Friday, February 12, 2010

Asperger's and Reading

A fellow Aspie blogger Izgad just wrote a brilliant post on Asperger's and reading fiction. The Simon Baron Cohen quiz, the most widely accepted test for non-neurological manifestations of Asperger's, is based on the assumption that people with Asperger's dislike reading fiction. I'm not a huge fan of this particular quiz as it is, and Izgad's intelligent objections make the quiz's shortcomings even more evident.

This is what Izgad says on this matter, and it resonates very deeply with me:
I would argue that my interest in reading is not despite my Asperger syndrome, but is one of the ways that I manifest Asperger behavior. Obviously I take to books much easier than people. Books are much better friends than people; they are easier to decode and you can open and close them as it suits you. Books do not misunderstand you and try to hurt you. Fiction provides precisely the sort of "human" relationship that I can deal with. The motivations of characters are written in words that I can decipher, as opposed to facial expressions.

As many of the readers of this blog already know, I am a literary critic and a professor of literature. I read and analyze fiction for a living. I also have "Severe to Extremely Severe" form of Asperger's. These things are not only not mutually exclusive. In my case - and evidently in Izgad's, too - they are closely interrelated. My love of classifying and categorizing is a huge help in my work as a literary critic.

What annoys me in most articles and books on autism written by people who do not have it is that they concentrate on everything autistics cannot do. They forget that there are many things that we can do precisely because of our autism that people who don't have it cannot. I call many of the manifestations of my Asperger's "my superpowers" because that is exactly how I perceive them.


Anonymous said...

I don't think I fall very far -- if at all -- along the Aperger's spectrum, but I certainly have many of the traits (I've never been formally tested).

Like you, I imagine, I seem to be able to ingest and understand information about 10-20x the rate of

If someone wants something found and understood quickly -- in a book or on the internet -- they usually turn to me.

But it's balanced by other deficiencies. I am comically terrible at math, and the more I learn about it, the worse I actually get (it all gets jumbled up together).

I seem to be missing that math module altogether, but got a quadruple-dose of the information parsing feature.


Clarissa said...

I hear you on the subject of math, my friend. I calculate my students' grades with a calculator three times in a row. And every single time, the result is different. How is that even possible? :-)

Izgad said...

Thank you for the link.

"my sperpowers"


What we need is an Asperger superhero comic. Of course it would not sell since it is a fact that Aspergers do not read. :)

Clarissa said...

Thank you, Izgad!

Skyler said...

Nice article to know the information. Thanks for the information. Asperger syndrome is a milder alternative of Autistic Disorder. Both are actually subgroups of a larger diagnostic category. This larger group is called either Autistic Spectrum Disorders.

Triin said...

I sometimes think this Simon Baron Cohen's test is for men, not for women. And it only has 50 questions.

Aspie quiz is very much better. Have you done this?
I think if you are autistic, then you recognize yourself in most of the questions.

Melanie Yergeau said...

I came across your blog via Izgad's blog. And wow, I'm glad that I did!

I'm currently working on my PhD in English (field: rhetoric & composition), and I also have Asperger's. I teach, too.

Reading your posts makes me feel more optimistic about things.

Clarissa said...

Thank you, Melanie! I read about the work you do at, and I admire your activism profoundy.

Lindsay said...

Yeah, that's been my experience with fiction, too --- I feel like books, with their explicit descriptions of very complex mental and emotional states, and their explicit narration of sometimes very subtle social interactions, might've taught me more about human nature and all its variability than my real-life experiences have.

I also think of some of the strengths my autism gives me --- hyperacute senses, attention to detail, intense focus, near-photographic memory, a Spock-like ability to keep emotion in check, etc. --- are like my superpowers! In me, they're pretty much balanced by special weaknesses, though: the dark side of my sensory acuity is a capacity to overload, and my relative lack of strong emotion means I am totally unprepared, and unable to cope, whenever I *do* experience a strong emotion. And then there's speech. I don't process speech very well, and often I only understand what someone says thirty seconds to a minute or two after they've said it, and I also can't always produce speech in a timely manner, either. My speech is very slow, and often halting. That affects my ability to participate in conversations with more than one other person, and it also means that when people meet me, they tend to assume I'm intellectually impaired. And that's no fun, especially in job interviews.

But all in all, it does feel like an even trade.