Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Today's psychologically incorrect quote from a famous person:

"I’d rather read a book on a plane than talk to the fellow next to me."
- President John F. Kennedy
Did punk rock as a musical and cultural trend naturally evolve from the socially non-conforming "extreme male brain" psychology of the autistic spectrum?

I have written about Joey Ramone, Ed Kuepper, and Sid and Nancy in various places in my blog.

Friday, October 10, 2008

At the borderlands diagnosis is matter of a personal choice

I’ve been reading a recent and somewhat controversial brief article in Computerworld by the editor Don Tennant, and I’ve noticed that one of the most interesting and influential people among those living people who have been identified as being on the autistic spectrum, Richard Stallman, founder of the free software movement, is now claiming to possibly have a “shadow syndrome” or mild version of Asperger syndrome, but not the full syndrome. The reasoning that he gives for this claim doesn’t change my views on the matter. Stallman claims that he doesn’t have AS because he doesn’t have “most of the characteristics of that” and he is able to appreciate complicated musical rhythms. I think just about anyone must be able to appreciate complicated rhythms, but creating such rhythms in a live performance is another thing completely. Ability with regard to timing or rhythms has never been included as a diagnostic criterion for AS in any clinical diagnostic manual that I have ever heard of.

The assertion that Stallman does not have most of the characteristics of AS does not rule out AS as a diagnosis either. No one needs to have all of the characteristics of AS to be eligible for a clinical diagnosis of Asperger syndrome. I don’t think any one person really knows what all of the possible characteristics of AS are. The list could amount to hundreds of different odd traits and signs. In the sections A and B of the diagnostic criteria for “Asperger’s Disorder” in the DSM there are eight different characteristics of AS listed, but you only need to have two characteristics from section A and one characteristic from section B, and the other criteria in other sections, to qualify for a diagnosis. You don’t need to have every single characteristic listed to have AS. The DSM isn’t the only set of diagnostic criteria for AS, every year I hear of another set of criteria or test or questionnaire formulated by some autism expert in some corner of the world. I’m sure that some people would be identified as having AS by some instruments while being categorized as normal enough to be called normal by other diagnostic schemes. I’d be surprised if Mr Stallman turned up average male scores on the questionnaires created by the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge, but at the end of the day it’s really his business and his decision as to how he labels himself.


Tennant, Don (2008) Editor’s notes: Asperger’s oxymoron. Computerworld. October 6th 2008.

DSM diagnostic criteria for “Asperger’s Disorder”

Web versions of autism-related questionnaires/tests/quotients popularized by Prof. S. Baron-Cohen of the Autism Research Centre
[do have a look at the results of the responses to these online tests, they are interesting as they suggest that autistic women may indeed be less numerous than male autists, but there appears to be a sex ratio in AS that is much closer to even than any of the so-called Asperger syndrome experts have suggested in all of their writings]

I've heard that Mr Raymond Babbitt no longer flies with Qantas Airlines.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The day before yesterday's amusingly insensitive comment from an autistic person:

"If all else fails, you have a fanny and you have a mouth."

Comment from my dear husband while he was watching a young lady crying on a TV show because she is deeply in debt after over-using her credit card. The word "fanny" has different meanings in the Australian and American English languages.

Today's amusingly insensitive comment from an autistic person:

"... I have a job to do. I have absolutely no interest in what YOU are interested in. You can take your favorite way of wasting time and cram it."

This is a comment by Anonymous on an article about AS and the computer industry in Computerworld magazine:

Mr Anonymous has so capably put into words sentiments that so many of us have never dared to express.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The title of a recent article in New Scientist magazine:

"Do supercharged brains give rise to autism?"

Are autistic brains supercharged? Is the Pope a Catholic? Is rain wet? Aint it obvious?

Are you sure that your brain is normal?

The recent report in New Scientist, which is cited after this article, confirms something that I have discovered myself about synaesthesia; that you can have various forms of synaesthesia but not be at all aware that you have them. I know this because for the last couple of years I have been steadily adding to the list of the different types of synaesthesia that I have. I've given up counting. Until now I'd just thought that so many of the idiosyncratic associations that my brain makes between unrelated things were just random thoughts, but once one becomes familiar with the patterns and characteristics of synaesthesia, it becomes apparent that there's so much more to synaesthesia than a colourful alphabet.

When I wear a fragrance I like to match the colour of the clothes that I am wearing that day with an appropriate perfume for that colour. It's interesting that one of the research studies reported in New Scientist seems to have identified such associations as possibly being another type of synaesthesia. I have suspected as much for a while. For me some colour/perfume matches are probably culturally influenced, such as a vanilla fragrance with a white shirt. Some matches are not so obvious. Like many of the study subjects I would categorize lavender as a green smell (which is one reason why I was so fond of an unusual type of lavender that I used to grow in my garden that had green flowers). Lavender is a fragrant plant that has flowers that are generally the "wrong" colour for their floral fragrance. Another obscure example is the African species Pelargonium gibbosum, or the gouty geranium. It has tiny limey green flowers in the summer time that only open at night, and are only scented from around sunset to midnight. I have grown it because of it's strange scent, which is kind of like bubblegum or jonquils, and it is definitely a magenta-coloured smell. I can't help thinking that the colour of this flower is some kind of joke by mother nature; such a grand, feminine smell wafting from such nerdy-looking little blooms. If you do grow this plant in your garden, or wish to grow it, and you live in Australia, please keep it in a pot and don't let any part of it find it's way onto vacant land or bushland, as it has the potential to spread in natural environments and become a terrible weed. I have often wondered whether matching perfumes with colours marks the theoretical borderland between normal cultural and metaphorical thinking, and abnormal synaesthesia. It appears to me that there are non-random associations between the colours of perfume packaging or names of perfumes and the scents being marketed. For example, years ago I used to love a perfume by Guerlain named l'Heure Bleue. It indeed did have a smell that I thought was blue. I wore it with blue clothes. I plead guilty to once owning a bottle of the agressively spicy fragrance "Ambush" which had a hot pink coloured plastic cap that was a perfect match to the smell. A most appropriately named fragrance.

I have a prediction to make regarding synaesthesia/synesthesia: so many newly-described types of synaesthesia will come to light through synaesthetes sharing first-hand anecdotes and researchers describing new case studies, that the synaesthesia researchers who have been keeping a record of the different types of synaesthesia will abandon their list-compiling, and may conclude that synaesthesia is not so much a collection of specific types of experiences, but is more like a different type of brain.

I've got one complaint about the article in New Scientist; I think the title is misleading, as I don't think the research reported is evidence that everyone does or might have synaesthesia. It only appears to be evidence that until now researchers might have mis-identified some synaesthetes as non-synaesthetes. I personally do not believe that all people are latent synaesthetes, and I am sceptical of the idea that all people go through a normal stage of having synaesthesia early in life, which they normally grow out of. Either you have the gene or you don't - that's what I think.

Do we all have some synaesthetic ability?
by Alison Motluk
New Scientist. September 30th 2008.