No, You Don’t Have Asperger’s

There are a lot of furries who have Asperger’s disorder, or at least a lot who think they have Asperger’s disorder. As of May 2013, none of them will have it: it’s being deleted from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It’s in DSM-IV; it will not be in DSM-5. (Roman numerals are out too, apparently.)

Along with three other conditions—autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, and ‘pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified’—Asperger’s is being lumped into Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD. ASD reflects our understanding of autism as a universal aspect of personality rather than a specific condition. People with Asperger’s will be recategorized as having mild ASD, or as having no disorder at all.

This is very good news for people with Asperger’s, especially those with mild symptoms. (Anyone self-diagnosed with Asperger’s is highly unlikely to have ASD, for reasons I’ll explain later in this article.)

Autistic people fail to read social cues, and this leads to communication issues and inappropriate behaviour. In general, someone is classified as having ASD (as per DSM-5) if this condition is bad enough to be disabling.

Everyone, to some extent, has symptoms of autism: it’s a natural outcome of how the brain works. Our species has evolved to have certain mental traits that support our social nature: we excel at facial recognition (to the extent that we might see faces in a grilled cheese sandwich, or in sand dunes on Mars); we are more empathetic towards fellow humans than towards other animals; we unconsciously negotiate sexual interest. Autistic people have poor social skills because these parts of brains are innately limited—a genetic throwback to a pre-evolved brain.

Autism is not an on/off condition, like having a broken leg. Some people have brains that are strongly socially-wired, perhaps actors or salesmen, others are less socially-wired and tend to be more logically minded, perhaps programmers or engineers. But everyone feels socially awkward, or out of place, or humiliated, from time to time.

Compared to society at large, furries are collectively further along the autistic spectrum. Symptoms of this might include our flair for technical work, such as IT and the sciences, and perhaps in our enjoyment of fursuits, which create a ‘deindividualized’ social environment.

I see two causes that place furries further along the autistic spectrum:

  1. Our demographics: we are young and overwhelmingly male. Put simply, men typically take longer than women to socially mature.
  2. People with autistic traits might be attracted to furry:

Anyone who struggles to read social cues will feel disconnected from society, especially if they are going through puberty. People who are non-heteronormative or genderqueer—and this somewhere around 70% of furries (ref, ref)—are more likely to feel alienated.

For young people who feel disconnected, it may be easier to identify with an anthropomorphic animal (as seen on TV or other media) than with other human beings. Growing up, furries may internalize this identification to the point that they start to see themselves as more like the animal-person and less human. This will be important to sexual development and may become a touchstone through puberty: the animal-person becomes an alter-ego that can safely experiment with new personality traits through introspection and roleplay—for example, alternative sexual or gender identities.

(I’ve explored the value of furry roleplay as an avenue to maturation previously, Growing Up.)

It’s plausible that a sense of alienation when growing up is a strong contributor to our identity as furries. It helps that the concept of furry identity is open to interpretation, which means that we are free to explore personally useful aspects while discarding others. It also helps that the furry community is social and welcoming, filled with people with a similar internal world. Serendipitously, for many people, the social nature of the furry community provides a solution to the alienation that drew them to furry in the first place.

If the furry identity stems from this feeling of alienation, this offers an explanation for our unusual demographics:

  • Furry is largely male: men, on average, are less socially developed when they reach puberty.
  • Furry is geeky: geeks, largely people with sharp logical minds, are often slower to develop socially.
  • Furry is largely non-heterosexual: if you are sexually queer (or genderqueer), your social development can be more difficult.

In these three examples, furries may come to identify as an animal person as a way of unconsciously abnegating personal responsibility for social failure. It also explains why some furries might self-diagnose a social disorder: Asperger’s.

It’s common for people with Asperger’s disorder to characterize themselves as feeling like a non-human, like an alien tourist in a strange society. It’s easy to see why a young furry, who feels disconnected from the world and identifies as an animal-person, would find this compelling. Asperger’s disorder is also fairly high-profile because it’s relatable—mild autism is comparable to the less permanent condition of being a teenager—and also because of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a novel with an apparently autistic narrator. The narrator, Christopher, is an easy character for any young adult to relate to in the Holden Caulfield sense: he’s an outsider, confounded by his constant failure to act according to society’s fluid and unsaid rules. It’s an engaging read (although it flags badly in the second half as Haddon gamely tries to narrate action through Christopher’s limited perception of the world).

Anyone identifying with Christopher from The Curious Incident is almost definitely not autistic. To identify is to demonstrate empathy, the very trait that Christopher—and anyone with Asperger’s/ASD—lacks. The same logic can be applied more broadly: if you think you have autism, you almost certainly don’t.

Autistic people are often unable to see themselves as part of society. Ironically, anyone who thinks that they don’t fit in is demonstrating that they fit in well enough to be aware of society’s norms. A feeling of alienation doesn’t imply alienation. It’s usually the opposite: a feeling of alienation implies that you are maturing and learning to assimilate.

This is the difference between being autistic and being a teenager: autistic people do not mature to the point that they can fully function within society. It’s also worth considering that maturation continues until we are about 30 years old, and that the skills that help us feel part of society—empathetic skills—are the slowest to develop (ref).

So self-diagnosis of autistic disorders is usually wrong. It’s also potentially damaging.

Labels are important things. If you believe you have Asperger’s disorder, this means that you believe you will always struggle in many social situations. You believe that you cannot mature and improve beyond a certain point, because you believe you are innately limited. If you are younger than 30 (or so), this means that you are undermining your own ability to mature and develop these skills. In sociological and psychological circles this is known as a self-fulfilling prophecy, defined as ‘a false definition of a situation evoking a new behaviour which makes the original false conception come true’ (ref).

The deletion of Asperger’s from DSM-5 means that doctors can no longer diagnose autistic disorders without evidence of symptoms in early childhood (ref). It’s easy to misdiagnose autism in an older child who is slow to socially mature. Psychologists have been long aware of the danger of such labels: a false diagnosis of Asperger’s can harm someone who would otherwise mature a little later (possibly as a well-adjusted furry).

It’s not just Asperger’s. Among psychologists, there is growing awareness of the danger of labels. For example, a 1997 meta-study on child sex abuse concluded that many people have had positive sexual experiences when a child: consider the trope of the 14 year old boy who has sex with the babysitter. The study recommended that not all children be labelled (and treated) as victims of abuse, because doing so could retrospectively harm someone who would otherwise be fine. (The study, unfortunately, was ignored after it was formally condemned in the United “Think of the Children” States Congress, ref.)

Self-diagnosis of Asperger’s is common because it’s natural for a child, who is slow to develop socially, to define himself as different. All children feel that they are the centre of the universe. When an intelligent, analytical child looks around, it’s clear that the outside world doesn’t treat him as anything special. The inconsistency between his internal world and the external world creates conflict and a feeling of disconnection. This child may read about autism and falsely self-diagnose as having Asperger’s. He would be much better off if he self-diagnosed as a furry, a label that encourages personal growth, as opposed to the self-limiting label of Asperger’s.

How do you tell if you’re autistic? Here’s what the DSM-5 says:

People with ASD tend to have communication deficits, such as responding inappropriately in conversations, misreading nonverbal interactions, or having difficulty building friendships appropriate to their age. In addition, people with ASD may be overly dependent on routines, highly sensitive to changes in their environment, or intensely focused on inappropriate items.

 

It’s impossible to self-diagnose. If you lack communication skills, you also lack the ability to assess the quality of your communication skills. People with ASD tend to be anosognosic, in that they are unable to perceive their disability (ref).

Your parents, or older siblings, are better placed to judge. They saw you grow up and will have noticed any symptoms in early childhood, which always occur in autistic people (by definition, ref). Otherwise, ask a doctor: they will use a simple written or verbal test to judge whether you have ASD. Everyone has autistic tendencies: it’s a question of the level of impairment.

If you have self-diagnosed as having Asperger’s, or if you were diagnosed when young, it may be time to reconsider. You may wish to think of yourself as logical and analytical, positive identity traits that allow room for you to learn and grow. Your analytical nature will help you learn new skills including improved empathy, if you apply your mind and approach the problem logically. You might begin by broaching the topic with similarly-minded furries.

About JM

JM is a horse-of-all-trades who was introduced to furry in his native Australia by the excellent group known collectively as the Perthfurs. JM now helps run [adjective][species] from London, where he is most commonly spotted holding a pint and talking nonsense.

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61 thoughts on “No, You Don’t Have Asperger’s

  1. Fascinating as usual, although this sentence strikes me as contentious: “Compared to society at large, furries are collectively further along the autistic spectrum.”

    It seems common sense to suggest that the furry demographic (80% male, technically savvy) would tend to weight the numbers towards there being a higher incidence of ASD among furries than among the general populace. If that’s all you meant, then that’s one thing*.

    My concern is that the sentence quoted above could just as easily be saying that furries are _all_ further up the scale, which I’d like to see some numbers for before I just accepted it (not least because it’s a potentially harmful statement). Not saying I disagree, mind you, but it’s a big claim, so… citation needed. :)

    I could just as easily accept that there’s a moderating (even opposing) pressure coming from the fact that as a community, furries are very social – especially groups like the LondonFurs. Wouldn’t that act in some way to exclude those with pathologically poor social skills?

    Also as internet access has a much lower technological barrier to entry than it did 15+ years ago when I got into Furry, wouldn’t there be proportionally fewer geeks now than before, making the old assumption that furries = geeks = ASD is less true than it was? Being an internet user was seen as a solitary, exclusionary trait 15 years ago; the opposite is true now.

    1. I agree with the idea of moderating influence, but rather than seeing it as a excluding those with poor social skills, I think it could help them to develop their social skills because many furry groups tend to be both very accepting and social. And a good point regarding technology. I think older furries like myself might definitely have been coming from a different pool than the younger ones

      1. I’m convinced you’re right about the group helping people to develop. I’ve seen it first-hand over (yikes) 13 years of LondonFurs meets. Lots of shy, socially awkward people come to their first meet after a few weeks or months on the forums, and very quickly find new friends and new confidence.

        But the ones that don’t develop at all don’t tend to stick around for long either. That’s where I was coming from with the suggestion that the community might have an exclusionary effect as well as a moderating one.

    2. I meant that furries are, as a group, a little further along the autistic spectrum than the general population. I don’t mean that all furries are further up the scale, and I certainly don’t think it can be applied as a general stereotype.

      I agree that the furry community is a positive influence on poorly-socialized individuals who might be new to the community. There is acceptance and tolerance, but also clear examples of appropriate behaviour. So a new fur can learn new social skills without being excluded from the group: win-win.

      The furry survey data has some questions that are vaguely correlated with geekiness, like asking if you play RPGs or are a fan of sci-fi. I explored this dataset earlier in the year and didn’t see any correlation with age, or with time-in-the-community. It’s hardly overwhelming evidence, but it suggests that new furs are as geeky as ever.

  2. This is a really interesting topic, thanks for pulling together such a thorough and thoroughly cited article! I do have a couple of thoughts, though, on all the references to the DSM.

    The DSM is a strange beast. With the DSM-III, more than ten times as many copies were sold than there were registered psychiatrists in the nation, because it appealed so much to the population at large. Although it’s considered a manual for the American Psychiatry Association, the average person could finally point to a taxonomy and say, “See, I think that is what is wrong with me.” This is, as Jon Ronson calls it, being defined by one’s maddest edges. When any person can go out and find what is supposed to be an Absolutely True list of ailments, it becomes incredibly easy to define oneself by one’s maddest edges, to become an embodiment of an ailment one supposes one has.

    Beyond that, however, the DSM has both a storied past and a contentious present. With the APA’s adoption of the manual, Robert Spitzer was put in charge of the task force for the third edition, but was not funded properly, so rather than taking minutes with their sole typewriter, members of the task force would describe a diagnosis in terms of a checklist, and it would be typed up and immortalized as a disorder. Of course, that was followed by the relatively famous story about the eventual removal of homosexuality from the DSM, where it was originally classified as a disorder, then as “ego dystonic homosexuality”, where distress over being homosexuality was classified as a disorder, before its complete removal. (refs: Jon Ronson – The Psychopath Test; Ronald Bayer – Homosexuality and American Psychiatry)

    Even today, however, with the task forces working on the DSM-5, there are concerns about just how big of an effect the single manual can have on society. As part of the updated version, Gender Identity Disorder will be replaced with Gender Dysphoria, and this has a lot of people quite worried for various reasons. Firstly, there are concerns over the fact that the manual does not adequately explain the process of pathologizing distress. That is, is it pathological to feel distress about gender period, even if the distress is caused by, say, one’s surroundings or social groups? Additionally, there are concerns about the task force in charge of the GD entry, itself, that some of its members have promoted unethical practices, and that entire bodies of work were ignored in creating the entry. (ref: http://t.co/qbLFamiz ) There are similar concerns over the diagnosis of Childhood Bipolar Disorder and the pharmaceutical industry’s historical ties with depression that have raised questions (again, from Ronson’s book).

    What I’m getting at is that the DSM is only one part of the American Psychiatric Association (the BPA, for example, has expressed concerns about the Gender Dysphoria entry), the APA is only one psychiatric association in the world, and psychiatry is only one piece of mental health. Couple those facts with the idea that psychiatry can both influence and be influenced by society, and there’s a lot to take into account with a widely spread diagnosis. That is not to say that there isn’t weight behind such things as both Asperger’s and ASD, or even homosexuality and GID: allowing for time allows one to see the progression of both society at large and psychiatry as a profession, continually refining and improving, or even striking out where needed, but often with health and advancement in mind.

    Bayer, in his book on the removal of homosexuality from the DSM, describes this as “psychiatry’s vision of itself as a humanizing force.” Whether that humanizing force takes into account not only social interaction, but social interaction within a social group with admittedly weird demographics is hard to tell, doubly so with forces like self-diagnosis and Münchausen Syndrome or hypochondria in play. Either way, however, I think it’s important to approach the topic of psychiatric diagnostics with some more of the background in mind. For myself, I want to see myself as carefully optimistic that things are on their way to getting better for a lot of people, when it comes to mental health, but also with a healthy appreciation of time :o)

    1. Hey Makyo, that’s fascinating stuff, and thanks for the kind words. It means a lot.

      It makes sense that the DSM is, to a significant extent, shaping the way that people think about themselves. I think that the removal of some labels and the softening of others, like ASD, is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately I suspect that a lot of harm as been inadvertently cause through the cases you cite (homosexuality in particular) and possibly also the clumsy treatment of autism.

      I’m not surprised at all that earlier versions of the DSM sold more copies to laymen than to doctors. It’s only natural for people to be curious about themselves, I suppose, and the internet is only making that information more widely available.

  3. A very interesting post, but I do not see why it is “very good news” for people who were properly diagnosed with Asperger’s to be re-diagnosed. Yes I understand that a label might make someone feel as if they are unable to develop, but that isn’t necessarily the fault of the label. I have students who believe their IQ is fixed and that they cannot change–I think this is a broader issue and removing a label is not necessarily helpful, especially if it means loss of insurance coverage.

    With regard to a separate issue, what evidence is there that furries as a whole feel alienated from society? I know I may not be typical, but I feel positively attracted towards anthropomorphic animals but not repulsed or alienated from humanity/society. Also I know several older individuals who became interested in furry _after_ they were 30, and so surely they were fully mature at that point.

    I guess I find it rather disturbing/irritating that you seem to be moving towards a suggestion that furry is phase one goes through if one is awkward.

    One thing that attract me to furry is -empathy-, both mine and that of others in the community.

    1. Hi Keito, thanks for the comment and thanks for the kind words. Your comment about labels is a good one, and one that I missed: there are certainly positive aspects of labels, in that they make for reference points when discussing complex topics (like autism). I have written about this before, talking about how we here at [a][s] use furry-specific terms (http://www.adjectivespecies.com/2012/09/03/language/). Your point about insurance is another that I completely missed, although – as a non-American – I’m going to claim good old-fashioned ignorance on that one.

      I have no direct evidence that furries, in general, come to identify that way as a side-product of alienation. To be honest, it’s a bit of a fait accompli: everyone feels alienated to some extent during childhood and (especially) adolescence. It’s a normal part of the maturation process. I thought it was an interesting idea, and that it may partly explain why furry has such an odd demographic, and so I explored it here.

      I don’t meant to imply that furry is a phase, although I have suggested that identification with a furry identity may come about as an (unconscious) coping strategy in this article. I’ve made this connection in articles elsewhere on this site too, usually in connection with the way that furries often re-evaluate their sexual preference soon after discovering the furry community (http://www.adjectivespecies.com/2012/03/19/re-evaluating-your-sexual-preference/). But even if this is a contributing factor, I don’t mean to trivialise our identity as a furry. It’s personally very important to me; it’s certainly not something I expect to grow out of. At 37, furry is more important to me than ever.

      Your short comment has given me a lot to think about. Thanks :)

  4. Well stated, if perhaps a bit over-simplified. I do tend to think that “well adjusted furry” is an oxymoron, though. This could be merely because the really well adjusted ones aren’t the really visible ones.

    I’m not so eager to discard the ASD label as a descriptive, because I do believe ASD symptoms are normal for many if not most people at some stage of their life. Yes, it’s clearly a case of lagging behind the norm in some areas of mental and social development. Sometimes it seems to happen because the individual is speeding ahead of the norm in other areas of development. The important thing is not to use diagnostic labels as an excuse to stop trying to grow and improve. Using them to describe a group of symptoms that need to be addressed, however, is perfectly acceptable.

    1. Thanks Altivo. And I totally agree that my article is a bit over-simplistic – it’s a difficult topic, and I hope at least that I got the tone right without being condescending or offensive to some people. I’m forever expecting people to berate me for misleading or incorrect comments. While that does happen from time to time, it happily hasn’t happened here. Yet.

      There are definitely well-adjusted furries out there. I count myself as one, and I know many others I’d classify as such. Like you say, perhaps the better-adjusted furs are less likely to be visible online.

  5. I’d like to take a moment to look at this from another perspective, as someone who has been diagnosed as being on the spectrum. This was only recently, and after a lot of personal pondering on the topic. In a sense, I’d been skirting around self-diagnosis for years, never really identifying, but often wondering if I should. I knew the problems with self-diagnosis, and really wanted to avoid giving myself excuses to not improve on the social difficulties that I realized I had. I knew I had some problems, feeling awkward in social situations and becoming easily frustrated, but what actually made me keep wondering, in the back of my mind, if I had some sort of ASD, was something different entirely.

    JM pointed out some of the misapprehensions that lead people to self-diagnosis, but unfortunately, I feel like he left out a very important one: ASD isn’t just about social difficulties. The reason it’s a spectrum, the reason it’s been in previous editions of the DSM under so many different headings, is because the underlying neurological basis, whatever it is, manifests in a bunch of different ways. Take a look at the DSM-5 criteria: https://sfari.org/news-and-opinion/news/2012/proposed-dsm-5-criteria-for-autism-spectrum-disorders The topic of social cues is well-covered by criterion A, but B covers a host of other things. One of the real lackings of the DSM-IV definition of Asperger’s Disorder was that it left out things like part 4 of criterion B. Ask anyone on the spectrum, even those formerly diagnosed with Asperger’s, and chances are they can rattle off a whole list of “weird sensory stuff” that’s notable enough to affect their lives in at least some small way.

    It’s that sort of thing, the sensory issues and other non-social-difficulty aspects of the autism spectrum, that kept me wondering, in the back of my mind, if that was something that described me. Those moments when the regular background noise of a restaurant became unbearable enough to make me want to scream, the lengths I had to go to to find socks that wouldn’t constantly make my feet feel weird. The reason I kept pushing the thought away is because I didn’t think my social difficulties were bad enough to qualify, and they were also something I really believed I could do better with. At one point, shortly after I’d started college, my mother even pointed out an article about Aspergers (which focussed on the social difficulties, as most do), and I brusquely brushed her off, saying that I already knew all about it and was sure that didn’t apply to me because I was sure I would do much better socially once I was out of the isolated place where I grew up.

    Over the past few years, between media portrayals, the DSM-5 revisions, and more, the topics of Asperger’s and ASD have ben coming up more and more, and I ended up reading more and more about it, partially because of those back-of-mind thoughts, and partially just because I have a general interest in psychology. And as I read them, I kept running into things that sounded familiar. Hypersensitivity, stereotypys, change resistance. Eventually I started to ask the people around me “Look, I’m noticing all these other things, which sound like autism spectrum stuff, but that’s weird because my social skills are fine, right?” and getting responses of “Err… I thought you knew…” At that point, I knew it was time to start talking to doctors and psychiatrists, for that confirmation.

    Clearly, that ties in well with JM’s point about the problems with self-recognition of social difficulties as being not a great marker of ASD. But I do hope this also shows that the real picture is a bit more complex than that. Self-diagnosis causes a lot of problems, and one of them is how it draws attention to the issue of social difficulties, while leaving out many of the details of a very complicated issue. There’s a lot more I could say on this, in fact, long before this article was posted, I was considering submitting my own article on the interplay between furry and ASD. But I think I’ve gone on long enough for now. ;)

    1. Hi Indi, thanks for the excellent comment, and thanks for fleshing out some of the more subtle aspects of ASD that I failed to mention in detail (or at all). If you ever decide to write that article on autism and furry, I’d love to read it and get it posted here on [a][s].

      Ultimately, any diagnosis of ASD hinges on criteria D: that it limits and impairs everyday functioning. By the sounds of it, you might be diagnosed as mildly autistic because you’ve developed good coping strategies to manage what sound to me like strong symptoms. So the difficulty of your internal world isn’t strongly expressed by the external mask you display for the sake of society.

      Your route to diagnosis is a great example of a healthy one too: you learned about the topic and then asked people around you. I’m guessing that your parents saw obvious symptoms when you were very young (and they were probably thrilled to see how resourceful you became, largely overcoming those as you grew older).

      Congratulations on your diagnosis as well. I hope you are proud of the way you’ve managed your condition so far, and now you have extra (medical) resources to draw upon I dare say you can expect to continue to improve.

      1. Coping strategies are definitely a big part of it, though it did take me decades to realize it was something that was impairing enough to actually see someone about. Also, bear in mind that up until the DSM-V, “having significant autistic traits but usually being able to communicate and function in the world” was CALLED “Asperger’s Syndrome”. The flip-side of pushes against self-diagnosis is that people with significant issues can push them down and try to ignore them for fear of being derided as a “self-diagnoser.”

        Labels can be limiting, as you pointed out, but there are cases where they can be helpful as well. Not just in the case of access to care, as someone pointed out earlier, but also sometimes therapeutically. For myself, I was aware that were social situations where I had to exert extra effort; I was aware of my coping mechanisms operating, to some extent, and this sometimes made me feel like a screw-up, especially when they didn’t work. Having a label for what was going on in my head didn’t function as an excuse for me, it worked as an explanation. It allowed me to embrace and improve those coping mechanisms, rather than feeling ashamed of them. If someone uses a label of “Asperger’s Syndrome” as an endpoint, an “I don’t have to get better”, that’s a problem, but I can see that happening from self-diagnosis, or from a doctor’s diagnosis, and I can see a diagnosis (self- or other-) of ASD working either way too. The label isn’t the problem, the response to the label is.

        1. I agree, most definitely that the bigger problem usually is people’s interpretation and responses to labels.

          There are occasions when I can find a label being more of a problem than a solution, particularly if categorizing something as binary, but overall I would say labels tend to be helpful as long as we are careful with them and recognize that are generally simplifying a more complex idea and generalizing about it.

    2. With regard to the hypersensitivities, I have heard two things suggested. One is that people with some level of autism have sensory receptors that respond more strongly to stimuli. The second needs a bit more explanation. In all or the majority of people without autism, part of the brain acts to dim down or reduce constant stimuli so only new stimuli are brought to one’s attention. For example, the first time such a person puts on socks for the day, they feel them, but soon the reticular formation stops that sensory information from going to the conscious mind. In people with some level of autism, that part of the brain is not doing the same thing and so allows some or all of that constant stimuli to sneak by. As a result people can be overwhelmed by the stimuli.

      From what you posted, it sounds as if both are true of you? That you are both more sensitive to stimuli and have a harder time ignoring constant stimuli?

      I do see from your link that some people with autism have hyposensitivity which I have not read before and I am not sure how that fits in.

      1. One of the reasons it’s difficult to find a specific cause or mechanism for ASD is that there seem to be all kinds of small differences across the whole brain. There have been a number of attempts to explain this, things like variances in the local vs. long-range neural connectivity, but none of them have fully panned out. Regardless, just the fact that it is a spectrum shows how different the manifestations can be from one person to the next. So both mechanisms you discussed could be happening at different levels in different people. It also could be that they’re really the same thing sometimes: if the signal is always higher, it’s going to be harder for the reticular formation to filter it out, just as it wouldn’t filter out the sensation of putting your hand on a hot stove (Not that any of my sensory issues are nearly that bad, it’s just an example).

        As far as the issue of hyposensitivity, it could be argued that that’s what’s going on with some of the missing of social cues. That’s sensory data, after all. Another way the hyposensitivity manifests is by sensory-seeking behavior (ref http://www.autismepicenter.com/sensory-integration-dysfunction.shtml), in this case it could be seen as being paired intimately with the hypersensitivity; there are some things that, because of personal neurological differences, people aren’t hypersensitive to, and a higher-level of those becomes desirable to try to drown out other stimuli that are too intense.

  6. Assuming that autism is a spectrum disorder that grades into normal personality, wouldn’t it make sense that ability to empathize is likewise on a gradient so that rather than autistic individual having no empathetic capabilities, they simply have lower capabilities? Then wouldn’t it follow that people who were previously classified as having Asperger’s would be on the higher end of the empathy spectrum?

    Perhaps there is a somewhat lower empathy as a result of difficult in reading facial expressions and other non-verbal cues, but they still might be able to empathize with a character in a book. And they might find it easier to empathize with an anthropomorphic character with exaggerated emotions (because they can read those cues more easily), and perhaps also with some animals in general because the cues might be more obvious, tail wagging, snarling, etc.

    1. This is a good point, and something I found frustrating about the article. “Lack of empathy” is one of the most commonly-cited hallmarks of mild ASD, but it’s also very easy to misunderstand. When psych diagnositicians talk about lack of empathy, they’re necessarily talking about what’s observed by someone looking in from outside; in a situation where an emotional response is expected, someone with ASD may not show the expected emotional response. This is a problem with social cues. However, when many people talk about empathy, they’re talking about something different, about, for instance, knowing someone is feeling sad, and feeling sad for them or with them. There are few indications that people with ASD have problems with that, and some indications that it’s one of the things they sometimes feel more intensely. (Refs: http://psychcentral.com/lib/2011/debunking-6-myths-about-asperger-syndrome/all/1/ http://www.aspiestrategy.com/2012/06/hidden-autistics-ii-aspergers-in-adults.html http://www.autismandempathy.com/?p=1476)

      To me, the issue of relating to a book character hits the second definition more than the first. When you’re reading a book, you’re being exposed to someone’s internal mental state, that allows you to relate to someone without having to deal with difficulties reading facial expressions and other social cues.

      Also, to your point about the exaggeration of animal expressions, I can only say “Yes, exactly, that’s the sort of thing I want to write about.” :)

  7. Really fantastic article here. I only wish my own thoughts were so clear on the matter, it’s another case of scales. Another case where the labeling of a person into black and white obscures the reality of a vast gradient.

    This one really struck me: “A feeling of alienation doesn’t imply alienation. It’s usually the opposite: a feeling of alienation implies that you are maturing and learning to assimilate.” I hadn’t thought of it that way but you are precisely right. Its the identification of what’s different that allows yourself to assimilate and become accepted by society.

  8. Coming from someone actually clinically diagnosed with mild ASD, with psychology professor parents who study a lot of this stuff >_>…

    This article is actually pretty misleading in a lot of ways. For the most part DSM-V’s revisions involving the autism spectrum are just changing the name away from arbitrary categories, to get people to think of what it is, a complex spectrum, not just something you can lump into a few categories.

    I myself am extremely self-aware of my issues for someone on the autism spectrum, though a lot of that is because I was around people who knew enough about it early enough to gain a decently high level of introspective abilities (and also lack of introspective intelligence has never been the most severe category of impairment for me in comparison to other elements). I would have never guessed until I was tested and had it explained to me, but it’s VERY possible to be aware of your own problems while still having enough spectrum-related issues for a diagnosis to be important.

    Everyone on the autism spectrum is affected differently, that’s part of why it was changed to be all categorized under “Autism Spectrum Disorder,” thought of as a spectrum with many variables rather than just categories, so that specific traits of individuals could be focused on rather than “this person is this one of these three things” which is far less individualized of a diagnosis than there should be for a disorder with this many variables.

    Looking in the comments, Indi brought up a bunch of stuff I was planning to address as well. One of them how the social issues are too focused on when people talk about this subject; or more accurately, how the other issues are very highly ignored. I’m personally much more impaired by all the things in category B of the DSM-V criteria for ASD (though still strongly affected by the stuff in all categories obviously).

    I know a few people who with their initial self-suspicion of being on the autism spectrum, was enough to get them to see about getting it officially diagnosed, which was the case in the end, a piece of information that has helped their lives in the long run so far.

    Also “To identify is to demonstrate empathy, the very trait that Christopher—and anyone with Asperger’s/ASD—lacks” is a very poor statement. Empathy is a lot more about actually outwardly showing empathy, rather than a complete lack of it at all (though that happens too (also Indi brought this up as well)). Some autism spectrum people I know are almost hyper-empathetic actually. There are so many variables in how the disorder manifests itself!!!

    The intent of this article is great, but just be careful about how you say this kind of thing. I believe that many people these days are far too obsessed with saying things like “no one should use aspergers as a shield, it’s just the new ADHD, its not real, its just an excuse to get away with being obnoxious” just as ignorantly as those who self-diagnose without thinking. It’s to the extent that it’s actually to the detriment of people legitimately mildly on the spectrum who may appear normal at first to an outside observer, but are actually severely affected by it in ways that are not obvious to the average observer (example: sensory issues that cause extreme reactions to various seemingly mundane things being misinterpreted as misbehaviour or trying to get attention). When those people get brushed off as “oh he’s using autism as an excuse/shield/attention, he doesn’t really have any problems” it’s a TERRIBLE thing. One of the most terrible things you could say to someone struggling with autism spectrum issues in my opinion.

    Hopefully my response here doesn’t seem too antagonistic and completely against the article, it’s not meant to, though I think it might come across that way.

    1. Hi Quilava, thanks for taking the time to contribute your thoughtful and intelligent comment. It’s not always easy to provide a counterpoint in a balanced and respectful way on the internet, but you’ve done that here, and I appreciate that.

      You’re quite right to point out that I’ve over-simplified what it means to be autistic. My article is no more a guideline to diagnosis (or understanding) of autism than The Curious Incident. It can only be diagnoses by a professional in a clinical environment, and it is a lot more complex than I’ve implied.

      I will defend myself on one specific point: the changes in DSM-5 go further than just collecting four autism-related disorders into ASD. The most important change is that ASD cannot be diagnoses, ever, without evidence in early childhood. This change is intended to reduce misdiagnosis in later years, and to encourage early diagnosis.

      I completely agree that it’s dangerous to support the common assumption that Asperger’s is a shield. ASD is very real (as is ADHD) and expressions of doubt towards a real condition can be damaging, as you may have experienced.

      I hope that that the content of my article reflects the implication of its slightly controversial title. I have tried to balance the competing needs for factual information and entertainment, and in doing so I have ignored many of the complexities of ASD. I knew that my article would not reflect the actual experiences of any one person with an autism disorder, and I was concerned that it would come across as either ignorant of condescending. I hoped that people with some flavour of ASD – like yourself and Indi – would read through, forgive my simplifications, and comment in some detail. So I thank you for that, and I’m sure that future readers of this article will appreciate such a well-written and engaging counterpoint.

      By the way, I’m curious if you’ve shared this article with other ASD people you know, and how they reacted. I try hard to find the right tone in my articles here on [a][s] (and I sometimes explore difficult or emotional topics), so feedback—especially critical feedback—is very helpful.

      1. Oh yeah, you’re right that the whole early childhood evidence thing is one of the most important factors that they changed these definitions for. I was mainly just saying this article kind of gives off the impression that “mild ASD/formerly asperger’s, doesn’t exist/matter” even though I knew you didn’t mean it that way.

        I haven’t yet shared this article with anyone on the spectrum I know yet, though I’ve talked about a lot of these topics with ASD furry friends of mine before, including the DSM-V revisions.

        I’m glad you appreciated my feedback!!

  9. ” If you lack communication skills, you also lack the ability to assess the quality of your communication skills.” I would have to disagree. I am unable to translate my thoughts into words effectively. I am forced to use simple sentences to avoid stumbling and pausing while I try to find words to fill in the blanks. During social interactions, I am attempting to process more information than just what is being said, and while I’m trying to formulate a response, the processing of that information gets pulled away while I focus to find words. As I hear my own voice say the words, I become distracted again, as if another person was talking at the same time I was trying to talk. This is most typical when I’m nervous and around people I am not comfortable with. Around family and friends, I’m not so easily distracted by outside environment. It is the awareness of my social awkwardness that makes conversing with strangers a dreaded second-by-second experience. I then spend days thinking of ways I could have better responded in the situation, but those ideas never come on-the-fly. I’m 33 now, and these behaviors are hard-wired. I’ve spent too much time hiding from a social weakness, instead of working on ways to strengthen social skills. I used to have a friend that I could enjoy long conversations with, and that seemed to greatly help my ability to communicate with others, but sadly that friendship ended a few years ago and I have retreated back deeper into social avoidance. I see signs of Aspergers in myself, but I lack their unusual strengths in the left brain. So, I’m just stupid. That’s the only word I can think of to describe my deficiencies. The only way around it, is focus on areas of weakness and strengthen them; something I would think a diagnosis of anything would seek to address, not to be ignored as an excuse.

    1. Glenn, thanks for the interesting comment. It may well be that you might be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and such a diagnosis may well help you formulate your plans to improve.

      Having said that, it sounds like you’re doing a pretty fantastic job of that yourself. You’re clearly an analytical person, and you’re thinking about the process of social interaction to see how you can improve. The more you think about, and the more you practice, the better you will become.

      The sentence you quote from the article is not intended to be geared towards people like yourself, although I see how it can be interpreted that way, and for that I apologise. I, personally, wouldn’t say that you “lack communication skills”. In fact I suspect that they are better than you realise.

  10. I think you’re full of shit and this article is written under the guise of objectivity, but is actually a very self centered “projective” and subjective piece.

    1. Hi Jamison, thanks for taking the time to stop by and read the piece, and obviously you have some issues with the article. I wonder if you could take a little more time to express why you feel this way – as things stand your comment doesn’t give a great deal of insight.

  11. People on the autistic spectrum have empathy. Empathy is not a question of what exactly the receiver is receiving but whether or not the giver is actually giving.

    The empathetic/emotional centres in the autistic brain is more or less like a neurological person’s; it is the neuro-connections between emotions and motion that is lacking in an ASD brain. This goes back to difficulty in reading social/facial cues, having a sense of time, and even showing emotions, unless strong or forced, on their face.

    For people on the autistic spectrum the problem with interpersonal functions regards precision of perception, not absence of concern nor love.

    1. Nana, thanks for the comment and while the difference in fairly subtle, it’s a point well made. Thanks for the thoughtful and informed contribution.

  12. Your article gave me cancer. You know nothing about autism. This article is filled with plot holes and cliches.
    1.what about other disorders. Wouldn’t they cause furry fandom.
    2.furries are different from real animals.
    3.where are your statistics?

    Youre just trying to be like one of those failed ableist doctors.

    The reason why autistic people are more likely to be come furs is because they obsess over anything they find interesting.
    They don’t do it because they don’t interact well. You have to interact well with other furries right?

    1. Hi Redfox, thanks for taking the time to comment and I’m sorry that you had some problems with the article.

      I’d be happy to try to answer any queries in detail if you can be a bit more specific. I always try to provide references and data to support my articles, however I don’t always get it right. Your comment is a bit general at the moment so it’s not clear what aspects of my article you’ve taken issue with.

  13. The person who wrote this article is a complete moron and obviously didn’t do their research.

    I can’t be arsed refuting every part of your “blog” at the moment but if I get a reply to this comment I’ll come back and destroy you easily.

    1. Hi there. I welcome, as does [adjective][species] in general, criticism on any of our articles. So please feel free to go ahead.

      Please also read the comments by others, and my responses to those. This article isn’t perfect and one or two issues have been pointed out. The main weakness relates to my use of “empathy”: I don’t mean to suggest that people with ASD lack empathy, I mean that people with ASD lack the ability to show empathy. The issue is in the quality of the communication, not the quality of the thought process.

      I’ll also add that while we don’t have a formal commenting policy here at [adjective][species], we do ask people to be respectful. I’m happy to assume that your comment here was made quickly and therefore comes across as more tactless than you had intended. If you wish to make a personal attack you can do so directly, jm@furrynet.com.

      Finally, should anyone wish to write a longer counterpoint to any article here on [a][s], please let us know. Subject to meeting our basic style guidelines, we’ll publish it.

  14. Hello i review this topic and its a bit biased this article. I and a friend we have asperger with diagnosis since we are childs. ( Before we knew the furry). Another point is that the study of the 2013 actually have the ultimate word about the removal of the diagnosis of the asperger syndrome.(if it was true nobody in the psychiatry talk about it, actually we are in the year 2015).. anyways. But its true there are some furries that believe that they are aspies but in fact they are not. Greetings.
    PS: sorry for my bad english i m chilean.

    1. Hi Sasha.

      You are quite right that the DSM-5 does not have the last word. It has a lot of weaknesses, and its treatment of autism (and related conditions) is one of them. The move away from Asperger’s to ASD is an attempt to make things better.

      What is most important is that the name doesn’t change reality. You are yourself, whether someone says you have Asperger’s or ASD or nothing at all.

      Thanks for your kind and thoughtful words.

      1. Hi JM
        Thanks for your good and kindful attitude and your answer. Its true that the reality cant be changed by the names. But its also true that the good diagnosis (at least in my case and the situation of my friend) of the Asperger Syndrome could help to the people with this conditions in some aspects : to see our potentials and defects..Im not saying that it will work with all the people with the diagnosis. But it could help in some terms if the diagnosis is rightful and the aspie have a good actitude to moving forward. Anyways thanks for your answer and kindness. Greetings.

  15. Overall the article was well written but I have a couple of issues with it. The DSM – V removing Aspergers was a rather unpopular decision. Everyone I know who was diagnosed with it originally who would disagree that it was a good thing. Aspergers shares many traits with other forms of Autism but is different in several key ways, a distinction that many feel should be made. Things like early language development vs delayed language development and various aspects of our behavior are quite different and should be treated differently.
    Next you mentioned that we on the spectrum lack empathy which is simply not true. There are different kinds of empathy. We may lack some cognitive empathy or the ability to predict others thoughts and intentions “reading between the lines” when communicating. We have lots of effective empathy which is the ability to share another persons feelings and compassionate empathy which is the our drive to help others. Sometimes our brains overcompensate for our lack of cognitive empathy with too much effective and compassionate empathy. It can becomes overwhelming. I myself experience this on a regular basis.

  16. I was diagnosed with Aspergers, and know there’s something connected to how I was a late developer. I think it could be an evolution step. I think it’s connected to how humans have neoteny, where they retain features as adults of the young because we take longer to evolve than apes. Children with Asperger’s or high functioning autism don’t develop as fast. As they’re made to feel bad about that and given ‘treatment’ to punish them, they end up mentally scarred, anxious and unable to then fit into society. Of course people will be socially inadequate and immerse themselves in hobbies if they’re told all their life they’re not normal.
    I also think Asperger’s is different than autism. Children with autism don’t fit into the criteria set out by Han’s Asperger, such as bad motor coordination. Just because they have similar symptoms like cold and flu do, doesn’t make them the same.

  17. I think it was a mistake for the USA to take away the category Asperger’s as when I see low functioning Autistics who can never communicate and are mentally retarded I don’t feel any connection to them. How can somebody who can’t do hardly anything independently without harming themselves and have to wear helmets because of banging their head have anything in common with geniuses like Einstein who they say has Asperger’s? Also Hans Asperger description isn’t anything like low functioning Autistics.
    I think people with Asperger’s are neotonous, as with humans who take longer to develop than apes because they’re more evolved. Asperger’s people take longer to develop, then get mentally scarred and have no confidence from being told they’re a problem and not normal for their development age. Many Asperger’s people are shy and have no confidence from the years of being bullied and told they’re not normal etc.

  18. Your article shows a lack of understanding and respect.

    Please note that outside of the USA, Asperger’s is still the name used and diagnosed (adhering to the World Health Organisation).

    Please note that in assessing, childhood is only one factor to consider. There is something called the AAA test for adults. Also, read Tony Attwoods Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, to understand why childhood manifestations don’t always appear typical, and psychologists certainly do not only focus on childhood, nor teenage years.

    Please also note that AS does NOT mean a person that is shy or introverted. It is not a personality type. Anyone self diagnosing will soon realise they don’t fit the requirements or see that they score out of the autistic or asperger’s range. Aspietests.org contains some tests that are officially used by world renowned specialist clinics.
    Are you suggesting that those that score less than 10 out of 80 on the EQ test (where 30 and less indicates autism) are just self diagnosing misfits?

    And DO NOT refer to Asperger”s as ‘self-limiting’! We are much better than neurotypicals at picking out intense detail, being objective and factual based, logical reasoning skills and other skills. We often have natural talents in the arts and scienctific fields. Are Microsoft intentially hiring people that are limited for the job they need doing? Obviously not. They recognise that neurotypicals are actually limited compared to the average aspie at certain tasks, thank you very much.

    Referring to it as self limiting is harmful. Yes we are limited to understanding and functioning in your neurotypical world, which is also full of needless illogical and irrational behaviour on the whole, but you are all limited if you need to do the skills that a high percentage of Aspies naturally posses, due to structural differences and wiring of the brain.

    I am not suggesting we aspies are superior to neurotypicals overall. I am suggesting that we are both limited at certain things and better at doing other, different things.

  19. great. exactly, so i dont bloody have it. got asperger by a corrupt doctor with no clue. i live in europe so i just have to wait one year so i can most likely get my asd diagnose removed, and by the way i got abused as a child, thats the reason am a little scared to talk to people,damaged soul rather a retard. halleluja! the truth is here!

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