Sunday, February 11, 2007

A question for Professor Simon Baron-Cohen

Director of the Autism Research Centre,
University of Cambridge

Maybe this isn’t news to you at all, but I’ve only recently found out that the man who is considered to be Australia’s most renowned living poet, Les Murray, has claimed a number of times to have some degree of Asperger syndrome in interviews in the last couple of years. After reading about Murray I’m sure he’s right. Apparently one of his five offspring has autism.

My question to you is; how does your female empathizer brain and male systemizer brain theory explain Murray’s harrowing experiences of bullying in high school? He was apparently particularly psychologically bullied by his female age peers, which appears to wildly contradict the stereotype of inherent kind empathy in girls which you depicted with the character "Hannah" on pages 18 to 21 of your popular psychology book The Essential Difference. This is how Murray’s school bullying is described in a recent press article:

When he turned 16, Murray went to Taree High School where he experienced bullying and emotional humiliation at the hands of fellow students of such callousness that it has haunted him all his life. For two years he was addressed constantly by cruel nicknames. “The sexual fool was how (the) girls loved to see Murray,” Professor Alexander writes in Les Murray: A Life in Progress. “I used to have strings of 16-year-old girls hanging after me screaming with laughter and provoking me into making more of a fool of myself,” Murray recalled.

Murray is a long-time sufferer of clinical depression, not surprisingly.

Dear professor, are you sure that you know what dear little Hannah gets up to when she is at school?


References

Baird, Julia (2006) Les Murray: the poet who helped save the Snowy. Sunday Profile. ABC Local Radio. June 4, 2006.
http://www.abc.net.au/sundayprofile/stories/s1654645.htm

Moran, Rod (2007) Murray’s troubled waters run deep. The West Australian. Weekend Extra, page 4, February 10, 2007.

Potts, Robert (2004) The voice of the outback. The Guardian. May 15, 2004.
http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,12084,1216273,00.html

Wootten, William (2006) Salt, land and tears. The Guardian. October 21, 2006.
http://books.guardian.co.uk/reviews/poetry/0,,1927616,00.html

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Is misandry relevant to autism?

[This is a recycled enhanced question that I posted a while ago at an online autism discussion. It attracted an answer, but I don’t think it addressed the full scope of my question.]

If Hans Asperger’s “extreme male brain” theory of autism is correct, then it seems to follow that neurotypical females, particularly NT females of the “empathizer” type described by Baron-Cohen, are, generally speaking, the section of the population who are the least cognitively equipped to be able to understand the autistic mind and the autistic point of view. Should we therefore be concerned that such a large proportion of the autism experts, therapists and autism professionals of various types, teachers, and administrators of autism organisations, who are paid to serve autistic people, are neurotypical females? Might neurotypical female authors of books about autism/AS and autistic people bring an unconscious feminine anti-male and anti-autistic bias to their work that should be checked for? Does more need to be done to maximise the involvement of fathers with their autistic offspring?

If there was a section of the population that were like the opposite of autistic, in that they were judged to be disabled due to having extremely female type brains, would we be content to have these people cared for by a predominantly male group of carers, professionals and parents?

Am I making an incorrect assumption in my first question? If there is in fact a group of people in the spectrum of humanity who fit into Baron-Cohen’s category of “empathizers”, are they therefore good all-purpose empathizers who are naturally skilled at understanding and reading the feelings of all types of people, including autistics, or are their empathizing skills limited to understanding people who are not too different from their own psychology? If empathizers (male and female) exist, do their empathy skills rely on them being willing to guess about the feelings of others by making the assumption that others think and feel in a similar way that they do, or are these people able to gain true and deep insight into others who are considerably different to themselves by means other than guessing and analogy?

Should I just go to bed and stop writing stupid questions?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

You couldn’t possibly be an aspie if ….

you make important progress in your career by using your personal charm, powers of manipulation and your extensive social network

you are addicted to using your mobile phone, forgoing essentials to pay for phone credit, driven by a fear of being “out of the loop”, and feeling rejected or anxious of you do not receive text messages (such people do exist according to a media report).

you would do just about anything to enhance your popularity with your peers at school, including bullying unpopular kids, spending a lot of time and money on achieving a fashionable "look" and abusing drugs and alcohol

you and your friend greet each other with loud squeals, giggling and hugs, and you can’t wait to hear the latest gossip

you are rather shy because you are very concerned about what people think of you, and you are terrified that there is any possibility that you may say something that offends

it doesn’t matter to you if you are really right or wrong, what matters is whether your friends think you are right or wrong

you feel exhilarated and united with the screaming crowd when your favourite team wins an important goal

you wish they would let Schapelle Corby go free from jail because she looks so upset and she’s such a pretty young lady

if everyone else believes something, then you reckon it must be right

as you say your wedding vows you have your fingers crossed behind your back underneath the bridal train

you don’t really believe all that religion stuff, but you have been going to the same church for years just to be a part of the social scene

your level of achievement in all of your school subjects is uniformly average

you don’t hold any strong opinions, and you don’t understand why people argue over matters of ethics, law, philosophy or science