrome"? No.

The mention of "cassandra" also presents a heavily gender biased version of aspergers, while it is true men have much higher rates it ignores the existence of female patients and the effects they have upon society. The tone also ignores the aspect of suffering any sane person with aspergers is aware of. Sociopaths love being sociopaths, but any aspergian minus the incredibly stupid ones would gladly be relieved of the suffering they must endure. The anti-cure sentiment is mostly championed by the associates of autistic individuals usually and those who have been swept up by it.

Jonathan Mitchell, a well know pro-cure person with full blown autism, not aspergers but autism autism explores the truth about the neurodiversity movement in his articles and blog. His intentions are out of bitterness though at not being able to enjoy life due to his condition, but the work he does is valuable nevertheless so you should look into his material.

You need to see aspergers as something that is a problem that needs to be fixed rather than some small passing detail. There is more hope for treatment than for sociopathy since co-operation and testing can be done consistently, but the biggest problem is the wild variation since autism is a developmental disorder. Humans brains though are highly plastic as far as animals go, a treatment that targets the main dysfunctions will be satisfactory for them to operate as members of society who are just quirky at most. Please take on a pro-cure stance or make it obvious in some of your future posts you do believe pro-cure is better than anti-cure as that is what I get from what you think.

John Craig said...

Anonymous --
I'm not sure exactly what you want me to say. I'm not a neurologist myself, so have no informed opinion on the cause of the condition. What I've done for the most part is describe its symptoms, here and (mostly) in other posts. I posted the comments of this guy, who claims to have training in neurology, since his explanation -- increased connectivity between synapses and thus overstimulation -- rang true.

As far as a cure goes, of course I'd be in favor of a cure. I have a hard time imagining that there is an "anti-cure" faction: what would their motivation be? I can't imagine that anymore than I can imagine there would have been people who would be "against" a cure for cancer, or AIDS, or blindness.

Anonymous said...

This nonsense. It makes me angry to think these people are treated more legitimately on the internet. Autism costs the US 90 billion dollars and these guys wish to stop it? Jim Sinclair claims it is an essential part of the person. Actually no, I feel I will be myself even more if cured. There was this video by Autism Speaks called "I am Autism", it caused a huge backlash because the video decided to not be politically correct, but every word was true.

Do look at Johnathan Mitchells blog, he exposes the nonsense behind the so called neurodiversity movement. I honestly cannot understand why anyone who sees a severe low functioning autistic person is not immediately filled with the thought "We must help them".

This person's explanation may only be true for certain people with aspergers, I've seen some possibly without enough connectivity, they just sit and stare blankly into space with absolutely no emotions, just breathing like a zombie. How much connectivity is compromised also varies, where the connectivity is compromised also varies etc. It rings true for a percentage of the cases. It's like claiming everyone that is in a wheelchair must have polio.

Maybe you should do a post about the anti-cure people and the autism speaks video and neurodiversity's bullcrap. There is too a huge anti-cure faction.

I'll admit, this post made me uncomfortable, I know it is true for certain cases of aspergers, but it made me question if I was one of them. I wonder if I truly care about others or can feel remorse, or if it is some unique chemical reaction I'm mistaking for having a conscience...oh god...all the more reason why I want a cure, I really don't want to be what the thing the posts describes, and nobody should have to be.

Anonymous said...

"However, neurologically speaking, this is actually just selfishness: they don't do these good deeds to help people, but rather to make themselves socially presentable."

This disturbs me too, it has a materialistic flavor to it. Human morality is measure of whether someone uses one part of their brain to undertake and action versus another.

Aspergians may have issues with empathy, but not all lack sympathy or a conscience like the sentence above says.

Anonymous said...

There is not much to worry about people with aspergers unlike sociopaths. Sociopaths rise up in society and effect all of us, most apsergians just stay put not changing much. Although there is one case I found where an actual aspergian did rise to a very powerful position and his actions had lasting consequences. Field Marshal Montgomery, his step-grandson even said the diagnosis would explain his behavior well. This isn't like the speculation of people like Einstein or Leonardo Da Vinci which have no basis and are done just to make parents feel better.
His condition really affected parts of the war, and notice unlike say how people diagnose Thomas Jefferson, this paper bases its diagnosis mainly on the very real negative traits Montgomery did display instead of some artisticness or creativity people attribute to other historical figures. Perhaps the war would have ended sooner if someone else were in charge, and US-Anglo relationships would have been better and many problems avoided.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Interesting, thank you, had never heard that about Field Marshal Montgomery before.

I agree that sociopaths have much more influence than Aspies. The number of prominent politicians and businessmen who are sociopaths is a very long one. The only prominent politician I can think of who came across like an Aspie is Al Gore.

Anonymous said...

This is an article you should look at, it explains the pro vs anti-cure sentiment I mentioned above. Me personally? I am proud to say I am the biggest uncle tom there is for aspergers or autism.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Uncle Tom, ha! Well put. I'm on your side, I favor a cure, though if the problem is actually a surfeit of connectivity between synapses in the brain, I'm not sure how they'd cure it.

I read the article, and it's good. Mitchell has more common sense about this than most other Aspies. To say that others should accept Aspies is basically to say that others just need to learn to accept awkwardness, rudeness, meltdowns, and often, hypocrisy. Comparing this to gay liberation is just silly. It's more like comparing it to "sociopath liberation" (a nonexistent movement), which i wrote about here:

Anonymous said...

The human brain is remarkably plastic. There are stories of people losing parts of their brain yet the rest taking over. These adult mice brains developed higher than average levels of dendric cells after gene therapy to compensate for differences in their adult brain. It didn't get rid of the anxiety and some of the clumsiness was left but the other symptoms were fixed. The human brain is even more adaptable actually.

Mitchell has traditional autism rather than aspergers, the fact though a lower functioning autistic can have this much common sense being for a cure only makes me puzzled when i see non-autistics fight against one!

Some anti cure people like Oliver Canby are absolute bastards though and only harm the cause, but the truth is that none of this fighting between pro and anti cure will have much effect in the long run. The anti cure faction can at most slow things down. There are enough parents and relatives of low functioning autistics backing research, and countries like China which were behind recent advances into gene therapy techniques don't give a shit what their citizens opinions are (most are pro cure though I believe, they haven't bought into the neurodiversity stuff), they will continue doing research no matter what.

Though the issue of empathizing will probably be fixed earlier and maybe in our lifetimes before a true cure is made, possibly through Trancranial magnetic stimulation, this may leave the other autistic symtpoms unfixed but having more emotional capacity is better than nothing for the meantime. I plan on getting into my first relationship if this should ever happen in my lifetime, otherwise I know better than to do so, as it will only hurt the other person.

As for other aspergians like me, the meltdowns and akwardness can be excused but their isn't an excuse for hypocrisy or rudeness. The best solution for them which I have found works for me is to just keep quiet. Simple as that, don't talk unless questioned and realize others may already know everything about you or are maybe even better at doing whatever. I don't have violent meltdowns though thank god. But I still don't think severity determines one's view on pro vs anti cure, I think Mitchell shows no matter where on the spectrum, people's opinion still differ. No sociopath wants to be cured, they like being sociopaths, but an autistic can choose. For autistics, some forms of common sense are harder to cultivate but not impossible, I will not think an anti cure autistic is just the disorder talking, they can choose, I can understand their situation making them less likely to favor a cure than with an anti cure neurotypical but they still can choose in the end.

Anonymous said...

I'm exactly the way you describe, and it stinks. I hate.

The worst parts about it are that (1) my family don't realize that. They're not completely aware of my emotional hindrances, and I could never tell them that because of how it would hurt them (although then again perhaps its for selfish reasons, knowing that doing so could make me look bad :/ .) (2) I also know that many aspies refuses to believe that — I've brought up the subject of empathy on chat forums before, and have had over thirty responses to one post arguing that aspies did have empathy, before going on to describe something that was fundamentally not empathy (like primitive symapthy or primitive levels of compassion). Some people got kinda angry about it.

How could people like us ever manage to actually get better and improve ourselves when the nature of our condition is that we'ere fundamentally incapable of understanding what is wrong about us and being able to change accordingly.

John Craig said...

Anon --
I don't know if you're referring to the way I described Aspies in this post, in the post that this one linked from, or in the original post on Aspergers I did back in August of '11. Or all three.

Whether or not to identify yourself as having Aspergers is difficult. On the one hand, if you do, people will make more allowances of your behavior, as they're realize it's due to a specific syndrome and not just willfulness. On the other hand, if you say you have Aspergers, people in general (not your family) will be more apt to just write you off. As far as your family, I don't know what to tell you. You seem to be pretty well aware of the ups and downs.

My advice to anyone with Aspergers is just to try to adapt a little. If you're aware of your own shortcomings, it's a lot easier to change than if you're one of those people who isn't (like those who responded to you on that chat forum). And you certainly sound like one of the more self-aware types, which means it should be easier for you to adapt, be more flexible, etc. (What does AA say? The first step towards rehabilitation is admitting you're an alcoholic. Well, you're one of the few who's admitted something is amiss, therefore you're one of the few who should be able to improve.)