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Wired on Autism in the Valley 861

Posted by michael
from the counting-matchsticks dept.
digaman writes: "The December issue of Wired magazine contains an article of mine on what appears to be an upsurge in autism among the children of programmers and engineers in Silicon Valley: "The Geek Syndrome." A complicated issue, explored in depth. I hear the California Department of Developmental Services is launching a research project to investigate the questions raised in the article."
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Wired on Autism in the Valley

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  • uh oh (Score:4, Funny)

    by prockcore (543967) on Monday December 17, 2001 @05:09AM (#2713925)
    hmm.. I wonder why that is... (as I read the article with my laptop in my lap)
  • ...is for future-minded silicon valley tech firms to encourage their engineers and techie-types to breed with those as intellectually and physically dissimilar to themselves as possible. Not so far out, really - folks like Ric Ocasek, Billy Bob Thornton, and Lyle Lovett have been practicing such things for years.
    • I hate to say this, but I think most of the disorders and non-bacterial, non-viral diseases that are on the rise are explained by two things: women's liberation and environmental contamination.

      The first might seem like a silly joke, but think about what's different today in the mating game from what was the norm in almost all of human history until it started changing in the last 60 years. Traditionally, marriage had little at all to do with common interests, and nothing to do with common professions. Male-dominated society meant that men would engage in professions and women, if they were in a working class, worked at common "women's jobs" like straight factory work or sewing or teaching/watching young children. People didn't marry because of anything they had in common. People usually married based on convenience, friendships between families, whoever lived nearby, whatever wife they could afford, etc.

      By contrats, today women and men meet, date, then marry, and most of the people they meet work in similar professions and therefore have similar interests and if those interests are determined genetically, similar genes. It's like a mild, remote form of inbreeding. More often than not techies marry techies, teachers marry teachers, scientists marry scientists, lawyers marry lawyers, etc. The result over time is to reinforce those genetic factors which are common between these people who have married and procrated thanks to common interests or employment. And if some of those traits have slightly negative side-effects, then those side-effects will become more pronounced. Add in this selective breeding over several generations, and well--you're looking at a pronounced enhancement of both the positives and negatives inherent in genes which cause one to have a predisposition towards certain vocations.

      Second, I think we can't deny that we've changed our environment significantly, particularly in the area of foodstuffs and radiation. We now eat more and more genetically enhanced food--some of it enhanced through centuries of selective breeding, such as the milk we drink and the meat we eat, and some of it more recently enhanced through artificial hormones which may leave traces in that food--such as, again, milk and meat, and now even some vegetable foods. For at least 6 years people have expressed concern that hormones in milk may be contributing to the progressively earlier ages at which girls are hitting puberty, and that perhaps the same hormones contribute to cancer. Whether that's true or not, surely some of our food additives and genetic enhancements have effects we cannot measure or imagine. I'm not saying to go organic--I liberally at such altered foodstuffs--but I am saying only a person with his head in the sand would refuse to realize that some of our alterations to our food, whether genetic or chemical, have to have effects we don't fully understand yet.

      The same is true of radiation. I'm not a nut who insists on not using cell phones because they allegedly cause cancer, but I do believe that with all the low-level radiation that passes through our bodies on a daily basis, at least a few particles eventually interact with our matter. This could easily explain the huge upswing in cancer over the last 40 years, as low-level radiation exposure has steadily increased. Before you dismiss it, think about how much radio, cell phone, television, cordless phone, microwave, and myriad other forms of man-made radiation passes through your body each day. Almost none of it interacts with you, since most of it can even pass cleanly through feet of concrete without interaction. But think of what a small antenna or dish it takes to get reception of so many radio, TV, satellite, or other channels, compared to the much larger size of your human body. What if only 1 in a billion of these low-energy particles interacts with your body? That's still a rather large interaction, when you consider the constant levels we experience day and night, even when sitting at home. What if it's only 1 in a trillion? Then it's still significant, given the constant bombardment. All it takes is one particle interacting with one cell to potentially cause a change that could spark a cancer. Given constant bombardment by so many low-level radiation sources, this has to be significant. We don't want to believe it, and usually dismiss it our of hand because we like our technology, but this is just so much sticking of heads in the sand. We're never going to give up our tech, even if it's the primary cause of cancer, but we could at least be honest about it when we look at it.

      Sure, there are genetic predispositions for things like cancer. We know this. But factors which are most likely environmental have increased cancer rates exponentially over the last 40 years. A genetic predispostion still needs a trigger. I think large amounts of low-level radiation are a likely candidate for this.

      Well, those are my theories, anyway. I know people are just lining up to disagree, so let's hear it! ;-)
      • by Marcus Brody (320463) on Monday December 17, 2001 @08:31AM (#2714290) Homepage
        Interesting comment. I think you are quite right about the link between modern lifestyle (post industrial-revolution) and the rise in certain diseases.

        However, despite the persuasive argument, I have to disagree with this:

        It's like a mild, remote form of inbreeding.

        There is a compelling evolutionary argument that people subconciously select partners who are of a distinct genetic make-up. Alot of this debate has centered around "HLA haplotypes". These cell-surface antigens help the immune system distinguish between inate and foreign matter within the body. If everybody had the same HLA haplotype, it would be trivial for bacterial diseases to mimic the HLA type and thus sweep through the world population. Of course, diversity has evolved within HLA genes to stop this happening. Furthermore, the argument is that people purposefully mate with partners who have a different HLA haplotype and thus create new combinations of HLA genes. This will create a child much less susceptible to disease than an inbred child, who would have a HLA type similar to the rest of the family.

        This is quite a compelliung argument and may operate at other levels than HLA. Before someone argues "But why arent there lots of inter-racial mariages?", it has to be said that this proposed phenomenon would be extremely complex with many confounding socio-economic confounding factors. Furthermore, the jury is still out. Much of the molecular evedince has been confusing and contradictory.

        In summary, I think it is highly likely that mechanisms exist to stop exactly this type of "accidental inbreeding".
      • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Monday December 17, 2001 @11:09AM (#2714714)
        By contrats, today women and men meet, date, then marry, and most of the people they meet work in similar professions and therefore have similar interests and if those interests are determined genetically, similar genes. It's like a mild, remote form of inbreeding.

        That's an interesting point. I can imagine that in the worst case, the geeks will evolve to look something like chimpanzees, the jocks will become more like gorillas, and the politicians will begin to resemble orangutans.

      • The women's lib stuff is bunk. All of it. Contrary to popular beleif, what this culture views as the "normal" family and social structure isn't quite normal. When you say "traditionaly," you're going back, what, 100 years, 500 years? Not far enough.

        From "The Way We Really Are," by Stephanie Coontz:

        One of the most common misconceptions about modern marriage is the notion that coprovider families are a new invention in human history. In fact, today's dual-earner family represents a return to older norms, after a very short interlude that people mistakenly identify as "traditional."

        Thoughout most of humanity's history women as well as men were family breadwinners. Contrary to cartoons of cavemen dragging home food to a wife waiting at a campfire, in the distant past of early gathering and hunting societies women contributed as much or more to family substinence as men. Mothers left the hearth to forage for food, hunt small animals, trade with other groups, or tend to crops.

        On this continent, neither Native American, African-American, nor white women were originally seen as economic dependents. Among European colonists, men dominated women, but their authority was based on legal, political and religious coercion, not on men's greater economic importance. The most common words for wives in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century colonial America were "yoke-mates" or "meet-helps," labels that indicated women's economic partnership with men. ... But in the early 1800s, as capitalist production for the market replaced home-based production for local exchange, and a wage-labor system supplanted widespread self-employment and farming, more and more work was conducted in centralized workplaces removed from the farm or home. ... Men (and older children) began to specialize in work outside the home, withdrawing from their traditional child-raising responsibilities. Household work and child care were delegated to wives, who gave up their older roles in production and barter.

  • all i can say is that its a damn interesting article. a little spooky. I just hope its not true. I'd hate to think that the mating of two smart people produces a disabled person. It's like a planned obsolescence in the intelligence of the species.
    • I agree, this is very interesting, I'll have to read the whole thing some time. (I've got four computers in front of me, stereo is on, TV is on, and it's 1:30am. I can't pay attention to anything. :)) But I've gotta say -
      It's like a planned obsolescence in the intelligence of the species.
      - that is one of the creepiest things I've heard in quite a while...
    • Re:read the article (Score:3, Informative)

      by fatphil (181876)
      "It's like a planned obsolescence in the intelligence of the species."
      Good observation, nicely worded too!

      You mustn't forget intellectuals' breeding patterns anyway. Intellectuals breed with negative population growth. (i.e. 2 intellectuals have 2.0 children on average). i.e. Intellectuals are destined to become outnumbered anyway. (However, that doesn't mean that they won't be a dominating minority - the majority of South Africans were black, the dominant minority white, for example).

      However I'm not convinced, from reading the article, that the thing is hugely genetic anyway. I think that, as always, the socialisation that the children get in the first few years of life governs how schizophrenic (i.e. detached) the child will develop. Maybe the intellectual parents _nurture_ detached children.
      (i.e. it is more like self-inflicting obselescence.)

      FatPhil
      • Re:read the article (Score:4, Interesting)

        by uebernewby (149493) on Monday December 17, 2001 @08:40AM (#2714302) Homepage
        Agreed. The most obvious factor at work here isn't radiation or bad genes, it's both parents working ridiculously long hours and leaving the children to raise themselves. For the past ten, twenty years, there's been an upsurge in "psychological disorders" children are supposed to suffer from that, to my mind, aren't disorders at all, just fancy names given to bad upbringing.

        ADHD=spoilt brat

        PDD-NOS ("mild form of autism") = loner

        I've recently looked into this stuff together with my g/f, who is a secondary school teacher in a thinly populated area of the Netherlands (more like Montana than Silicon Valley), and we both felt that the criteria used to diagnose so many children these days with "psychological disorders" are extremely vague, appliccable in a whole slew of different situations (tends to be an indication of bad science) and, worst of all, there's a striking similarity between purportedly "pathological" behavior and "healthy" behavior.

        Now in a situation where parents actually have time to spend on bringing up their children, such tendencies usually get checked in such a degree that the child may be a loner or a very chaotic person, but at least he'll be aware that in order to function within his society, there are some situations in which it's advantageous to conform somewhat. If, on the other hand, both parents work 9 to 9 in a cubicle farm, rarely have dinner with the kids and leave upbringing to school (teachers don't have time to raise 30 kids all at once), television, books, computer games, the internet, what have you, such tendencies will run unchecked, resulting in society, parents, doctors and overworked school teachers screaming "ADHD!" or "autism!" or what have you.

        It's a problem that's not unique to Silicon Valley, it happens everywhere, but given the nature of Sillicon Valley society, it's not surprising that the problem is most apparent there. I'll guarantee, however, that it'll be a problem in other parts of the western world as well, and I'm very curious to see what it'll do to the fabric of society in years to come, when all these autists/ADHD/whatever kids grow up and start assuming positions of power and responsabilities.
        • by Anonymous Coward
          The problem with your statements is that many people brought up in happy, loving families also have Autism or Asperger's syndrome (I know this because I am an example of this).

          In fact, if you read the article, it actually refutes your claims, and provides comprehensive evidence that Autism and Asperger's syndrome are genetically based. It is dangerous and irrational to blame parents for something that has been proven (almost conclusively) to be a genetic disorder.

          (Posting AC because I have already moderated).
  • Overdiagnosis? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by www.sorehands.com (142825) on Monday December 17, 2001 @05:26AM (#2713953) Homepage
    Many doctors and teachers are diagnosing kids at ADHD because they have too many kids in a class to manage properly.


    Did they ever consider it not a disease, but lack of teaching? Most geeks lack social skills and are poor at picking up social clues. Now, if they have children, where will their children learn this from?

    • ADHD (Score:2, Insightful)

      by HanzoSan (251665)


      ADHD is basically a kid whos not normal, who rebels.

      If you rebel, if you arent normal, these doctors will find something to diagnose you with, be it ADHD, or Autism, they will find some stupid excuse. And really this is like abuse to the kids, first it ruins their self esteem to hear doctors and teachers and students treat them like they have some kinda real disease like downs syndrome etc, second, they get drugged up so much in school that if they do manage to learn a damn thing in school its a miracle.

      Instead of finding stupid names for kids who are simply diffrent, first it was nerds, then geeks, then ADHD, then autistic, why not just accept a few things, first, everyone learns diffrent. Second, everyone develops at their own pace, some people dont learn to speak for the first 5 years of life and end up becoming famous writers. Really, its a matter of accepting the fact that when it comes to dealing with kids and teaching, theres no standard way to do it, you do what works for each kid, of course, when classrooms are packed with 50 kids you are going to do what works for the "generic" kid.
      • ADHD is basically a kid whos not normal, who rebels.
        Only some of the symptoms of ADHD relate to someone being a rebel. From WebMD [webmd.com], some of the symptoms of ADHD:
        • does not pay close attention to details; may make careless mistakes at work, school, or other activities
        • failure to complete tasks
        • has difficulty maintaining attention in tasks or play activities
        • does not listen when spoken to directly
        • has difficulty organizing tasks
        • is easily distracted
        • unable to follow more than one instruction at a time
        Also, clinical tests for it include testing for marked difference between IQ and various aptitude tests. For example, arithmatic apptitude being >2 standard deviations from IQ.

        While I agree that some are misdiagonsed with ADD/ADHD, there are those for whom it is a real problem.
        --Ben

      • Re:ADHD (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Cuthalion (65550) on Monday December 17, 2001 @06:19AM (#2714053) Homepage
        I used to also believe that ADD was a load of hooey. Until I met my college roommate, John. Nice guy, very creative, very cool.

        He had a much more extreme case of ADD than I had seen. When he forgot to take his ritalin, he was unable to get anything done. I don't just mean homework, I mean he wasn't able to stay focused on tv or video games or projects he was working on to procrastinate doing homework. He found that extremely frustrating. When medicated he was still extremely creative and imaginative, but he could put those abilities to use for more than 5 minutes at a shot.

        Now, I will be the first to admit that ADD is overdiagnosed, but to say that it's just a stupid name for kids who are simply different is to deny people like John any medical assistance, and to condem him to a life of spinning his mental wheels, when he'd rather take the perscribed drugs to balance his brain chemistry so he can do the stuff that he wants to.
        • Re:ADHD (Score:2, Interesting)

          by HanzoSan (251665)


          Well how do you know his problem is actually ADHD and not something else?

          It seems most people who have so called ADHD, its a childhood phase, i havent met any adults with it. Secondlly most people who do have it, while they cant concentrate on school, they DO concentrate on things they like.

          I dont think ive ever met anyone who couldnt concentrate on anything at all, perhaps your friend is a rare extreme case, and if ritalin is helping him thats good. But doctors these days give people drugs when they dont really NEED them. Your friend obviously has a serious problem.
        • Re:ADHD (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Hobbex (41473) on Monday December 17, 2001 @07:17AM (#2714160)

          Contrary to popular belief, ritalin is not some magic drug, it works almost exactly like amphetamine. If your friend had been addicted to speed for the last ten years, would you be surprised that he was a wreck when off it? There are alcoholics that can seem completely functional for long periods of time as long as they stay drunk, but break down completely if they do not get a drink - same thing goes with most drugs.
          • Re:ADHD (Score:4, Interesting)

            by GMontag451 (230904) on Monday December 17, 2001 @10:04AM (#2714480) Homepage
            You're right, ritalin works almost exactly like amphetamine or caffiene or any other related stimulant. However, you will find that if you give a stimulant to a normal person, he/she will start acting like Cuthalion's friend when he was off the drugs. But if you give a stimulant like ritalin to a person with ADD or ADHD, it will actually calm him/her down. This indicates there is a chemical difference between normal people and people with ADHD.

            However, this does not mean that giving them drugs is the right thing to do. All it does is create a dependency which may or may not be necessary. It is a much more responsible thing (IMHO) to recommend they take Ritalin only sparingly, and at least attempt to overcome their neurological problem by themselves. This approach would give them the opportunity to learn behaviors that would help them when they don't have access to Ritalin, and ultimately be much more beneficial to them than just relying on drugs to fix their problem.

    • Maybe that counts for ADHD, because that is mostly a social problem.

      I didn't read the article yet, but afaik it's still widely accepted that real autism does not come from social structures, or is learned in any way.
      Sometime in the sixties and seventies it was claimed that autism was caused by hartless parents. This simply isn't true, and did hurt lots of loving and caring parents.
      Real autism is biological, and is caused by a different way if coping with the world around you, and within you.

      Simply said, an autist can only handle one impression at the time.
      Emotions are more complex than that one thing they can handle. So emotions are more than they can handle.
      So when you are starting to communicate with an autist, and emotions are coming into the playground, the kid turns away.
      • Just when posting, I remember something.

        You are right, overdiagnosing does happen.

        Some kids are not real autists.
        Their parents just can't handle them, they can't invest in them with love and care.
        These kids are left out in the cold, and they act like autists.
        A good doctor should also look at the social structure of a family. If it seems that the social structure is lacking a lot, then the kids should not be labeled al autist right away.
        Some doctors don't look at the social structure, nd label a kid as autist, while in fact the kid is not an autist.

        I'm sure most labeled autists are real autists though.
        Now off to read the article :)
    • You should watch the Southpark-episode which is about exactly that; all Southpark gets diagnosed with ADHD:) But if you've read the _whole_ article, you should by now know that the cause (of autism) is most probably genetic and that it's clearly not a lack of teaching since most babies appear normal and all of the sudden "detoriate" and are diagnosed autistic...
    • Re:Overdiagnosis? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by budgenator (254554)
      Boy you should see my family at christmas dinner, most of us would probably qualify as border-line Asperger's syndrome and the 'Normals' in the family usualy either hide in another room, or leave crying over percieved social snubs. Yes I can be "social", but its a skill set that's learned, and when I do it it's a mode of thinking that I turn on or off.

      And as for teachers, they are either crying johnny can't focus, or johnny is so focused that he resents my trying to get his attention to teach him this silly bullshit. Most of what I learned in school was learned inspite of the teacher.


  • Think about this, lets take the average stereptypical programmer from silicon valley, whos anti social, who prolly had no friends growing up and in school, if the kid turns out anything like the parent, its genetics.

    if you look at how they define autism, anyone whos anti social, who stays to themselves, who doesnt talk much, they are considered autistic. Of course theres other issues involved, but doctors are quick to put some name on somenoe whos just not the norm.

    Forget what doctors say, give these kids a computer, and check back in 20 years.
    • What you say is not exactly true; autists are rather easy to separate from those that just need some more practive for their social skills. The fact that these people are sometimes called `slightly autistic' or whatever doesn't mean they actually are autistic, it only means that the word autistic happens to be used for their behaviour just because it's easy to use the word in that context.

      Autists are diagnosed by a lot more than what you list; especially things like manical attraction to symmetrical and repetitive structures (TRAINS!!!) and fear of unknown things (especially in the social context) are very common to autists. It's also not like they `don't talk much'; many of them don't talk at all. It's not just a bit of lack of social capacities, it's a serious disability.

      Good advice: read the whole article (it's worth it) or read a bit more about autism:)

  • Frighteningly true (Score:2, Interesting)

    by MiTEG (234467)
    I realize many of you will simply dismiss this as poor research, but it is frighteningly true. A good friend of mine teaches elementary school here in the Silicon Valley, and last year she had the misfortune of having 2 children affected by this, one with Autism and the other with Asperger's. This was in a class of 20 children, mind you, and the odds of 2 in a group of 20 children having these are astronomical. So don't try to tell me this is BS!


    • Remember, when there parents were growing up, it most likely didnt have a name, there was no treatment, how do you know this isnt the normal development cycle that their genetics go through?

      Really, we dont, but instead of teachers complaining, i think teachers should learn to teach, and not just teach the average kid, but teach every kid.

      Now its true classes have gotten bigger so a teacher cannot spend the time anymore, but with all this technology you mean to tell me we still teach in such a way? And kids who are hard to teach we drug?

      We can do better than that. I'm not saying give ever student laptops, but really, why are we still using chalk boards and paper, wheres all this educational software? Why arent GNU and Open source programmers starting some kinda open education movement? I say if we have computers and are in the information age, its time to get with the times, spend alittle money and invest it properly in schoools, and really, kids in silicon valley have no excuse at all, I bet they all have rich parents and can afford tutors, and laptops, and whatever they need.

      So why the article?


  • And you thought War Driving with the Kids [slashdot.org] was harmless Saturday fun...
  • by puppetman (131489) on Monday December 17, 2001 @05:34AM (#2713964) Homepage
    I've read that the levels of pollution in SV are pretty mind-boggling. While software development is "pollution free" (except for the crap we developers eat that mascarades as food), other industry there has not been so kind to the soil and water.

    As Salon [salon.com] points out in this article [salon.com], the situation is pretty dire.

    From the New Almaden Mine in the Santa Cruz mountains, to the "largest plumes of poisoned groundwater in the United States, over 3 miles long and 180 feet deep, contaminated with xylene, toluene and other volatile organic compounds, including the chlorinated solvent trichloroethane (TCA)" that IBM left behind when manufacturing disk drives, there are some serious problems.

    O's R would suggest that we look at this first, rather than at the genetics of the parents. Birds of a feather have flocked together for centuries, with no apparent ill effects.
    • by vallee (2192) on Monday December 17, 2001 @11:37AM (#2714854)
      Pollution could be a factor, for sure, but it seems that we should also consider the possibility that Silicon Valley, with it's go-go-go lifestyle and stressful jobs, could be. Check out this article [yahoo.com] in Yahoo News describing a link between stress in the 24-28th weeks of pregnancy to Autism.

      -Paul
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 17, 2001 @05:39AM (#2713968)
    And the only reason it's classified as such is because the non-Asperger's people incorrectly consider themselves 'normal'. What we're seeing here is partly resentment of the way technically minded people have moved from being something of a joke to the people who invent and maintain the modern world.

    Love or Hate him, virtually everyone of those articles about Gates having Asperger's use it to sneer - I guess technically-handicapped have got to try and make themselves feel superior again somehow.

    This perception of Asperger's is similar in someways to Dyslexia - also perceived of as a handicap or disease but in fact perfectly normal. Some recent research indicates that a common cause of dyslexia seems to happen because of the selective death of particular brain cells - but the flip side of this is that these people seem to be extremely good at visual-spatial tasks and particularly making mental maps. It's postulated that it would be a great advantage to a tribe of hunter/gatherers to have a few such members among their company.

    Similarly to Asperger's, in the age of the purly written word dyslexia became a handicap - but as our use of media becomes richer and more varied increasingly the ability to think visually is becoming an advantage again (and we have spell-checkers now too!)

    Bottom line - evolution has equipped the human mind to come in many different flavours - it's our definition of 'normal' which is incorrect, not people with Asperger's, Dyslexia or any on of a myriad of other different mental gifts.

    • by pyramid termite (458232) on Monday December 17, 2001 @09:52AM (#2714437)
      And the only reason it's classified as such is because the non-Asperger's people incorrectly consider themselves 'normal'. What we're seeing here is partly resentment of the way technically minded people have moved from being something of a joke to the people who invent and maintain the modern world.

      There's something to be said for the neurologically typical (NT) having labelled the rest of the people "weird" or "geeky" or "autistic". I myself believed that my problems in life had been caused by people hating intelligent people or people who were academically successful. For 44 years, I could comfort myself with the thought that most people were locking out the more intelligent of us because they were acting on some kind of stupid animal instinct to oppress the "other". It was a convenient thing to think, as I didn't have to confront the other things going on, such as my underachieving compared to my potential, such as my not having more than one or two real friends at any time in my life, such as feeling like a stranger and an alien in the place I grew up in.

      In the last 5 weeks or so, I've gotten the shock of my life.

      My daughter is almost six and is currently going to a Preprimary Impaired program. At the first parent teacher conference, the school psychologist asked me if I had ever heard of Autism. I said, yeah, and mentioned Rainman ... She explained that it was a spectrum disorder, meaning that it could range anywhere from being mild, to being like Rainman, to even worse. She described the symptoms - repeating words all the time, running away from people, failing to interact/play with peers, repetitious hand movements, etc. etc. We agreed that she seemed to be having a real problem communicating - she reads at a 1st or 2nd grade level and talks like a 2 year old. She is currently being scheduled for the observations necessary to certify her as being autistic.

      That was one hell of a shock, to realize that my kid might never have a normal life, or become a self supporting adult. (I think she'll adjust to her condition, but I can't be sure.) I immediately started researching this online and at the library. Temple Grandin's book "Thinking in Pictures" was an excellent account by an autistic woman of how she percieves the world and how she has managed to adjust to it successfully. Donna William's "Nobody, Nowhere", "Somebody, Somewhere" and "Like Color to the Blind" are harrowing and deep accounts of how a woman gradually came to terms with her autism and the world around her. The best web resource is the "Oops, Wrong Planet Syndrome" webpage at http://www.isn.net/~jypsy, which has hundreds of links, including webpages written by those with autism or Asperger's Syndrome.

      A week ago Sunday, I was at that page and having recalled that the school psychologist had mentioned Asperger's as another possibility as to what was going on with my daughter, so I decided to follow some links and read what the doctors and the patients had to say about it. As I read, interest turned to discomfort, and discomfort slowly turned to shock.

      Asperger's Syndrome sufferers (Aspies) were often highly intelligent. Well, I'm highly intelligent, but ... Aspies had trouble socializing with people beginning in childhood. Well, I had, but, you know, the people I went to school with were such jerks anyway ... Apsies had poor communication skills with people, often sounding like "little professors" with odd, grating voices. Well, um, they had called me "Brainiac" in school. Aspies had some narrow, almost compulsive interests, which may stay the same, or change - one described his hobby of looking at maps for hours and hours and then spending more hours drawing maps of imaginary countries and cities. I gulped, remembering that I used to do the same thing. Aspies had few friends from childhood on and people thought they were rude and too direct. Well ... I looked at the screen with tears in my eyes, recognizing myself.

      I had Asperger's Syndrome.

      Somehow, I'd managed to cope with it, enough to be able to hold a good job and have a family and stay sane. I'd even managed to mellow a little and get along a little better with people, although my general instinct is to avoid people whenever possible; if I want to talk about things with people, I can just go give myself a silly name like "Pyramid Termite" and go online to webboard like Slashdot. That's sort of relating. I guess.

      Right now, I'm working up the nerve to talk to a psychologist. I wanted to, anyway, so I could understand my daughter's autism and how to deal with it, but now I need to understand my own.

      So, alright, Slashdotters, it might be genetic, or pollution caused, or have something to do with the MMR vaccine. Hell, I don't know. I have some special abilities, but there are people who also have them who aren't on the autistic spectrum. If I'm the future of humanity or a member of the Master Race, let me tell you, I don't feel like it. I feel sad and scared and proud of myself and regretful that no one, least of all me, understood what I was going through until now. I can't tell you what it's like to be a high functioning autistic person because I don't know that for myself yet. It's going to take some time, and meanwhile, I've got to keep working at my job and guide my daughter through her problems.

      It's said that 1/3 to 1/2 of Aspies go undiagnosed. If there's a problem in your life with alienation, never having any friends, relating poorly to people, etc., take a good look. Like me, you could have Apserger's or autism and not even know it.
      • by rve (4436) on Monday December 17, 2001 @12:02PM (#2714962)
        Never try to self diagnose...
      • by Eagle7 (111475) on Monday December 17, 2001 @12:27PM (#2715100) Homepage
        Ya know... I don't think you should worry about what you had. If anything, you should feel a little proud that you made it ok. In the end, it doesn't matter if it was other people not liking you, or a disease, or a sadistic god sprinkling dust on your little clay statue. You were faced with a problem, you adapted to it, and you won. You might not have known the cause, but you still came out on top. That's about all a pshycologist can tell you.

        What is important is your daughter. She's going to have a heck of a time, and she's going to need all the understanding, patience, and love that you can muster. Take all that knowledge and experience that you have from your life, all those memories of how you felt, and what you liked, and what made you feel better, and channel it into being that best father for your her. And making her life as rich and worthwhile as possible, regardless of what her prognosis ends up as.

        You can look back at your past and analyse yourself and feel pity, or sadness or whatever. Or you can take this disease that you had/have, and turn it into a heroic trait. Use that understanding and apply it to your daughter, and become a hero for her. Do that and you won't have to worry about the ways that your physiology isn't normal, becuase you will have lept beyond the norm in the one area in which you are handicapped - interacting with another person.
      • I hope I don't come across as a clod but ...

        As a person who fits this description to a T (how ironic), I'm wondering why you're so panicked? Your daughter's situation notwithstanding, you seem to have done fine so far in life so why the "Oh my God! I'm a broken person!" feelings? The 'symptoms' also appear to encompass most of the intelligent introverted personality types (INTJ, INTP, etc.). I'm rather amused that I might have Aspergers.
    • by rve (4436) on Monday December 17, 2001 @10:06AM (#2714492)
      You have no idea how unhappy most people with autism related disorders are.

      All the things that nearly everyone considers the most important things in life, such as friendship, love, social acceptance, relationships are made incredibly difficult. This is not just the prejudice of society, the attempts at social interaction by people with low emotional intelligence really are incredibly annoying, and often downright hurtful.

      Autism related disorders do not make someone more intelligent or more apt at technical skills. It is just that certain technical- or scientific fields are the only way in which some of them can find a place in society. The ones that don't have these skills, often end up as the smelly homeless people you step over in the street.

      Neither is autism a prerequisition for success in a technical profession. Believe it or not, most highly intelligent people are also highly social. Looking at students in university, the most successful ones are usually the highly social ones, and *not* the complete and utter spods.

      Limited social intelligence and fine motor control can make life a living hell, especially for kids. It is a disability that has a very severe impact on the quality of life. To suggest it is merely a 'perception problem' of society is no different from claiming deafness isn't a disability, but our cultures reliance on sound is.
  • Real numbers (Score:5, Informative)

    by MiTEG (234467) on Monday December 17, 2001 @05:46AM (#2713980) Homepage Journal
    The BBC [bbc.co.uk] has an interesting article that gives some real numbers. The article says that about "pervasive developmental disorders" are running at a rate of about 46 per 10,000, and full out autism is about 17 per 10,000.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 17, 2001 @05:55AM (#2713995)
    There has been a similar upsurge in cases of autism in the UK which has generated considerable publicity because the growth has been linked to the triple MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vacine.

    The theory is that in a small percentage of cases the vacine triggers some type of bowel disfunction which causes the children considerable pain and autism is a neurological feedback from this condition. Unfortunately, the condition seems permanent regardless.

    The doctor in the UK who was the first to suggest that there may be a link has just been forced from his position in a London Teaching Hospital even though he is a world-renowned expert in the field of bowel disfunction in children. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk/england/newsi d_1687000/1687967.stm) It seems as though there are considerable vested interests on the side of those in support of the MMR vacine.

    Parents with young children should perhaps consider whether there is indeed a link between the two because autism seems a very high price pay when single vacine alternatives are available.
    • Doubt it. If the MMR vaccine had anything to do with it, then you would expect a sudden rise in the level of autistic cases reported, which then levels out as the vaccine saturates the whole child population. In fact, the number of autistic kids diagnosed was going up before MMR was introduced, and has kept rising slowly, with a definite slope rather than flattening out.

      The more likely cause was that folks actually started to look for autistic kids, and as they found them, money was poured (or trickled) in to extend their research, which kept the curve rising, as opposed to flattening off.

      This was written up earlier this year in the Brithish Medical Journal, with more accessible articles in New Scientist to follow. The consensus went for the latter explanation, which fits the data much better.
    • by claeswi (212369) on Monday December 17, 2001 @10:05AM (#2714483) Homepage
      This is a very unfortunate and common misconception; the first signs and symptoms of autism-spectrum disorders often appear around the time when the child begins to speak, and this coincides with the time when the MMR vaccine is given. The epidemiological evidence is strong against there being a causal link.

      If you're seriously interested in reading about it rather than just deciding that the temporal correlation between the two is sufficient proof of causality, both BMJ [bmj.com] and the Lancet [lancet.com] have had a lot of original articles and correspondence on the topic in the past few years, for example the following study by Taylor et al.


      Autism and measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine: no epidemiological evidence for a causal association


      Taylor et al.

      Summary

      Background We undertook an epidemiological study to investigate whether measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine may be causally associated with autism.

      Methods Children with autism born since 1979 were identified from special needs/disability registers and special schools in eight North Thames health districts, UK. Information from clinical records was linked to immunisation data held on the child health computing system. We looked for evidence of a change in trend in incidence or age at diagnosis associated with the introduction of MMR vaccination to the UK in 1988. Clustering of onsets within defined postvaccination periods was investigated by the case-series method.

      Findings We identified 498 cases of autism (261 of core autism, 166 of atypical autism, and 71 of Asperger's syndrome). In 293 cases the diagnosis could be confirmed by the criteria of the International Classification of Diseases, tenth revision (ICD10: 214 [82%] core autism, 52 [31%] atypical autism, 27 [38%] Asperger's syndrome). There was a steady increase in cases by year of birth with no sudden "step-up" or change in the trend line after the introduction of MMR vaccination. There was no difference in age at diagnosis between the cases vaccinated before or after 18 months of age and those never vaccinated. There was no temporal association between onset of autism within 1 or 2 years after vaccination with MMR (relative incidence compared with control period 094 [95% CI 060147] and 109 [079152]). Developmental regression was not clustered in the months after vaccination (relative incidence within 2 months and 4 months after MMR vaccination 092 [038221] and 100 [052195]). No significant temporal clustering for age at onset of parental concern was seen for cases of core autism or atypical autism with the exception of a single interval within 6 months of MMR vaccination. This appeared to be an artifact related to the difficulty of defining precisely the onset of symptoms in this disorder.

      Interpretation Our analyses do not support a causal association between MMR vaccine and autism. If such an association occurs, it is so rare that it could not be identified in this large regional sample.

      Lancet 1999; 353: 20262
  • They've known that Nick was an unusual child for a long time. He's infatuated with fantasy novels...

    [Asperger's patients are] children who lack basic social and motor skills, seem unable to decode body language and sense the feelings of others, avoid eye contact, and frequently launch into monologues about narrowly defined - and often highly technical - interests.


    OMFG this is revolutionary:
    There are Geeks in silicon valley!
  • by Megahurts (215296) on Monday December 17, 2001 @06:06AM (#2714012)
    Society is the abberation, not us. Society should conform to nature, not we to they. Yes, I am one like the article describes. And when it comes to academia, I simply perform. Learning takes about 1/10 the effort for me than it does for my neurotypical friends. In a world quickly changing to favor technology, it is people like me who will shape humanity within the next few centuries. We are a force against the consumeration and against the domestication of the human species. Perhaps this is even the beginning of a split somewhat like races in Welles' Time Machine.

    Don't fear the change. Embrace it.
    • Hey, I have Asperger's too, but I'd like to point out- you can't breed from autistic people if feedback sets in, Sparky. Some master race! It's just as well.

      In my opinion if there's anything to be learned from all this, it's that self-acceptance and other-acceptance are equally important. I too suffered from attempts to conform me to society, but I am looking for a NICHE for myself in society, not to proclaim myself the new freaking ubermensch when I can't even drive a damn car without dropping into 'processing mode' and not being able to pay attention to the damn road.

      There is VALUE in all types of person and don't you forget it...

    • by Rogerborg (306625) on Monday December 17, 2001 @07:46AM (#2714196) Homepage
      • Society is the abberation, not us

      +1 harsh but true.

      Joe and Jane Normal are tedious herd beasts. Never mind dressing it up as "neurotypical", anyone with fewer than 2 SD's from 100 IQ (either way) is a dragging knuckle away from being a fully integrated member of the monkey tribe. Note the mindless chattering, the social grooming, the dominance displays and the obsession with screwing those monkey people who display the most normal traits. WWF and Survivor are made for Joe and Jane Normal. Jerry Springer features actual human beings, hooting and shrieking and flinging faeces. These are normal people being invited to display the extremes of their normal monkey behaviour for the amusement of the millions of other normal people watching them.

      An interesting part of this state of affairs is that Joe and Jane pursue happiness constantly, but (apart from brief moments of faeces flinging) they can never achieve it. Their busy monkey minds can focus only on how they can aquire what they believe that they need to be happier later. Never any pause to contemplate how happy they are now. I (and probably you, dear reader) revel in the buzz from untangling a glottic knot of code, or catching a split infinitive, or even just from staring at a corner of the ceiling and considering the angles. Joe and Jane can't understand how anyone could get pleasure from doing that - it's not something that a normal person would do. Normal people pursue happiness, they don't experience it. During lunch at work, I have to listen in an abstract way to Jane and Joe speculating on how much they must must own, and how many other monkeys they need to screw before the magical switch is flicked and they achieve the happiness that their aspirational books and TV promise them. Meanwhile, I stare at the corner of the ceiling with a beautific smile on my face, utterly content with what I have and who I am.

      The only thing that intrudes on my idyll is that I am aware that I am elitist, and that has negative connotations, especially if Asperger's is genetic. Like the parent poster, I do view myself as one of the master race, but I have no wish to be anybody's master. I already have everything that I want, so the monkey people are free to go back to their monkey antics and leave me alone to enjoy the thrill of creating software. I have no objection to Joe Facilities and Jane Manager sharing in the rewards from my work, nor does it bother me that Jane Manager considers her contribution more important, or that her financial rewards are higher (and yet still she must pursue happiness). Monkey dominance games are amusing and irritating in equal measure, but as it's clear that I won't play them, I'm not often bothered by them.

      And that's the world of Asperger's. When the monkey people leave you alone, it's a happy world. "Low functioning" Asperger's and autists are in an even more blissful place, farther removed from the monkey jabber and the last lingering urge to watch Oprah. I can't pretend that I don't envy them, just a little.

      • by Skirwan (244615) <skerwin@@@mac...com> on Monday December 17, 2001 @09:40AM (#2714415) Homepage
        Meanwhile, I stare at the corner of the ceiling with a beautific smile on my face, utterly content with what I have and who I am.
        Dude, I hate to break it to you, but you're not a geek, you're a Buddhist.

        Talk about misdiagnosis...
  • ...to be a really good geek, you have to be just a little bit autistic.

    It would explain a lot about what seemed to be missing from my life at the earliest of ages. But rather than to say that much of society's rules and heirarchies are invisible, I would say they were perplexing at times as really stupid people often rule over really smart people. Worse, women ... well, okay, if I go into that, then that makes all men autistic...can't do that now can we?

    But I'll tell ya this much -- Life and society still doesn't make much sense. Is it just me being overly analytical and unable to accept things as they are or is it the mildest form of autism? Surely I'm not the only geek on the planet that sees things in this way... hello?
    • Maybe - but ... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by King Of Chat (469438)
      These days, surely being able to understand the technology and communicate is the ideal. Most IT project failures happen in the requirements stage (sorry, can't find good link, but 90% is the figure which sticks in the mind). That's a failure of the IT people to communicate with the customer. Remember that IT is not an end in itself, it is a tool (that should be popular round here). If your requirements are f**ked then your system is not likely to do anything which anyone wants. If that's the case, nobody will use it.

      There are a few people commenting on here how autism might actually be an advantage. Well, they clearly haven't come into contact with a seriously autistic child. It's not funny.

      The last thing that /. readers should be thinking is "oh, it's a condition with a name - that's alright then". By training and concentrating, it's possible to improve communication skills. Something which, in our industry, we should be doing.

      Last point: my authority to comment on this comes from:

      Working with actuaries. Most of them make the average IT person look like the life and soul of the party. We have real trouble communicating requirements with them.

      Having a stepdaughter with Aspergers. It is a frustrating problem for the child, but therapy can help.

      Saying all that, often I'd rather be coding device drivers than talking to people.

  • we need cats (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DZign (200479) <averheNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday December 17, 2001 @06:08AM (#2714017) Homepage
    it's also been proven that kids who have small pets (cats, dogs, ..) are better to notify body language and emotions and so.. so all geeks in silicon valley should adopt a cat for their children..
  • Autism or Aspergers? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Yaruar (125933) on Monday December 17, 2001 @06:12AM (#2714027)
    One of the things I have been finding out a lot about recently is aspergers due to living with the daughter of an expert.

    We ahve been toying with ideas about links between people suffering from high functioning aspergers syndrome and people who work in professions such as IT, especially development. This is mainly because with aspergers the only major outward impairment of the individual is with social interraction and social awareness and this coupled with tendency to obsess over repetitive detail means that aspergers sufferers fit the mould of good programmers.

    I don't know enough about the syndrome to know if it is passed on through genes, but one could postulate if there is a group with a higher than average make up of the disease who are breeding amongst themselves it might possibly lead to a significent level of new cases compared to the national average.

    Even today a lot of aspergers cases are misdiagnosed as straight autism.

    Here for more information on aspergers and the differences between it and autism [wpi.edu]
    • by fatphil (181876)
      "I don't know enough about the syndrome to know if it is passed on through the genes, ..."

      A syndrome is a collection of traits.

      It's quite possibly for some to be genetic predispositions, and for others to be nothing but nurture. One ought to try to treat the ingredients of the syndrome as being independent. e.g. the intellectual traits ranging from below average to above average implies that one shouldn't try to correlate traits pertaining to attention span with those pertaining to test-answering intelligence.

      FatPhil
  • I'm in that boat (Score:5, Interesting)

    by scott1853 (194884) on Monday December 17, 2001 @06:12AM (#2714030)
    I not in CA, I'm in NY, but a programmer all the same. Yes I've bought my 4 yo son every electronic toy in the store, and he's addicted to computers just like me.

    He had a problem with speech not too long ago. Nothing drastic, but he would tend to slur a couple words in the middle of long sentances. We had a speech therapist visit once a week for a couple months. She decided he must be autistic. She went on to explain that they (phsycologists) are finding that there are several levels of autism. I asked to see the criteria for determining autism. I was expecting to find some scientific process for testing. What she handed me was a booklet similar to this [patientcenters.com], with all the criteria used to judge a child.

    For those of you that follow the link, you can see how subjective and innacurate the evaluation is. Basically, if you are not considered "Perfect" based on some arbitrary set of standards, then you must be autistic. Based on that test, probably 80% of the /. population could be considered autistic.

    I truly doubt there is an increase in autism, just an increase in the number of children they are diagnosing as autistic. I never believed or trusted in psychologist in the first place. This just reassures me that they are as bad as lawyers, only caring about getting more clients and more money than actually helping anyone with real problems.
    • by awol (98751) on Monday December 17, 2001 @06:28AM (#2714070) Journal
      Having dealt with _many_ psychologists at the undergraduate level, particularly in the teaching of statisitics and computing, I feel comfortable saying that it is the science (and I use the word loosely) in which the scientific method fails to rear its head most frequently.

      Articles like this are exactly the kind of crap that fail to distinguish correlation from causation. That is assuming that there is some empirical evidence to suggest that there is an actual rise, a fact which the article supports with:

      [For Rick Rollens, former secretary of the California Senate and cofounder of the MIND Institute, the notion that there is a frightening increase in autism worldwide is no longer in question. "Anyone who says this epidemic is due to better diagnostics," he says, "has his head in the sand."]

      rant
      Now theres an objective analysis from a double blind researcher NOT. And only last night I saw the South park episode where all the kids are given Ritilin. Alternative therapy - gee well maybe there aint nothin' wrong with most of them so just leave them alone and let them work out via peer groups that you shouldn't wear stupid clothes for a bet. Most of us geeks got a bit of a kicking when we were at school and whilst it is not ideal it is pretty much human behaviour 101 that we attack that which makes us feel insecure and from my experience the most attacking were the most insecure so "get over it"
      \rant
      • The problem is not with Psychology but with the intepretation of Psychological research by media and folks like yourself. If you read any well-written research journal paper, you'll know what I'm talking about. Most Psychology choose their words carefully and make conservative intepretation of the data in their papers because of blunders of wild interpretations made by early Psychologists such as John Watson. The media has a tendency of distorting Psychological findings (as with any science) to make it interesting or understandable.

        I'm not sure what school you went to but the Psychology research methods and stats (2 courses)at my school are carefully taught. In the upper level Psychology classes, we are trained to critique and recognize biases in scientific journal. In fact, I have trouble reading even NYTimes articles without the urge to tear it up.

        As a student of Psychology and Biology, you are making a gross generalization when you suggest Psychology is not a science. Psychology is a broad field. What people have to know is that Psychology != Emotions. Cognitive Psychology for example rarely deals with "feelings" at all (which is actually a fallacy of the field if you think about it because emotions affect how you process information). Like any science, Psychology has also an early history of poor science. (Look up Aristotle & Anatomy or Da Vinci & Flight.) Unfortunately, when people think of Psychology, people narrowly think of Sigmund Freud, sexual repression, etc. Freud WAS NOT a Psychologist. None of his work at the time under went testing. He made his claims and people took it for truth just because it made sense to some people. If you argued with him about the Oedipus complex, he would use circular logic and say "you just have unresolve issues with your mother. That's why you can't accept my claims." Most of Freud's claims has been refuted. His work is rarely mentioned past Intro Psychology courses.

        Know what you are talking about especially if you are going to criticize a particular field of science. If you are going to make generalizations, back them up with specific examples. Know your sources of a work that you are reading, if possible, read the original.
    • by MrFredBloggs (529276) on Monday December 17, 2001 @07:28AM (#2714171) Homepage
      "Nothing drastic, but he would tend to slur a couple words in the middle of long sentances"

      Sounds like a quantisation error. You might want to think about upping the sample rate.
  • a plague? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Alpha State (89105) on Monday December 17, 2001 @06:16AM (#2714045) Homepage

    "bringing a plague down on the best minds of the next generation"

    I have some symptoms of autism (I'm sure I'm not alone), and have done a fair bit of reading on it. It seems very common that with autisms come some very great intellectual gifts - eg. Rainman. Some these kids need a lot of help, but I have to question whether autism is really a curse.

    I'm no expert, but it seems to me that mildly autistic people often get better themselves (usually after puberty), and still retain their mental gifts. IMHO we should be trying to develop and harness the abilities of these kids rather than trying to make them normal.

    Finally some (non-expert) advice. This is just stuff that would have helped me when I was younger. If your kid is really autistic, you need professional help:

    Let them do their own thing. Many things which are normal for most people are very stressful for autistic people, they need their own routine / fantasy world / etc. to relax and get them selves together. I would suggest managing a team of specialists for your kid 80 hours a week is not the best approach. At the same time, it's important not to let them obsess for hours on end. Find something they like to break the routine occaisionally.

    Find some physical excercise they enjoy. In school predominantly team sports are played, autistics typically don't like these. Try individual or one-on-one sports. Excercise I got into (in spite of being very non-physical) included swimming, running, tennis and martial arts. Creative pursuits are also good - particularly visual arts and music.

    Above all, remember that your kid does not have to be normal - no-one is. For every time you lament their lack of friends or weird behaviour there will be a time you are amazed at their accomplishments.

  • ...er, well, okay, actually I wouldn't love to chat with you guys about this...

    But either way I have to get back to coding.

  • anybody here? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by underpaidISPtech (409395) on Monday December 17, 2001 @06:26AM (#2714066) Homepage
    Well, according to my family, I was a pretty happy and good kid until 2, then "it" started. I was unruly and unmanageable, and just not "ordinary". I was diagnosed as autistic, and supposedly highly intelligent. Most of my problems were behavioural (tantrums, outburts,etc) and later I was "hyperactive". I spent most of late childhood/early adolescence on medication.

    Now I am in my late 20's and can honestly say that I am of average or even above-average intelligence, and pretty much fit the description of any of those children. I will admit that pop-culture diagnoses like those in the article are like reading horoscopes alot of the time, but then I see this "social interactions, motor skills, sensory processing, and a tendency toward repetitive behavior" and "Marked impairment in the use of nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body posture, and gestures to regulate social interaction."

    It friggin sucks to be like this when others are around. I feel fine when its just me, alone. Then I am "normal". Or maybe it's all another marketable designer disease to capitalise on an information overloaded society. All those wired kids from (wealthy) wired parents ready for the diagnosing. Maybe our species is slowly evolving into specialised groups. We have races that developed along climatological and geographical lines to adapt to the environment, so I have no problem thinking that maybe this is just darwinian environmental pressures in action. There is alot of information out there, and alot of it is highly specialised, requiring a certain mind ( or wetware configuration?)

    I don't mean that people like this are superior or anything, although in the short-term it may have an advantage in our economy, but that is only on the scale of a few generations. I am thinking more in terms of ourselves as a species. We have "geeks", "atheletes", "artists" and the ever-numerous "sheeple", which have always been around to an extent, maybe our species is specialising in order to cope with the amount of information neccessary to survive.

    How many people can run a triathalon, code up a small mail agent, cook a gourmet dinner, perform simple surgery if the need arose, interpret the latest precedent-setting court case, sculpt a piece of greco-roman inspired art, and read a book to your kids at night? I don't know about you, but I have hard time just getting out of the bed, my stupid body refuses to hear the damn alarm clock sometimes ;)

    Anyways, I have shit social skills, avoid the company of others, and am basically a misfit. I am not pulling in the huge IT bucks, so despite my intelligence, I won't get the sexy AND intelligent wife, fast car, and nice clothes (in that order please).

    So, how many slashdotters out there are well-adjusted, sociable geeks (Hmm, oxymoron?), and how many of you are/have been diagnosed as being "different" from your fellow homo sapiens?

    < raises hand >
    • Thats just it! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by HanzoSan (251665)


      Most of the so called Balanced people, arent very intelligent. Sure they are very balanced, but because of their extreme balance, while they may be normal, how many Balanced people are truely intelligent?

      It seems, that its always the people who are the most social, who end up doing the stupidest things.

      As far as social skills go, I dont have them, I have technical skills. I could develop social skills but to do so while it would balance me, i'd have to become less technical to do so.

      People work like this, either you are naturally good at sometihng, or you arent, usually its best to focus on what you are naturally good at, than to focus on developing skills you arent good at just for the sake of being balanced. As far as social skills go, you dont really need social skills to be successful, take a good look at bill gates, a liar, a backstabber, not really someone anyone could call a friend, no sense of style, he doesnt go to parties, I'm sure he would be considered autistic, but the fact that hes the richest man in the world should tell you something. In order to have what it takes, you need to be the best at what you do, not the most balanced. Have enough social skills to have a conversation of course, but you dont have to try to completely balance yourself unless you are naturally balanced.

      I agree with you, people are very specialized, just like good code, is very specialized. When you try to be a jack of all trades, you are always a master of none.

      Introduce me to the great scientist or technical person who goes to parties and socializes and no i dont mean some guy from slashdot, slashdotters arent "great" just average.
  • by evilviper (135110) on Monday December 17, 2001 @06:28AM (#2714072) Journal
    From famous painters who cut off their own ears, to the antisocial Einstein, there has never in history been a single gifted person that wasn't 'disabled' in one way or another. That's the main reason I'm proud to be schitzophrenic.

    The more skilled a person is, the less 'normal' they seem. Personally, schizophrenia has made it difficult to hold focused conversations. My mind just doesn't work in straight lines, but that also means I think of things that other people do not. While everyone else is focused on what they think the problem might be, I pull something out of left field and it makes sense.

    I personally don't believe that mental illness brings about superb abilites, but that it is the abilities that cause the brain to function in an abnormal way. The human form is the most adaptable creature around, and that applies to the mind as well. I believe that if the person chooses to be adept at something, their brain begins to work in a way that most suits the person. Of course that may mean some other skills are negated, that doesn't mean the excentricites of these people are a bad thing, only that in the eyes of society, something is wrong with them.

    I.E. If I was to go around mumbling to myself all day, people would believe I should be institutionalize. Not because I've done something wrong, just because they don't like the looks of it. In other words, the problem is not with the people (they can usually function just fine) but with societies' views on what a person should look, act, and be like.

    Just as it used to be considered a bad thing to be a geek, it is considered bad to act different. Now geekdom is seen as something good and benefitial and is pretty much accepted. One people realize the strange behaviors are a harbinger of talent, those types of people will eventually gain acceptance.
    • by squaretorus (459130) on Monday December 17, 2001 @07:38AM (#2714184) Homepage Journal
      "Every inteligent person is disabled in some way"

      Nope. Everything has a flip side, you could say that while I'm advantaged by being tall because I can reach the hoop with a modest jump, I am also 'disabled' because I have to bend further which might hurt my back in the long term.

      In the geek community I regard this as 'I'm Ender' syndrome. I'M good at school, I'M better than my peers, I'M bullied - therefore I have the power to rule the known universe!!!

      Just because your a bit smarter than the rest of your class doesn't mean your in the ranks of picasso and hawking (hawking isn't in the ranks of hawking if we're honest). Being good at something is NOT the same as being great. I can paint - I sell the odd painting - they're better than 90% of the crap sold in low rent galleries. But they are pure turd compared to .

      Just because you can write a bit of decent code and you shit your pants when a woman asks you the time doesn't mean your autistic - it means you can write a bit of decent code and you have a social anxiety problem. Most are mild, and can be easily rememdied through counselling - mine was.

      Theres comfort in identifying with a disabled group. Everyone claims to be 'a bit dyslexic' - very few genuinely are. They just use it as a cover for the occassional mistake - its not my fault - I was born this way - and theres nothing I can do about it.
    • by streetlawyer (169828) on Monday December 17, 2001 @07:59AM (#2714221) Homepage
      From famous painters who cut off their own ears, to the antisocial Einstein, there has never in history been a single gifted person that wasn't 'disabled' in one way or another

      Einstein wasn't antisocial. And John von Neumann, Leonardo da Vinci and Richard Feynman didn't seem to have anything wrong with their lives. Some people are just lucky so-and-sos.

  • I've worked with children with these problems, both prior to and during my PhD in neuroscience. The rate data cited appear to indicate a combination of genetic and environmental causes similar to those seen for most diseases, including most cancers. Note that untangling environmental and genetic causes can be difficult--twins share a womb, so maternal effects (which are environmental) might be scored as genetic.

    On the other hand, genetic susceptability, triggered by something environmental, seems indicated. The mechanism could be one of a couple of processes: neural development or the development of neural connectivity (the brain adjusts its general connectivity to handle the range of sensory input that it receives, and it also rewires itself slowly during learning). The evidence for miswiring in these syndromes is strong enough that it probably isn't just something learned, but instead something about the development of the brain. And that's bad. It could reflect patterns of stimuli, but it more likely involves chemistry.

    It's definitely worth following up.

  • fascinating (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chris Johnson (580) on Monday December 17, 2001 @06:40AM (#2714098) Homepage Journal
    ...says another Aspergerian 'Mr Spock'...

    This is a _good_ article. It covers all the bases- has the guts to see that people on the spectrum are capable of things that stun and astonish NT humans- and isn't afraid to also confront the fact that this comes at a price- if we breed as if we were some superior race, we are FSCKED, producing children who... well, if we are 'overclocked' then our potential kids can be 'thermal meltdown', virtually incapable of functioning. A daunting thought... and we are the LEAST capable of humans, as far as dealing with heavy personal needs of others.

    We've always been around. The whole stereotype of the Eccentric German Professor is pure autism. Albert Einstein dealt with this sort of thing- for instance, he couldn't remember his own phone number. "Why should I when I can write it down?" People say that what he could remember, most people couldn't even imagine- at the same time, the guy couldn't remember his own phone number! It's not simple eccentricity or wilful decision to flout the expectations of society. It's NOT just PR.

    My favorite way of describing it is subroutines. Most people are more pre-emptive- those of us who are far out along the spectrum can hit amazing peaks of 'processing' but don't necessarily have the control over when it's happening. If that happens to me, I might go and get something and immediately not know what I was getting. At the same time, I also don't know what my mind is processing- it's in a subroutine, doing something that I don't know what it is. Solving some problem I might think of another day. In the immediate moment, I'm standing there looking like a fool. If it was just going to the fridge or whatever this would be less of a problem. I don't drive anymore- it took me too long to figure out that I dropped into subroutines even at the wheel- and five seconds between 'interrupts' isn't enough for driving. Fortunately I never hurt anybody- I'm not risking it any longer, license expired of old age and I'm not getting a new one.

    What do I get to balance out these problems? Some stuff [airwindows.com] that's paid off a lot of the stress of getting this far. Some things that are subjective, some that are objective. Thankfully, self-awareness: we're as capable of self-awareness and wisdom as anybody, given the right information. I'm 33, so for most of my life the information I was given was 'you're just not trying to get along!' or some such crap. Better to know the truth with its curses AND blessings.

    Nothing like a personal interest... anyhow, I think this is a really good article.

    Marriage? Children? Not my problem- I ended up failing at being heterosexual, and discovering I could be gay just as easily, even be considered a hottie (most unexpected!). I've ended up mated with a guy, no desire to produce or raise children- if it wasn't for that I'd doubtless be a bachelor until I died. My 'line' will die with me.

    ...except: I release code under the GPL. I also share my ideas- have a serious hangup about withholding them, charging for them etc. This puts a real damper on my prospects of ever being rich- but my ideas DON'T have to die with me.

    I wonder how many of the important Free Software people are autistic? Is it that a level of autism ironically helps people understand and see deeper social benefit precisely BECAUSE we don't have the whirl of normal social interaction to distract us from what we're really doing? For a Bill Gates, this turns him to the dark side and he responds by rejecting it- 'OK, all the toys must be mine!' and doesn't have normal social restraints to suggest to him that this is bad. For a Richard Stallman, this turns him towards dedicated, unyielding determination to maximize social benefit at all costs- at the expense of his day-to-day social contacts, and the patience of those around him. Either way it's more focus than most people ever see, and that's the secret of it... a lot of people seem ready to make all sorts of compromises in their lives, that an autistic person may not be able to make. Which is a weakness and a strength- look at what RMS has been able to do by being singleminded..

  • Consider the source (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Wired? Give me a break. Look at this article on their main page about animal washing service [wired.com]. Call me autistic if you will, but I'm not paying attention to this story until a valid study is done, reported by a respectable news source.
  • A Theory (Score:5, Interesting)

    by awol (98751) on Monday December 17, 2001 @06:50AM (#2714115) Journal
    I have a thought about autism. And it was to some extent assisted by Rainman, but even more by a book called The October Child. It seems that deeply autistic persons, see the raw data from which the rest of us are shielded to avoid the kind of sensory overload that causes autistic persons to retreat into ritual and routine.

    For example, the Rainmain, counting toothpicks scene. We _all_ see the exact number of toothpicks but normal people have a filter which stops us from processing the raw data and as such we see "bunch of sticks" first and if we want detail then we concnetrate on extracting it. The autistic sees the raw data and knows it, but then they see the raw data in everything. Imagine how overwhelming that would be.

    Consider also the musical "idiot savant" the order and pattern in music is a refuge for them to help coope with the cacophony of data with which they must otherwise deal.

    Why is this relevant, well because maybe some of these filters are the result of socialisation by peers and by parents. It would seem that some of these kids are might be missing some of the processes that lead to this socialisation. Get any kid young enough and they will wear something stupid for a bet.

    (This is also an interesting prompt for a theme for a book, but that is my secret)
  • by Elwood P Dowd (16933) <judgmentalist@gmail.com> on Monday December 17, 2001 @07:05AM (#2714137) Journal
    Sickle cell anemia is a horrible disease. It's a co-dominant trait. If you've got double-dominant genes, you don't have the disease. If you've got double-recessive, your blood can't carry enough oxygen, and you probably die by age four.

    If you're single-recessive, you have a mild, survivable version of the disease. You probably couldn't live at high altitudes. And you're very resistant to malaria. A malarial infection sends your blood into a sickling crisis, and the malaria can't get enough oxygen to survive.

    So, if you live in a malarial environment, single cell recessives are the only people that can survive. And sickle cell anemia is a good thing.

    Clearly, autism isn't that simple. Everybody does fine without any traces of autism. And it's also surely not just one gene. But people with mild forms of autism may have some kind of advantage in certain settings in modern society. And full autistics rarely have children. It could be worse than just dying, in terms of evolution, because not only does the autist die, but he or she also detracts from the ability of their parent to have more children.

    All people with sickle cell anemia have ancestors from malarial environments. And now we're seeing a similar effect in silicon valley. It's an environment where the semi-autistic people have some kind of competitive advantage, like the single-recessive sickle cell anemics. However, in this case, the double-dominant people do not have much of a disadvantage at all, compared to the double-dominant people did in malarial regions (A sure death of malaria is a big disadvantage). So. I have a guess for what might happen. If these conditions continued indefinitely (where semi-autists have some kind of competitive advantage, and these conditions will likely not remain unchanged) then eventually there would be some kind of adaptation that makes it so that semi-autists are less attracted to semi-autists.

    This way, autism would still be propagated, but rarely to the point where people were no longer functional.
  • Thank God most geeks don't get laid very often:-)
  • There was a study (dont have the reference offhand, maybe a /. reader does) which indicated that it was not actual incidence of autism on the rise, but rather that the diagnosis of autism was on the rise due to much looser standards of what constitutes autism. Eg more children today being diagnosed with "autism" which might have been dismissed as other behavioural problems 15-30 years ago.

    IIRC it was also mentioned that the "diagnosis" of autism experienced a spike shortly around the release of the movie "Rain Man". Probably as worried parents rushed their children to the doctor after seeing the movie, to be diagnosed with the latest fad.
  • by JimPooley (150814) on Monday December 17, 2001 @07:42AM (#2714192) Homepage
    You should never let geeks interbreed. I'm just surprised they breed at all...!
  • by retrosteve (77918) on Monday December 17, 2001 @08:48AM (#2714317) Homepage Journal
    Okay, let's look at the evidence presented:

    - It's genetic
    - It's on the rise
    - It's not a disease and can't be cured.
    - It's higher in the children of smart people
    - It makes the kids bad at some things, better at others.

    Even without knowing what those things are, if someone just presented me with these points, I'd say it sounds like the humans are evolving.

    So let's look at what they're evolving into:

    No social skills : looks like they'll need to get in touch with people through computer chat instead, huh?

    High intelligence, repetitive behavior: I bet the new humans are really good at video games.

    Low verbal skills: Looks like voice interfaces won't be the way of the future.

    When more than 30% of new humans are "Autistic" we may start to find out what they're best at, and we may find that the future needs them more than 'us'. Assuming I'm not already one of them. I suspect I am.
    • I suspect that we, the geeks (or the autistic or AG or what have you) may be evolving, but not as a replacement to the non-geeky human. IMHO, we are the symbiote.


      I can't imagine a full geek culture succeeding. Maybe Microsoft is the biggest geek culture ever created. But could you really make a geek city, not just a work campus? I think such a city would collapse under its own weight. What does Silicon Valley need in non-geek people just to keep the peace and froth the latte?


      I think that you could build a civilization without geeks, but you can build a better one with them. Maybe geeks will evolve their own culture beyond Slashdot and Hot Grits, but the culture will be in the context of a bigger, non-geek culture. I don't think that you could separate the two types any more than you can seperate the two genders.

  • by filtersweep (415712) on Monday December 17, 2001 @09:48AM (#2714430) Homepage Journal
    (I DID read the entire article when it first came out)-

    Whether it is genetic, or environmental ("odd" socialization that is somehow "learned" by children) it really doesn't matter, the outcome is the same.

    What concerns me the most is how "disease theory" operates, and how certain diseases (especially mental disorders) become "in vogue." This goes all the way back to Freud (say what you will)- but as a newly emerging middle class had more "idle time" on their hands, and as newly affluent wives developed widely publicized anxiety disorders, the disorder eventually trickled down to the rest of the population.

    -not to mention of diagnosis by practioneers is practically contagious.

    I work in the field, and have seen wild diagnostic trends- in the 80s we saw an explosion in the diagnosis of depression and BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder). In the early 90s MPD (multiple personalities) was widely diagnosed (way above the prevalence rates shown by any "hard research"- and now MPD is not even in the diagnostic manual). Then we've seen the diagnosis of everything under the sun for our children- (ADD, ADHD, ODD, it goes on and on... BTW- ODD stands for "Oppositional Defiant Disorder"- these are just KIDS were talking about here! All kids can be ODD.).

    For many parents it is ultimately "cool" to have a kid with a diagnosis... it lets them off the hook. It lets educators off the hook. How many of you went to primary school in the 70s and sat in a class of 30+ and were taught by a 60+ year old ex-nun with a two-year teaching certificate who had absolutely NO PROBLEM maintaining discipline in the classroom?

    Aspergers IS relatively new as a *widespread* diagnosis- it is in essence a "disease of the week." After the inevitable backlash, we'll be having this discussion about some other "disorder" and Aspergers will be an odd footnote of early 21st Century child psychology.
  • Normal vs. Autistic (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jd (1658) <imipak@noSPam.yahoo.com> on Monday December 17, 2001 @10:29AM (#2714588) Homepage Journal
    Let us define some traits of each of these, and
    see how they weigh up:


    Normal People:

    • Don't care about understanding - everything
      round them should just read their minds, damn it!
    • Get infected with e-mail viruses on a regular
      basis
    • Prefer AOL, as it does the thinking for them
    • Buy products marked "digital", because it's
      a cool word, regardless of whether those products
      are any different from anything else out there or
      not
    • Have the imagination of a doormouse, the
      inquisitiveness of a mushroom, and a faith in
      simple interfaces that the religions of the world
      can only stand and marvel at.


    Autistic people:

    • Have phenominal memories for patterns and
      symbolic logic
    • Have the social skills of a dead slug
    • Generally don't work well with ambiguity
    • Develop a survival mechanism of focussing on
      -something-. The more "autistic" a person is, on
      the autistic spectrum, the more important it is to
      filter out the "background noise" of their
      environment. If they didn't, they'd go nuts.
    • Generally work best on their own, or in small
      groups. Large groups put the mind on overload.
    • Can map out complex interrelationships between
      abstract concepts, in the mind, usually in some
      symbolic way. It's as easy for an autistic person
      as changing channels on the TV.


    There are no more "autistic" people than there
    used to be. The difference is, they're no longer
    being put into mental institutions, locked up and
    forgotten. They're getting $$$ in computing,
    instead.


    (Which only goes to show that society is fickle.
    People rather reject "problem people" than see how
    they could be beneficial. If you've watched the
    news, in the past 3 months, I'm sure you can name
    a fair number of "problem people" that society is
    hell-bent on rejecting. Maybe society has no real
    option, maybe it does. It's the reflex reaction of
    destroying the different that is the real enemy,
    though, in my humble opinion.)


    P.S. I'm diagnosed Aspergers, with Bipolar I. The
    labels are useful, because they help me see what
    my mind is chemically & electrically designed to
    do. It's no different from labelling a computer as
    a Pentium III, or a PA-RISC. Each of them is
    suited for different types of task than the other.
    It doesn't make one "better" or "worse", in the
    abstract, but only in the context of running a
    specific class of algorithms. Or, to put it
    another way, the best, the most accurate clock in
    the world makes a damn lousy web browser. Not
    because of a defect in the clock, but because it's
    not - and never was - configured to be a web
    browser. If it were, it could not be the most
    accurate clock in the world, as it would need to
    spend time handling HTML, et al.


    Psychological labels are powerful tools. But only
    if used correctly. But we're already familiar with
    that. DDD is a powerful debugger... ...if you're
    a programmer. Hand it to Joe Schmuck, and they
    would be hopelessly confused.


    A psychological label tells you, in general terms,
    something about the configuration of the brain. It
    really doesn't do any more than that. With enough
    time and effort, any person with any brain CAN do
    anything any other person can do, the same way a
    PA-RISC chip can run a Pentium III emulator. But
    you're burning a hell of a lot of brain cycles in
    the process. Doesn't it just make a hell of a lot
    more sense to forget about "others", and use your
    brain for something it can do, and do phenominally
    well, that you enjoy? Emulators can be useful, but
    don't make them your entire life.

  • by casmithva (3765) on Monday December 17, 2001 @11:50AM (#2714917)
    The article mentioned that the criteria used in diagnosis of autism is quite subjective. My wife is a school teacher in an inner-city neighborhood in southeast Washington, D.C. Four of the students in her 22 student class have been classified as autistic, and it's complete hooey. The common thread amongst those four students is that they essentially don't have any parents and no parenting. They're either being raised by grandparents who already have one foot in the nursing home, parents who are hooked on crack or other drugs, or parents who are working multiple jobs each to make ends meet; regardless, the end result is the same -- no parents, no parenting. My wife, who is a fun but strict teacher whom the kids all love, has noticed that a strict classroom environment, with clearly defined and enforced behavioral boundaries but also positive reinforcement and praise, can really help these supposedly autistic kids. One of them who has been in my wife's class now for four months has essentially undergone a complete behavioral change: whereas he used to be very disruptive, shy, and mal-adjusted and hated school, he is now very outgoing, obedient, and loves school.

    I've no doubt that some significant percentage of the new cases in California are legitimate. I do wonder, though, if a significant percentage of the remainder, though, are not autistic but are rather by-products of society's modern trend of blaming a child's behavioral or developmental problems on a psychological/mental disorder and doping him/her up on medication as a means of covering up our failures at being and unwillingness to be responsible parents.

  • by Eugene O'Neil (140081) on Monday December 17, 2001 @12:55PM (#2715259)
    Sociotism is a mental disorder characterised by an undue obsession with social interaction and eye contact, which often interferes with healthy interests such as computer programming and science fiction.

    Sociotistic people often band together in tightly-knit heirarchies, where social status is determined by subtle shifts in "body language" rather than skill or experience. Sociotistic children often play cruel tricks on their healthier playmates for no logical reason. They prefer brutal team-oriented games like football over healthy, abstract tests of individual merit, such as video games.

    Victims of sociotism of all ages tend to be less intelligent than healthy people. They are capable of learning skills that have an obvious and immediate short-term benifit, but profoundly lack the social independance and intellectual curiosity needed to explore new frontiers of knowledge. As a result, sociotistic people rarely succeed in feilds such as science or engineering, and when they do succeed in these feilds it is usually only in a managerial capacity.

    If you know anyone that fits the description of a sociotistic person, please pat them on the head in a sympathetic but condecending manner and tell them to get professional help for their obvious deficiencies. With any luck, we will some day discover powerful mind-altering drugs that will force these people to be as healthy and well-adjusted as we are.
  • by Bowie J. Poag (16898) on Monday December 17, 2001 @06:41PM (#2717037) Homepage


    Well gee, lets look at the facts..

    You have a group of people consuming copious amounts of a drug known to cause low birth weight, birth defects, mental retardation, and complications during pregnancy. Caffiene. [watercure2.com] A fetus isn't able to metabolize caffiene, so it builds up in the fetus' body eventually interfereing with nervous system growth. To the mother, Caffiene is also a diuretic, and an appetite supressant. The more caffiene the mother takes in, the less likely she is to eat well, and provide her unborn baby with the nutrients it needs.

    The mothers and fathers spend alot of time near high-strength EMF from computer monitors, at least 8 hours a day if theyre employed. EMF causes chromosomal abnormalities.

    The mother and the father of the children live in one of the most polluted areas of the entire country in terms of air quality. Carcinogens given off by automobiles make their way into the air, into the water, and in some cases, even into the food they eat on a daily basis. Welcome to California.

    Is it any wonder your kid turns out autistic?

    Cheers,

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