Monday, 8 June 2009

A critical View of Asperger's, as a Diagnosis

One field of human endeavour, historically reputed for impartiality, that has undergone a subtle but nevertheless highly significant transformation from the point of view of succumbing to the forces of vested interests, is that of clinical psychology. With its newly recognized syndromes and disorders, many of which are of highly dubious nosological (i.e. classificational) value, perceptions among members of society have been turned upside-down by way of the clutches of commercialization. Labelled, categorized, medically peer-grouped, those diagnosed with a syndrome are a cornered market for pharmaceutical corporations, while concomitantly we have generally come to perceive individuals' idiosyncrasies, instead of society's intolerance of them, as being anomalous, to the extent that Asperger's and other so-called syndromes are often referred to as illnesses. It smacks of a defence against dysfunctionality in our social institutions: the more inflexible the system, the greater the need to devise categories to describe and assist those who fall short of its expectations. It's a downward spiral. To make this defensive process work, diagnoses of these 'syndromes' and 'disorders' are ludicrously glorified, through spurious conjectures that they characterise personality traits of dead geniuses (Mozart swore a great deal; so he must have had Tourrette's! As for Newton, Da Vinci, Lowry etc...!), to the point of becoming worn, by many 'sufferers', not without some hint of pride.

Any 'syndrome', such as Asperger's, that is, by classification, borderline to some more dramatic condition, is by definition not a syndrome. A syndrome is a cluster of characteristics that, by virtue of the definitive nature of the clustering, warrants a separate medical consideration. A 'spectrum condition', insofar as this is a valid concept, might very well be associated with some kind of unusual behaviour, but to employ it in a more absolute sense, specifically to use AS - indeed, in at least one high-profile case "borderline Asperger's" - to excuse anti-social behaviour on medical grounds, is no more sound than to use common stupidity in the same capacity. And, when used to describe a quality of a person's innate psychological makeup, the term 'disorder' is, especially when endorsed and propagated by state institutions, a repugnant, decidedly fascistic perversion of language.

Particularly inconsistent is the isolating of "autistic traits" among individuals of a complex character, such as those of a creative disposition, as though the "restricted, repetitive and stereotyped behaviour" that is supposed to characterize those with AS counts, in the final analysis, for nothing in their case. Dr Simon Baron Cohen's AQ (Asperger's Quotient) test is surely an insult to any psychologist who is concerned with nuances of personality, and who is concerned that these should be sensitively considered to avoid the risk of misinterpreting the origins of apparent traits. It's also self-defeating in regard to the issue of diagnosis, as it highlights that AS cannot be said to be, as very commonly it indeed is, something an individual has "got". This is the kind of embarrassing mess into which clinical psychology, like many areas of academe (particularly theoretical areas of science) has sunk. It speaks volumes that when, in the 1940's, Hans Asperger first identified those with the character traits that would later be described as Asperger's syndrome, such traits were reported to be very rare, and only one in ten was female. The statistics have changed radically, not least as a result of the fact that no determinate diagnostic characteristic for this 'syndrome' has ever been properly isolated. When sensitive, empathic, communicative, intuitive, broad-ranging-in-interests, and all-in-all right-brained individuals are diagnosed with Asperger's, a condition said to be an exhibition of 'all the [rationistic] male characteristics', alarm bells should ring in all who are concerned about the future of society and the medical establishment.