Thursday, February 19, 2009

Good Grief! Now Darwin Was Autistic? Give It A Rest!

As a parent of a boy with autistic disorder, assessed with profound developmental delays, and focused on the real life challenges of helping my son, I get tired of the endless speculation that attributes to every historical genius a diagnosis of Aspergers or Autism. Einstein is the most oft mentioned. Now a psychiatrist, Dr. Michael Fitzgerald is is presenting to the Royal College of Psychiatrists' Faculty of Academic Psychiatry his speculation that Charles Darwin was autistic or at least that he had Aspergers.

Perhaps psychiatrists like Dr. Fitzgerald would have more time to actually help autistic children and adults if they just went through the history books and claimed that every historical genius known to humankind was autistic or had Aspergers. Then they could close off the discussion before anyone started speculating about whether history's brutual tyrants and serial killers might also have been autistic.

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RAJ said...

Here's what Michael Fitzgerald had to say about Adolph Hitler:

"Michael Fitzgerald, an expert in autism spectrum disorders, concludes that Hitler suffered from, and met all the criteria of Asperger syndrome as documented by Hans Asperger.[8] As evidence of possible Asperger's, Fitzgerald cites Hitler's poor sleep patterns, food fads, dislike of physical contact, inability to forge genuine friendships, and an emptiness in his human relations. His conversations in the Men’s Home in Vienna were really harangues and invited no reciprocity, for which he seemingly lacked capacity. In Munich, Hitler was distant, self-contained, withdrawn and without friends. His comrades noted that he had no humanitarian feelings, that he was single-minded and inflexible. He was obsessive and rarely made good or interesting company, except in the eyes of those who shared his obsessions or those in awe of, or dependent on him".

The self diagnosed happy shiny ND crowd is always delighted to accept into their community historical figures who are well admired but run for the hills when Fitzgerald claims to have retrospectively diagnosed Hitler with Asperger's Syndrome.

Stephanie said...

Yes, it seems whenever someone mentions that an historical figure that is not so well respected might have an ASD (i.e. Hitler) the "Neurodiverse" are very quick, coming to the defense, many stating that an autistic person could never commit acts of cruelty because we are "too innocent" and/or "inherently good." I believe Dr. Michael Fitzgerald diagnosed Hitler with Asperger's, but the "Aspie's" were quick to "defend."

Perhaps these historical geniuses (whether good or evil) did have some kind of ASD but the ASD isn't what made them a genius. 99.999% of people with ASD are not geniuses so having an ASD is not the sole criteria for genius. It's most likely a combination of extraordinary intelligence, creativity, luck and being single-minded in their passion and not caring what people think (which is where the "ASD" label comes in). The majority of those with HFA/AS have average intelligence and below-average creativity so true "genius" is impossible. Being a walking encyclopedia is not "genius" as a true genius transforms a field and doesn't simply memorize everything about a field. Darwin transformed a field and it doesn't really matter if he did or did not have an ASD because that is not the sole criterion for genius.

Anonymous said...

I just have to comment. I agree with Harold....enough is enough is enough. Let's start helping those with autism!!!!


Lisa said...

I find it quite heartening to hear that Bill Gates et al might be one of Our People. The idea that autism comes out of nowwhere or has a blame/cause is what annoys me. But when I meet or hear of people who have ASD or AS tendencies, who have met and married other people who have the same kind of tendencies, then I understand where the perhaps more developmentally challenged autism came from.
This is easy for me because I have 2 kids with severe autism whose intelligence, charm and natural affection shines through their sensory challenges and the behaviour that results from such challenges. Behaviour that they came up with as a way of coping with the challenge.
I see it as up to me and the excellent therapists to unlock that potential by reducing the sensory distortion and giving them the framework to cope with it.

So the idea that Bill Gates could see through a Computers "eyes" and decide it would be better for it to speak our language, rather than BASIC or Binary Code, creating a "window" for us to use the operating system without going to university for 3 years; that is very inspiring to me.

The idea that my little girl might be pursuaded to dress herself and independently manage her self care and hygiene, because we created the "Window" of a social story or a visual schedule, that is pretty motivating too.

I think Darwin was more logical than many other people of his day. He looked at the evidence and came to a natural conclusion. If there are other characteristics of his personality that are interpreted as AS; well it makes sense. There are many AS teenagers and highly verbal ASD kids who have a big problem with creationism and I would be one of them.

I hope this doesn't hurt your feelings to hear this but really, parents dealing with very challenged kids are often the ONLY people to see the intelligent and charming person inside; so when the rest of the world cops on that someone can be brilliant AND have autism or AS, I gotta applaud.

Fitzy (who diagnosed both my kids for the irish system) did extensive studies into many historical figures as I met him in his home study and my Boo went through all his books - which were meticulously ordered and had pages marked out with rubber bands, in a very "organised" way... ahem!

He is one of the experts objecting to a potential pre-natal test for autism in development in the UK whereby a foetus would be terminated if it tested positive (allegedly, it is still in the ethical debate stage although the technology is about 3 years off)

He argues that the test would abolish potential brilliance as much as potential challenge, and that evidence based therapy can help ameliorate those challenges, but nothing could replace the briillance.

I suggest you check out The Voyage Blog and listen to the BBC Radio podcast for more information.

Sorry to be so happy shiny, but I find it easier to get out of bed each day and look for the good in my ND-ness.


Anonymous said...

Hi Harold,

I think RAJ has hit the nail on the head in terms of the ND self rationalization. Such historical guesses are nothing but pure self gratifying speculation. These historical retrospectives do nothing but support stereotypes and do absolutely nothing to aid in research to help those that need these resources to be focused on useful productive knowledge that can help those on the spectrum. I have seen these stereotypes first hand where people have said to me “He don’t speak but he is good at math, right?”

Christine said...

I think Mr. Fitzgerald should focus on children awaiting diagnosis. All doctors site the importance of early intervention yet as families we know that a diagnosis of Autism is the wait list game. While I am all for research, what do we hope to learn from Darwin or Hitler possibly being autistic? In my area of Ontario the wait list for diagnosis is approx. two years. How about Mr. Fitzgerald applying his diagnosis skills to the living?

rabbit said...

Einstein was a "late talker", which often causes parents to suspect their child is developmentally challenged.

In fact, "late talkers" often turn out to be highly analytic. One conjecture to explain this is that a young child's mind doesn't have the capacity to develop both social and analytic thinking skills simultaneously, so late talkers are developing one at the expense of the other.

Stephanie said...

Being highly analytic doesn't necessarily make one a genius. In fact, being too analytic will reduce one's creativity and creativity is the true key to genius, not analysis. Most people can analyze all day long but it takes a genius to produce something new to be analyzed.

Being analytic is only one type of genius, mainly mathematical/logical genius. But what about artistic genius? Musical genius? Poetic genius? Spiritual genius? Philosophical genius? Most geniuses stick to one area because it was what they were designed for. Yes, there are polymaths, but there aren't as many and their areas of "genius" are still interrelated (i.e. biology and art; art and engineering and etc. I have yet to read of a polymath in BOTH chemistry and religion (or something of the sort); if anyone knows of one please let me know!)

Those with HFA/AS who become geniuses are mainly analytic (science/math), artistic and musical. There aren't very many poetic/philosophical/religious/spiritual geniuses with HFA/AS. These areas are just as valid though not as widely appreciated in the west (as back east spiritual genius is very much recognized).

So, obviously, the concept of "genius" itself is still quite hazy. Was Freud a genius? Jesus? Picasso? As we can see, "genius" is often in the eye of the beholder.

coc said...

On a point of information lisadom, Bill Gates did not invent the windows interface no more than he invented ruthless abuse of a dominant market position!

Anonymous said...

You know, I'm a "techie" who has maybe one or two close friends. I could probably go get myself labeled an Aspie. Then I could collect disability pay and sit on the computer and whine away about Asperger's being the reason that I was never the homecoming queen and consistently throw that up on the table as why "nobody likes me" @@.

Nah! I've got better things to do with my life, like work to make my daughter's life with classic autism better.

farmwifetwo said...

Actually, I am getting tired of listening too ALL of the Autism camps.. pro-anti vacciners, Neurodiverse, ABA, biomed... etc. B/c IMO none advocate for the most fundamental requirement for parents with children that have autism nor for those with autism themselves...

THEY ARE ALL INDIVIDUALS. EACH FAMILIES GOALS, SUPPORTS ARE DIFFERENT. Each CAMP tries to put them into a box and label them with the same brush.

I don't believe my children were harmed by Vaccines. But I do agree that Ms. Polling may have been. That's not up to me to decide, that's up to the courts and the scientists.

I don't believe in the never-ending rote learning of the Ont Children's Hospital's ABA program is teaching children, actually IMO it does much more harm than good. I do believe that the general ideas of it - ie. Token Programs for ex, - can be used to help children learning proper social/behavioural/executive functioning skills in the home/classroom setting.

I don't believe that bio-meds are a cure but I do know my eldest son is severely intolerant to casein protein. That Karyn Serroussi's book gave us the idea to pull the dairy to remove the diahhrea/night-mare's/terrors. That within 48hrs they were gone, that 7days later one tiny bit of butter caused a severe meltdown the likes of which, that I have never seen before or after that incident. Yes, we have/had meltdowns... but that one... was UNBELIEVABLE. That the Dev Ped's "Some children with autism are like that" was inappropriate had he been developing normally he would have told us to look for a food allergy/intolerance.

I don't believe that children with Autism are automatically mentally retarded just b/c they may stim and barely speak. That using psychometric tests before attempting to educate these children and then believing what the reports say at the age of 2 to 4 doesn't all for them to be educated. My youngest son is proof of this. When his G-Aunt listened to him read his gift card a few weeks ago after he floated/stimmed around the house for an hour with the Nintendo in his hand... "he can read?" Yes, and at a Gr 2 level. Autism and MR should not be linked.

I don't believe those with Autism deserves special treatment. They are part of society and need to follow societies rules. I have noticed the ND crowd has never mentioned Dr Temple Grandin nor Jerry Newport since these AUTISTICS think the very same thing.

I've read Fitzgerald's latest book and all I can say is "Thank goodness he's not my children's Dr". Oh... I believe I did say that over on my goodreads page :)

I'm tired of Offit and Fitzgerald saying Facilitated Communication is "EVIL". Ummm guys... since all children learn by "hand over hand"... why should children with ASD be any different?? How do you think I taught my kid to write and type... both of which he does independantly... well the pencil has a weight on it... but that's all.

I'm tired of the ND's dx'ing historical and current, people with autism. Autism isn't just "quirks"... Autism is a large range of symptoms that start when one is a child.

And my list goes on. Which is why we're charting our own path and staying out of the "camps". Although I've been told I could join Navy Mom in her Aspie Dx... but I too would rather just be Me without one.

Just my nickel's worth on the ASD mess.

Anonymous said...

Navymom wrote:

"I could probably go get myself labeled an Aspie. Then I could collect disability pay"

Not in the US. AS is not a covered disability in SSI. Sorry to burst your bubble.

Anonymous said...

Hi I've just been reading the comments about Professor Fitzgerald. I know myself that he writes alot of books on the connection between autism and certain historical individuals but he also does alot to help people with autism. He has helped many parents in Ireland diagnose their children including myself and I have met him personally and through his diagnosis and understanding of autism he has helped us more than anybody else.