A sociopathic deviation?
In recent years, the perception of Asperger's Syndrome (A.S.) has gradually shifted. What was seen as "the absent-minded professor" (eccentric, but benign) seems to have metamorphosed into social deviance with a sociopathic flavour.
The emerging tendency is to describe A.S. as "deviant." This is the result of changes in society. No longer is it merely a matter of comparing A.S. against a "norm" and declaring the person "different," because the norm has shifted. It is now "feminine" of a particular kind, and by this new standard A.S. is judged a "disorder."
This is clearly demonstrated by the similarities between the worldview of a substantial minority of women on support forums for the partners of those with A.S. and related websites and the views of the radical "gender feminist" movement.
The similarity in viewpoint is astonishing. Both these groups of women, either consciously or unconsciously, seek to promote the view that the logical and rational is inferior to the personal narrative method of enquiry, and that feelings share equal validity with critical thinking. This, feminists call "women's ways of knowing," and, secure in the inviolability of their stance, they see all other perspectives as unworthy of consideration.
I can think of no greater difference than the one between "women's ways of knowing" and an A.S. way of knowing.
Women's Ways of Knowing
The brand of feminism pushing this philosophy would like to label rational thinking as contributing to the patriarchy and, therefore, antithetical to and discriminatory against the 'feminine' mind. The scientific method comes under particular attack as described in the writings of Sandra Harding, leading advocate of this kind of feminism. She refers, for example, to Newton's Principia as a "rape manual."1 There are dozens of rather fine examples of this "feminine" thinking to be found on any support forum for the partners of A.S.. The following is illustrative:
For the sake of honesty (that is very important to me), I have to be aware of the meaning of saying 'I love you' to a partner. To any NT (neurotypical2)-partner, who is aware of love being dynamic, I could tell truthfully, that I love him, even though there would be ambivalence due to unsolved problems. Having only 80% or even only 50% of the intensity of what I could feel as the maximum of love for someone could still be truthfully expressed with the statement. ... But I refused to say 'I love you' to him, as long as we had so many unsolved issues between us. ... It is a sad joke that now he disrespects my way of thinking as irrational and illogical.3
Logic has all to do with internal consistency and therefore the above statements are a rather nice example of how to think illogically.
From the A.S. perspective, the lack of consistency in this statement automatically generates the following value statement: "This is irrational because the reasoning is obviously faulty." "Aha!," says the feminine NT, "just another example of black and white thinking." So? In their view, one is not supposed to read this sort of thing through the lens of internal consistency; i.e., logic. No matter how contradictory the contents, one should read for gestalt, because the big picture has more importance than the detail.
In the art of everyday conversation, I suspect that consistency is not necessary, given that the non-verbal exchange bolsters the verbal. Problems arise in print, however, where the non-verbal cues are not available to support that conversational style of writing. In my view, while this is indicative of a cognitive deficit in the logic department of some magnitude, it is not necessarily a sign of irrationality, merely a lack of understanding or, perhaps, education that writing styles and conversational styles are not interchangeable.
Of more serious concern, at least where a demonstrated deficit in logic is apparent, is the following, which is supposedly a scholarly effort:
Asperger syndrome is a pervasive developmental disorder caused by a neurological defect in the functioning of the brain, it affects one in 250 people (Kadesjo, Gillberg & Hagberg, 1999), it is thought this figure is much higher due to the amount of undiagnosed Asperger syndrome." (my italics) ... "Research by Aston (2003) has shown that 75 per cent of couples affected by Asperger syndrome attended couple counselling. ‑‑ Asperger's Syndrome in the Counselling Room, by Maxine Aston, Families of Adults Afflicted with Asperger's Syndrome
According to the National Autistic Society UK, it is unknown how many people in the UK, where Mrs. Aston resides, are affected by A.S. and are in relationships, so her latter statement is seriously flawed.
Gender feminist thinking
While flaws in logical thinking in the ordinary course of relationships are generally unimportant, though often annoying, this is not the case in relationships where one has A.S.. Relationships are all about communication, and A.S. use their capacity for logical thinking to compensate for the deficits in interpreting non‑verbal signals. But this breaks down where one of the parties has a limited ability for clear and objective thinking, because the main source of understanding for the A.S. is not available. Put simply, a cognitive deficit allied to a social deficit is a recipe for disaster.
There is no way that the relationship can work. One of the parties relies largely on non‑verbal cues and strategies, the other, on intellect. Common ground is non‑existent, and so true communication is non‑existent.4
Typical of this brand of femininity, which has an anti‑intellectual flavour, is the complaint that A.S. fathers tend to concentrate on the academic achievements and not on the personal growth of their offspring. Personal growth is a rather vague and highly subjective concept. What does it mean, and to whom? Whereas academic achievement is a concrete measure and one which a lot of A.S. undoubtedly feel comfortable tackling. It is also a part of the maturation process of our children which parents should encourage, and in no way is it detrimental to one's offspring.
There is a very similar streak of anti‑intellectualism among the gender feminists. Sandra Harding, for all her spirited denigration of the "masculine" sciences, seems unaware that among a great many items, the flight she was able to take to the conference to deliver her "rape manual" lecture was a product of the scientific method. She is absolutely certain that there is a better way, though she is completely vague about the details.
It is apparent that this view of the feminine has a predilection for the vague and the broad as against the definite and the narrow. Nowhere is this more evident than in current definitions of what constitutes abuse.
There used to be a time when domestic violence meant just that ‑‑ physical violence in a domestic setting. Courtesy of the Harding variety of feminism, domestic violence now means pretty well anything you want it to mean. The definition now includes emotional, mental, psychological, verbal and financial abuse as well as sexual and physical. There are a huge number of studies now that show that intimate partner violence is strictly equal opportunity. If one insists on using the broader definition, however, the available data show that at least in emotional abuse of children, this is not an equal opportunity area. Women dominate by a rough ratio of 70% to 30%. The ladies would have done better to stick to the older narrower definition. At least there they had a chance to perpetuate the myth that women are, by virtue of their gender, natural nurturers.5
Emotional abuse is perhaps the vaguest of the list of what constitutes abuse. How do you define it? Is there some yardstick that one can use to verify that yes indeed, hubby has stepped beyond the line, again? This is a particular problem with A.S. men. They are emotionally abusive because they neglect or ignore the feelings of their partners. This neglect, if true, stems from the fact that they are not aware of them. But there is a rider to this. It's worthwhile quoting the following source:
The fact that an Asperger person may not intend their behaviour to be abusive does not make it feel less abusive for the person on the receiving end, whether they have Aspergers or not. If an Asperger person is asked whether they are abusing their family and they are, they are likely to say no because they do not have cognition of it. ‑‑ Statement Concerning the Retraction of a Recent Domestic Violence Article, regarding 'Living with Asperger's, by Maxine Aston, Families of Adults Afflicted with Asperger's Syndrome
What Ms Wall is saying is not just that an A.S. person can be abusive, but that they do not have to have a motive, or be aware of it and they can still be considered abusive. Damned if you do and damned if you don't!
The A.S. in this scenario cannot win. He can inadvertently hurt your feelings, by accident or just by doing nothing, and that is abuse. Whatever the partner wishes to call abuse is, ipso facto, abuse, and even knowing there was no intention to cause harm does not make a difference. The A.S. can take some solace in the knowledge that he is not alone in this surreal landscape. Consider the following:
She wrote that not only does "no" mean "no" when it comes to sexual advances, but that "yes" sometimes means "no" as well: "Many feminists would argue that so long as women are powerless relative to men, viewing a 'yes' as a sign of true consent is misguided." ‑‑ Susan Estrich: A feminist gropes for consistency, by Katie Roiphe, Slate, posted Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2003
The hapless male in pursuit of the female is navigating the social world with few signposts and those few are subject to change without notice.
The most striking similarity in "ways of knowing" between our radical feminists and their counterpart partners of those with A.S. is in their post‑modernist definition of "fact" or the "truth." The gender feminists are "statistically challenged," in the words of Christina Hoff Sommers.6
Myths and outright distortions of the facts are the order of the day. One would think that rape, which is a serious crime with devastating consequences for the female victim, would be exempt from this kind of trivialisation. Not so, according to Wendy McElroy, author of Sexual Correctness: The Gender‑Feminist Attack on Women. Commenting on the study published in 1987 by Mary Koss, which concluded that one in four college students had been raped, McElroy noted that:
Koss herself admitted that, of the 27.5% reported "victims," fully 73% were not "aware" of having been raped. Over 40% continued to date their "rapists." ‑‑ The Myths of Rape, by Wendy McElroy, ifeminists.com, May 22, 20017
It is unsurprising that the dysfunctional state of Family Court Law and the rise of men's activism as a global growth industry are attributable to the influence of this brand of feminism.
Likewise, this appeared in the ether one day. A woman, who suspected that her husband has A.S. went to see Ms Maxine Aston. Naturally, she wanted to share this pearl of wisdom with the world.
According to Ms Aston, while A.S. can learn intellectually their average emotional age is 11. Apparently their emotional development stops between the ages of 9 and 14. ‑‑ This was originally posted to Delphi Forums A.S. and Partners, Feeling, Any or None - is cause lost A.S. and Partners, message number 515.43. To comply with Delphi rules, the post was copied by me to a new thread for further discussion.
In a personal communication, I put the following question to two of the most credible researchers in the field, Professor Uta Frith and Dr. Simon Baron‑Cohen. Question: Is there any validated psychometric test which either specifically measures "emotional age" or could be used to approximate an "emotional age" in adults with A.S.?
Professor Uta Frith: "There is no such test known to me, but I believe that researchers use a standard set of faces with different emotional expressions (on the web) to test individual differences in the ability to recognise the emotion. There is clearly more to emotional development than recognising emotions in other people's faces. There is a popular book about EQ(analogous to IQ), but it is not [sic] stand up to scientific scrutiny."
Dr Simon Baron‑Cohen: "There are some empathy scales that have been validated, and an example is in the attached paper."
The crucial question for both the radical feminists and the dubious A.S. research is that if your vision of the world is so accurate, if your case is so iron clad, why then is it necessary to manufacture the supporting evidence?
Emotions are sacrosanct. Such is the line of the modern feminist to the point that logic is suspicious and feelings are considered superior as a guide to modern living. While men in general fare badly under this paradigm, having neither the ability nor the desire to express their emotions at every turn, A.S. men fare even worse.
I have been told that "Emotions have their own logic and reason, which is sometimes far beyond the ability of most people with A.S. to fathom". The visible signs of emotions to an A.S. might indeed be unfathomable, but as to having a logic of their own, this must be news to a large number of thinkers both old and modern. Taking this to its logical conclusion, both mob violence and Germany under the Third Reich, are rational and legitimate forms of emotional expression since these are fine examples of what happens when emotions are allowed to trump intellect.
Do note that one of the many fallacies expounded by some autism researchers is that A.S. do not understand emotions and that is because the researchers have not grasped that a theory of mind is a two way street. Both A.S. and the typically wired are mind‑blind with respect to each other.
A feature of both the radical gender feminists and some of the websites and message boards for the partners and/or families of those with A.S. is that alternative viewpoints rarely if ever get a hearing. Christina Hoff Sommers offered the following about the withering groves of academe otherwise known as Departments of Women's Studies.
"They won't let anyone else in if they can help it and they are hostile to criticism. They think that they have healthy debate because they are in a department that has some intellectual disagreements between a Marxist‑Leninist feminist versus a socialist versus a lesbian versus an eco‑feminist, goddess worshipping whatever." ‑‑ Sommers on Deconstruction, Feminism, by Benjamin Wallace‑Wells, The Dartmouth Review, April 15, 1998
In the same vein, Brenda Wall of "Asperger's Backup," which contrary to the title is not there to back up A.S. people, communicated the following:
"I have been on the receiving end of vilification by Asperger people who have misunderstood what I said, misrepresented what I said, and misconstrued my intentions. It is extremely hurtful to be so treated and makes one feel like giving up entirely the seemingly endless battle to raise awareness and get proper services put in place which will help all the members of the Asperger family." ‑‑ Statement Concerning the Retraction of a Recent Domestic Violence Article, regarding 'Living with Asperger's, by Maxine Aston, Families of Adults Afflicted with Asperger's Syndrome
Perhaps Ms Wall could calm the emotional outpouring sufficiently to reflect that if the people do not want what is on offer, it is highly probable that there is a problem with the offering. Another perspective seems in order rather than insisting that your views are the only ones worthy of note. For example, such as the one from an "autistic" person (self‑titled) who wrote the following in the comment section of an article written by Sheila Jennings Linehan:
"The data on children with autistic parents is going to be skewed if you're getting any of it from A.S.par. They have instituted policies barring anyone who is particularly identified with autism, anyone who finds blanket bigoted and extremely rude statements about autistic people offensive, and anyone who finds it hard to gauge social situations from the list. This basically blocks anyone who is autistic and anyone who is NT but cares about autistic people enough to be bothered and say something when these blanket statements are made." ‑‑ High Conflict & Asperger's Syndrome, by Sheila Jennings Linehan, Mediate.com, December 2003
Different, but not disordered
At no time do I want to underplay the difficulties in communication between the partners in an intimate relationship where one carries the label Asperger's Syndrome. The label is there for a reason and the relationship is going to be anything but easy. A.S. are different, but are they necessarily disordered?
Both Baron‑Cohen11 and Attwood12 recognise that at the very high functioning end of the autistic spectrum, where presumably A.S. in an intimate relationship reside, difference is not necessarily disorder. It all depends on how you look at it. My opinion is that if one uses the yardstick of Harding style feminism, A.S. are indeed deviant. But in order to establish that deviance as truly pathological, one has to resort to a particular view of the feminine, one espoused by Schopenhauer some 150 years ago.
"And then, too, in the case of woman, it is only reason of a sort ‑‑ very niggard in its dimensions. That is why women remain children their whole life long; never seeing anything but what is quite close to them, cleaving to the present moment, taking appearance for reality, and preferring trifles to matters of the first importance." ‑‑ Of Women, by Arthur Schopenhauer, translated by T. Bailey Saunders
For what reason would a reasonably intelligent if not particularly logical woman want to revert to "women's ways of knowing," which can be so easily translated into the grotesqueness of Schopenhauer's misogyny? The parallels are hard to ignore.
If, as in Harding‑style feminism, men are the oppressors, then women automatically gain the status of "victim." If in a similar vein, A.S. males can be labelled "deviant" then again the women can take the label "victim." The beauty of being a victim is that no matter what the person as victim either does or does not do, she is not to blame and therefore has no need to be a genuine part of the solution. After all, she is the victim. It's up to somebody else to fix the problems ‑‑ she's been ambushed by a "disorder" or the patriarchy. The problems in the relationship will all be viewed as part of the A.S. dilemma ‑‑ his problem, not hers or society's, and certainly not her. This sense of "victimhood," rather than mutual responsibility, is in my opinion the least constructive way to solve problems up to and including relationships where one has A.S..
In summary, the inclination of some involved in A.S. research and/or publicity to view the world from the gender feminist perspective, and to apply to their work the loose unscientific methods associated with that view, has potentially serious negative implications for both A.S. research and the practical application of such research. It is inevitable that this approach, while it may have some short-term gain, is detrimental in the long term, whether it is a matter of an honest depiction of what A.S. is or an honest appraisal of male/female relationships in general. Unless the stereotypical view that A.S. are by definition sociopathic, or that men by their nature are "proto-rapists" is corrected, the fundamental problems in relationships, having been incorrectly framed, will remain unresolved.
References and End Notes
- Warren Schmaus, Professor of Philosophy, Lewis Department of Humanities, Illinois Institute of Technology, Sandra Harding: Feminist Science Criticism
- NT (neurotypical) is a shorthand for anyone who is non‑autistic.
- This is but one example of the style of posts one sees frequently on internet message boards for A.S./NT relationships. This one is relatively straightforward. There was another I have a fond memory of, which was so confusing, the contradictions were intra‑sentence rather than inter‑sentence, that I had to ask for a translation.
- This is not meant to imply that a lack of logic in the NT partner is the only way an NT/A.S. relationship can flounder. The potential for misunderstandings and miscommunication is so great that it's more of a case of "let me count the ways."
- femmes fatales, by Margaret Talbot, Salon.com, January 26, 1998
- Misinformation, by Christina Hoff Sommers, AngryHarry, March 27, 2003
- See also The rape "crisis" revisted, by Rod Van Mechelen, The Backlash!, 1994
- Sommers on Deconstruction, Feminism, by Benjamin Wallace‑Wells, The Dartmouth Review, April 15, 1998
- Retraction of "Living With Asperger's", authored by Ruth Forrester and Maxine Aston, Families of Adults Afflicted with Asperger's Syndrome
- Retraction of "Living With Asperger's", authored by Ruth Forrester and Maxine Aston, Families of Adults Afflicted with Asperger's Syndrome
- Is Asperger's syndrome/High‑Functioning Autism necessarily a disability?, by Simon Baron‑Cohen, Departments of Experimental Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, January 5, 2000
- Tony Attwood