Dyspraxia And Motor Clumsiness

On the subject of dyspraxia and autistic conditions, I finally made some advancements in my research in tbis particular area. Let’s be aware here that another symptom of autism – facial agnosia – cannot always be traced to one cause. That is, some people with facial agnosia are unable to recognise the human face, due to an actual brain irregularity. However, in autism, facial agnosia is different in various ways. I struggled with this problem for many years and can state with confidence that autism-related facial agnosia waxes and wanes. On a good day, I may easily recognise someone on the street and, on another occasion, I will be quite clueless as to who they are. A big factor in autism too is the way autists “connect” faces to location and context. The failure to recognise – sometimes even family members – arises when the interaction is outside of the associated context. Very recently, I noticed something similar in cats but that’s another subject for another time. In conclusion, there is more than one cause for facial agnosia.
Now to dyspraxia. Asperger referred to it many times. His group of children were all very motor clumsy and awkward, as were Grunya Suhareva’s six case subjects. I too have quite significant motor impairement, as well as slowness (which Asperger didn’t mention but Suhareva did). A great way to test it is through ping pong. Autists with motor impairement will be found to be mostly unable to return the ball (although I find this can be reversed). I found research in the USSR helped me in the area of motor co-ordination. Modern research will tend to focus on neurological causes but, as stated above, in the case of facial agnosia, there is more than one cause. With dyspraxia, I find in autistic individuals this symptom is quite complex and goes beyond simple co-ordination towards other core symptoms (as E. Bleuler discovered). Some clunical psychologists connected dyscalculia with dyspraxia but, so far as I can judge) the two issues are somewhat distinct. I did suffer from chronic dyscalculia but started to treat the problem six years ago so that my maths became very good. However, my motor clumsiness is still a real problem, despite regular cardiovascular and physical training, plus stretching. In summary, yes, I now believe I have made progress towards a whole new angle on dyspraxia, although the theory is too complex to post here.

Cats, Empathy And Autism

During the Winter and Spring months, I’ve been sharing my humble home with a cat in need. This happened after he very cautiously invited himself one day, standing at the doorway: “Is it OK to come inside?”, he seemed to be asking.
I’ve always gravitated towards dogs but, having said that, I love animals. For some reason, I never forgot the time when, as a very autistic kid, someone asked what I wanted to do when I was grown up, and I answered, “A zookeeper”. So, the cat moved in because I could never say no in such cases. It’s also a well-known fact that many people affected by some degree of autism tend to bond well with animals. When I heard that actor Anthony Hopkins had struggled at school with Asperger’s Syndrome, first thing I did was to check his school history and then see if he had a pet cat. In fact, Hopkins loves cats and his own feline would happily lie on the piano, when the actor played alone.
So, to the point: Neurotypical psychologists are often mistaken when they stress the “lack of empathy” autists have. The definition of “empathy” extends beyond simply putting yourself in another person’s place. Empathy should extend to animals, to the point their life also has value. How many people refer to a dog or cat as “it”? Many autists express this deeper empathy towards animals quite naturally (something Hans Asperger puzzled over). I actually believe that empathy towards other people, in neurotypical terms, has a great deal to do with “communication”- as an emotionally driven language. People are these days far more driven by their “likes”, popularity, status and to which group they fit in.
The punchline: I never realised how cats are so similar to myself and how much they have to teach me. I noticed my cat room-mate is always perfectly happy to be alone and can easily get by without the companionship of other cats. He does pretty much follow me about and show affection, although I noticed he still needs his own solitary time. Around 3.30 a.m. he will go off and roam by himself, usually to return by 6.00 a.m. He then digs his claws into the bed cushions, purrs and finally lies down to snooze. Very definitely, he noticed I myself hardly socialise, belong to no social group and think and act very differently. Also, I tend to notice if the cat wants something at any time, either food or the door opened. The final thing we have in common is s!eeping habits. For many years I was called “lazy” due to sleeping so much. Now, living with a cat, I learned that cats sleep a lot and are semi-nocturnal. We both pretty much rise around 12.00 p.m. and I myself tend to study till 4.00 a.m. Ultimately, wbat cats do very well indeed is to be self-sufficient and content to be alone. For many autists this is, in fact, very difficult to adjust to since – unlike cats – we are herd animals. Many autists are socially isolated and, likewise, frustrated by their solitary situation. Cats have something to teach us about resourcefulness and independence.

The Diagnosis Of Fritz

The following may interest clinical psychology students or others with an interest in this subject. In the following quotation, Hans Asperger outlines why he dismisses a diagnosis of schizophrenia in one of his patients, simultaneously opting to employ the term “autistic psychopathy” instead. However, before reading the quote, we should be aware of some implications:
(1) The fact Asperger has to address the issue of schizophrenia, in the case of his patients, demonstrates the distinction requires careful consideration.
(2) Schizophrenia is very similar to Asperger’s Syndrome, more so if we only look at the negative, or deficit, symptoms. In cases where schizophrenia starts in early childhood, practically all the symptoms are minus symptoms, with no delusional or psychotic behaviour.
Using the old diagnostic terminology (i.e. that which was familiar to Asperger himself in the 1940s), we have perhaps four possibilities for Fritz F (Asperger’s first presented case-study).:
(1) Early Infantile Autism, as described by fellow Austrian psychologist Leo Kanner.
(2) Encephalitis, leading to post natal, developmental delay. One of the four Asperger children called Helmut was presented with this diagnosis.
(3) Schizoid, autistic psychopathy (the diagnosis Asperger decided upon!.
(4) Childhood schizophrenia.
To now quote Asperger. This is my translation of the text I have:
“Indeed, much in the behaviour of Fritz F suggests an ongoing schizophrenic process. Significantly reduced contact with the surrounding world, stereotypical and repetitive behaviour. Yet the argument against a diagnosis of schizophrenia runs as follows: The status of the patient shows no progression. Clear and characteristic symptoms of fearfulness are absent (such as acute episodes of fear and hallucinations). In the case of Fritz we do not encounter any manic outbursts and there is no ongoing fragmentation of personality. In Fritz there is much to suggest a deviation from normality but the situation is consistent although this in particular owes much to the particular attributes of the father, mother and family. Fritz’s personality demonstrates ongoing development that, in the final analysis, leads to progressive adaptation towards the demands of the surrounding world. Above all, the general impression around the personality of such a boy as Fritz F and a schizophrenia patient is totally distinct. In the case of a schizophrenia patient we get an alarming impression of personality fragmentation, which can on!y be held in check through educational support.” (Hans Asperger)
Asperger doesn’t mention whether Fritz experienced vivid nightmares, while resident at the clinic, where the team of psychologists was based. Asperger is quite correct, of course, to stress an absence of foreboding, nightmares and apprehension, in these cases. Despite that, Asperger leaves out the fact some childhood schizophrenic processes develop very slowly and imperceptibly. Changes in personality take place so slowly and gradually, it is almost impossible to notice these changes. In such cases too, the outcome tends to be more positive and optimistic than is the case with faster-developing, abrupt childhood schizophrenia.
The Ukrainian psychologists G.E. Suhareva was a global authority in childhood schizophrenia and her essays carefully explain why we can’t always visibly perceive the fragmentation of personality in a patient, if this develops very gradually. However the case may be, Fritz F inevitably did reach adulthood without any symptoms of positive schizophrenia or psychosis. This makes the diagnosis of schizoid, autistic psychopathy to be correct. Fritz F did not lose the stability, continuity and intactness of his “ego”. Despite that fact, it remains interesting to note here that Asperger seemed to assume all schizophrenic processes in childhood are perceptive to the eye. That is not always the case. In fact, Asperger did acknowledge that one boy he had diagnosed with autistic psychopathy, later came to be re-diagnosed with childhood schizophrenia. This then would indicate the progression of personality change in that individual had been too slow to notice immediately.

Above: Van Krevelin, the Dutch psychologist, also came to meet the Asperger children.

Everyone’s An Autism Expert But Also Neurotypical

This article will address something I’ve been aware of for some time and may come across as a little provocative. Just to get things started, I’ll share that, despite my current capability to write essays on clinical psychology and apparent coherence, my childhood experiences of autism were quite severe. In my early twenties, the situation became even worse, to the point I was under medication and psychiatric evaluation. At that time too, I had a very uneven intellect – gifted in some narrow areas (linguistics) while very deficient in general terms. It took me many years to “catch up” those quite normal, neurotypical people who experienced education and knowledge as a shared, collective social experience. For me, classroom education was more about staring out of the window and remaining disconnected in a dream world.
The Law Of Tesla states that social isolation can bring about some kind of compensation in the area of the intellect. With some cases of autism, what happens is an individual can develop alternatives to processing information in the normal manner. Rather than sharing information in collectives and taking part in groups, classes and societies, it is possible to process deeply and inwardly. During this ongoing process, independence and individuality of perspective grows and we tend to approach knowledge differently. Here, it’s important not to simply assume uniqueness of perspective and extreme abstract thinking equates to being simply more intelligent. I don’t believe such to be the case, and neither did Asperger. What can happen, however, is that aspects of the intellect can develop and the overall result can be unorthodox. Sometimes unorthodox thinking is quite useful.
To the overall point: The study of autism to date has been totally dominated by psychologists and researchers who never personally experienced autism. I would go so far as to say both Hans Asperger and Grunya Suhereva tend to stand out as showing more insight than usual, due to the fact both were social loners. Both Paul Cooijman and Temple Grandin have a high-functioning autism diagnosis and have had some small impact. Suffice it to say, athough the overall research into autism is collectively very good, all of it shows only one perspective. Current research shows how educated, neurotypical researchers view those of us who failed to develop as normal adults, in scientific terms. The major flaw here is it really isn’t possible to fully understand any complex phenomenon without experience. Also, it’s far easier to understand how we behave as human beings from “the inside”, as opposed to perspectives, viewed from “the outside”. Therefore, clinical psychology today has its fill of guest-speakers, best-sellers, authorities and experts – all framed within a typical social hierarchy and popular ratings. If you were to ask the question is there really any interest or desire to obtain insight from neurologically non-typical psychology students, for the present, the answer appears to be negative. The irony is, of course, that the reason for this is again explained by the assumption knowledge is a socially acquired pursuit, even when it concerns autism. In the chart featured, G. E. Suhareva seems to have had far less recognition than Leo Kanner, although I would rate Suhareva personally as showing deep insight in the area of her research.

Asperger, Bleuler And Suhareva

In this brief essay, I will draw attention to two major discoveries, made with respect to autism as a clinical condition. The first of these was noted by E. Bleuler. Bleuler noted that some autistic people have a disassociated personality, in such a way that their experience of the surrounding world lacks unified stability. This was actually referred to in the Rain Man film. When Raymond was finally asked by the psychologist if he wished to live with his brother, or return to the institution. Rayond answered “yes” to both options. Yes, he wanted to live with his brother and, no, he didn’t want to live with him. Here, the psychologist demonstrated that Raymond’s ability to view situations in concrete terms was impaired. He suffered disassociation. When the disassociated mind of an individual doesn’t function normally in everyday life, this creates conflict and ongoing negative feedback in the area of social integration. That is, family, classroom, employment friction. Each set-back impacts traumatically on the mind, to varying degrees. As a result, people like Raymond withdraw. Not only do they turn inwards towards themselves but they often create an inner, alternative reality.The main point here is that psychologists viewed autism as a withdrawel from “reality”.
“Difficulties of adaptation with regard to a disassociated personality significantly increase the probability of psychologically traumatic situations. This determines the significance of psychogenic factors around the development of autism.”V.Kagan

And now we come to Hans Asperger and his particular discovery. Asperger noted two significant points:
(1) Many autistic children don’t specifically disconnect from “reality” but, rather, are disconnected from other human beings. The problem lies within the socially-orientated functioning of the brain.
(2) Autism can have a huge element of “learning-disability”, despite the fact the people concerned are often quite intelligent. Actor Anthony Hopkins (diagnosed with mild Asperger Syndrome) has shared he grew up believing he was stupid. The problem that made Hopkins’s school years so miserable arises because tuition always depends upon emotionally based interaction.
I should add that the Ukrainian psychologist Grunya Suhareva described the same kind of autistic children as Asperger, while using similar intelligence testing methods (such as Binet). However, Suhareva didn’t elaborate on how impaired social interaction blocked the normal information processing mechanism, although she seemed aware this was a factor. Suhareva described autistic children as having weak “active attention” and strong “passive attention”, i.e. day -dreaming. Suhareva had noticed some children switched off and day-dreamed during classes but seemed not to expand upon the significance. Asperger, on the other hand, spelled out in clear terms that the autism he described had the peculiar characteristic that such children couldn’t be taught as normal in a social environment of interaction.
I believe there is yet another basic factor that regulates autism – something fundamental and significant that connects the way some autistic individuals process information. In fact, Hans Asperger’s focus on intelligence measurement and neurological adaptation helped me continue that particular aspect of research. We have to be very careful not to lose sight of the fact that people with autism don’t always have very low I.Q. Often the root cause of learning disability may lie within the sphere of social connection. Rather than an attempt to place people “somewhere on the spectrum”, we need to focus on alternative education and return to an awareness of the fact a tiny minority of children can’t be “processed” in state schools. To do so raises the risk of failed education, increased social marginalisation and possibly more serious clinical consequences.

Most German Psychologists Refuted Nazism

“Very few race theories,” he asserts, “are free from political and romantic prejudices. We are today still very far from having enough material for a comprehensive racial psychology. But already today, we might say that the incidence of genius and cultural achievements are based on complex biological factors and are not at all the privilege of a certain race. The assertion: the more pure the race, the more genius and productivity, is false.” E Krestchmer, German psychologist
This is a little known quote that, I think, summarises the attitude of German researchers such as Hans Asperger. These German psychologists and geneticists were scientifically educated enough to realise the Nazi ideology had little relationship to science. Having read Hans Asperger’s essays many times, it seems very obvious to me he would never have been able to square official Nazi ideology with the results of his studies into autism. Put simply, Asperger knew many great but odd scientists physically fell a good way short of the Atlas model. He would have agreed with Kretschmer above, whose research he referrered to.
I can never say for sure whether Asperger is 100 per cent clear of every charge aimed at him as I wasn’t there in Austria at that time. I simply get the feeling what actually happened was that Asperger became an easy target. Accusations tend to sell books. At the time I was amazed so many autism related social media platforms simply accepted what was written about Asperger being a war criminal, without at least reading his essays. I always felt it seemed obvious Asperger officially rated his patients more positively than he actually felt was the case. The hope being to convince the authorities autism had some good aspects.

Autism And Imaginative Play?

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be discussing my objections to the widely accepted “autism spectrum” approach, that now forms the basis of the modern DSM. I was actually surprised that one of my early essays on this seems to have filtered out and found initial resonance.
Right now, in this post, I’d like to mention that Lorna Wing didn’t actually introduce anything innovational when she was credited for the theory autistic children lack pretend play. Let’s look at the quotation below.

“It is still amazing to me that Lorna spotted that autistic children lack pretend play, a seemingly small thing with big consequences,” says Uta Frith, emeritus professor of cognitive development at University College London. “This observation was crucial in understanding how the social impairments of autism result from a neurocognitive deficit in ‘theory of mind,’ or ‘mentalizing’.”
I found some remarks on this, written by Grunya Suhareva in her clinic – probably around the 1950s – Suhareva wrote:
“Воспитатели детского сада подчеркивают несоответствие между высоким интеллектуальным развитием ребенка и резко нарушенной игровой деятельностью: невозможностью сосредоточиться, непониманием правил игры.”
I’ll translate this a bit too literally to preserve the meaning:
“Educators at the nursery emphasise a contrast between the high intelligence of a child and an impaired playtime activity, inability to concentrate, a lack if awareness of rules of play. “
Not that I suggest Wing and Goulde somehow “lifted” Grunya Suhareva’s essays and passed it off as their own. Rather, the point is this – and a significant one: It’s crucial for psychologists to read and study the essays of the pioneers in this kind of research. Despite the fact Lorna Wing did read these sources, many psychology students today seem not to have done the same. If the excellent sources available had indeed been read, we would be more aware none of Wing and Goulde’s research amounted to specific advancements in the field of clinical psychology, as opposed to a summary. That is, the definition of Asperger Syndrome was totally familiar to psychologists, even in the 1920s. E. Bleuler, Kretschmer, Schneider, Asperger or Van Krevelin were very advanced in their field and there is still much research that has been ignored to date.
And briefly:
“Wing also introduced the concept of an autism ‘spectrum.’ She was among the first to realize that autism could be considered dimensionally, and that it affected people of all ages and abilities.”
I used to simply spit out, “autism is not a spectrum” since, as I often noted, Suhareva herself – plus many German researchers had discredited this idea in 1925. These days, to avoid trenching myself into fixed positions, I simply state that, in fact, the “autism as a spectrum” concept isn’t particularly helpful, is mostly misunderstood and doesn’t really help in diagnosis. If authorities in psychology still prefer to view autism as a spectrum, it is fine by me if it helps them to view autism in this way. My overall position, however, is I feel more confusion has been created in the long run. On the spectrum issue, I will shortly provide an analysis as to why I believe the term arose in the 1980s, whether it is actually justified, misunderstood, or helpful.

Schizoid Disorder And Asperger Syndrome. The Historical Facts

In this essay, I will try to explain, as clearly as possible, why the autistic children examined by the Ukrainian/Jewish psychologist Grunya Suhareva in 1925 were, in fact, not significantly different than the children described by Hans Asperger in “Die Autistischen Psychopathen Im Kindesalter”.
First, let us consider the diagnostic labels used by Asperger and Suhareva. Here, we will quote Asperger:
“In an attempt to pinpoint and describe rationally that fundamental deviation which – as it seems to us – presents itself as the fundamental essence of the said deviation in children, we chose the term ‘autistic psychopathy’.” (Hans Asperger).
It’s important that I make clear the word “psychopathy” – as understood by psychiatrists at that time – refers to pathological disorders and not psychosis. It doesn’t have the same meaning as it does today in the media. Possibly “psychological pathology” comes close in meaning. So, Hans Asperger diagnosed several children as showing symptoms of autistic psychopathy.
I will now quote directly the diagnostic terms used by Grunya Suhereva. After each case-study was described, she wrote:
“Diagnosis: Psychopathic personality, schizoid. (Verschroben).”(Grunya Suhareva)
So, Grunya Suhareva used the same clinical term as Asperger, in as much as “psychopathy” was implied. She also used another term “verschroben” which, by my understanding, was the oldest designation used to describe autistic psychopathy. More to the point, Suhareva added the term “schizoid”, which we will see is something fundamental to this essay.
Asperger never used the tag “schizoid” so that represents a noticeable difference.
Back in 1925, Grunya Suhareva referred to special children, in her clinic, who suffered from a disorder she called “schizoid, autistic psychopathy”, or just “schizoid psychopathy”. From this, we can conclude that Hans Asperger – some years later – adopted the same term but dropped the added use of “schizoid”. I believe this was intentional. I will do my best here to keep the explanation simple:
The term “schizoid” implies “borderline schizophrenia”. Historically, the symptoms Lorna Wing referred to as “Asperger Syndrome”, in the 1980s, have always been clinically and genetically associated (by German geneticists) with the (negative) symptoms of schizophrenia. Schizoid implies a milder and stable condition of schizophrenia, without the hallucinations or psychotic episodes, or swings, noted at crisis points among schizophrenics. Grunya Suhareva writes:
The term ‘schizoid’ is not new and was used by Bleuler. Neither is there anything new in the fact there is a group of psychopathic personalities who show symptoms not unlike schizophrenia. These are described by Kraepelin in his classification ‘verschroben’, and by Birnbaum in his ‘degenerierte verschroben’.” (Grunya Suhareva)
Hans Asperger in “Die Autistischen Psychopathen Im Kindesalter” made a point of insisting he saw no connection at all between his autistic psychopathy (later Asperger’s Syndrome) and schizophrenia. This explains why he omitted the added use of “schizoid autistic psychopathy”. Such a position I now find to be strange because huge amounts of research had already been carried out by German and European geneticists, based on this question. For example, by A. Schneider who must have been familiar to Asperger. As a result, Grunya Suhereva herself had concluded the syndrome she described in 1925 had a connection to schizophrenia:
“The group designated ‘schizoid psychopaths’ has a certain connection to schizophrenia. The evidence for that can be found in heriditary-gentic data where it’s shown there’s a large quantity of schizoid psychopaths within families of schizophrenics. ” (G. Suhareva)
The question may even be raised as to whether Hans Asperger wished to disassociate his patients from a diagnosis that the German authorities may have perceived as incurable. On more than one occasion, Asperger ruled out any genetic connection between autistic psychopathy and schizophrenia. However, in this area, the research gathered by G.Suhareva seems to me to be more accurate.
So far, therefore, we have seen that both Asperger and Grunya Suhareva used the same diagnostic terms, applied to their groups of autistic children, except that only Suhareva added the additional “schizoid”. So far as symptoms are concerned, the diagnosis “autistic psychopathy” matches well in both cases. Some psychologists have taken the view that the six “odd” children diagnosed by G. Suhareva as suffering schizoid, autistic psychopathy are clinically different from the children Asperger associated with autistic psychopathy. It seems to me improbable that two, remote groups of children (separated by time and geographical location) would all have two distinct diagnoses. That is, no grey areas.
Much later, in the 1980s, Lorna Wing followed Asperger’s line and concluded there was no solid evidence to connect autistic psychopathy (Asperger Syndrome) to schizophrenia:
“Furthermore, the word schizoid was originally chosen to underline the relationship of the abnormal personality to schizophrenia. The latter can occur in a person with Asperger syndrome, but, as already discussed, there is not firm evidence of a special link between this syndrome and schizophrenia, strictly defined. To incorporate such an untested assumption into the name of the condition must give rise to confusion.” (Lorna Wing)
In actual fact, psychologists and geneticists differed over how specifically schizoid personality was linked to schizophrenia. Was the difference just in degree of severity or was there an intrinsic difference? What we do know – translated into modern terms – is that Asperger’s Syndrome is far more common in families where grandparents, or great grandparents, had suffered schizophrenia. We also know that schizoid disorder isn’t passed on recessively, as is the case with schizophrenia.
Wing’s argument seems to be splitting hairs to some degree. It is true some German researchers believed Asperger Syndrome was genetically and otherwise distinct from schizophrenia but, on the other hand, we also know that children in the early stages of schizophrenia are practically identical to Asperger children, in terms of symptoms. Adults diagnosed with schizophrenia (most often around age 20), have often demonstrated Aspergoid symptoms and odd characteristics during childhood. Not only that but even elite psychologists often cannot tell one from the other. Is the child concerned undergoing the early stages of schizophrenia, or is it Asperger’s Syndrome? Asperger himself was once unable to make the distinction:
“We know of only one case where we diagnosed autism with emotional deviations and then two years after he left us, a progressive personality breakdown initiated. Therefore, at the present time we had to diagnose schizophrenia.” (Hans Asperger)
The above quote by Asperger tends to suggest he was less informed on the subject of slow-running (sluggish) schizophrenia or – as stated before – he was intentionally attempting to convince the German authorities that the children in his care didn’t fall under the label of schizophrenia. Rather, Asperger seems to have put a very positive light on his new syndrome, suggesting his “special children” could be useful to the state as future code-breakers or scientists. Moreover, to get some idea of this position, nowadays the term “schizophrenia” still conjures up images of irreversible, anti-social abnormality, delusion and a!ienation. On the other hand, “Asperger’s Syndrome” in its heyday became an almost socially accepted diagnosis, whereas to use the term “schizoid personality” is less palatable.
To conclude this essay, therefore, we may consider:
(1) Grunya Suhareva and Hans Asperger both studied groups of children they referred to as “autistic” and displaying psychopathic behavioural traits.
(2) Grunya Suhareva and her German colleagues accepted some connection between the autistic children and schizophrenia. Even where absolute evidence of a direct link was disputed, the term “schizoid” at the very least implied symptoms in all cases seemed similar.
(3) Hans Asperger took pains to deny his own group of autistic children had anything in common with schizophrenia. However, he admitted to having misdiagnosed one known case.
(4) Hans Asperger on more than one occasion tended to stress to the utmost the giftedness of his patients while distancing them from schizophrenia. This may have been motivated by Germany’s extreme position on abnormality in society.
(5) Lorna Wing seems to have missed the fact very many early researchers had studied groups of families and concluded there were cases of Asperger’s Syndrome against a background of schizophrenia.

Anthony Hopkins And His Asperger Diagnosis

Anthony Hopkins we all know as the actor who starred in Silence Of The Lambs. I refer to him because a psychologist at some point in time diagnosed Hopkins with Asperger Syndrome, although the Welsh actor was dismissive.
“I think some doctor contacted me” said Hopkins. “I don’t know. I don’t, actually, I don’t believe in it. I don’t feel any different. I think these are dressed up. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m ignorant. I think we’ve ruined the human system by tabulating everything.”
I confess I was myself very skeptical but, after having dug into Hopkin’s childhood, I concluded there was good evidence to justify mild Asperger Syndrome, in this case. However, I totally agree with the said actor’s remarks on “tabulating everything”. Asperger Syndrome – in my opinion – is a lot harder to diagnose than people realise. After some years reading essays, it finally became clear to me that even the foremost experts disagreed amongst themselves. I believe Asperger Syndrome ought to be diagnosed over periods of many weeks of analysis. Moreover, as Anthony Hopkins stressed, even then we can’t simply squeeze human beings into one, neat label. Diagnosis, in reality, helps the individual make sense of his, or her, issues but we are still all unique.
So, back to Anthony Hopkins case:
The main symptom of Asperger Syndrome is most definitely a poor performance at school, the reputation for being unteachable, against a background of unorthodox intelligence. Hopkins, it appears, was ridiculed at school for being a poor learner and in his own words he “grew up absolutely convinced I was stupid”. Hopkins left Cowbridge Grammar School after some years of isolation and substandard performance, but enrolled in a drama class. Here, the future actor learned piano and studied drama. So, from my very brief bit of research, it would be fair to say Hopkins fits the primary symptom, described by Hans Asperger, in the 1940s. Asperger children are unresponsive to systematic, ordered, “mechanised” teaching.
I have no idea if Hopkins demonstrated other typical symptoms in childhood. These are self-isolation and reluctance to fit into any group, poor co-ordination in sports, being bullied by other kids, repetitive movements, sensitivity to fabrics, awkward social communication, lack of emotional empathy and weak facial mimicry (expression stays static). Motor co-ordination (as a symptom) ranges from not being good at catching a ball to very obvious awkwardness in posture and movement.
Given Anthony Hopkins himself dismisses his diagnosis as a sort of label, I will offer my take on it all. It could alternatively be the case Hopkins is schizothymic, which means he has an Asperger personality but not a clinical condition. Such types are also vulnerable to the full blown clinical definition, after some stressful event, illness or infection. I call “schizothymia” “Peter Parker Syndrome”. There are people who remain socially functional but have a personality that reflects geeky traits.
The difficulty arises as to defining the point where an Asperger personality (schizothymic) strays into clinical diagnosis. Asperger himself spoke of mild symptomatology as well as severe. He felt some of the children possessed giftedness and intellect that ultimately would enable them to succeed, whereas others were so severely affected they stood far less chance. Of the original Asperger children, Harrow is the one whose symptoms were less severe and reflected a similar profile to Hopkins. Asperger wrote he had higher hopes for children similar to Harrow – they sometimes adjusted more to society and became involved in the arts. Less severe Asperger Syndrome gives rise to the problem that more severely affected people (or families) experience a certain stress since very many such people could never hope to become highly successful actors. Psychologists attempt to explain away the problem by use of the term “spectrum” but I consider this to be not helpful. Hans Asperger himself, in an essay, simply referred to the severity of disconnection from the world (in a patient) so Harrow was not as problematic as, say, Fritz or Helmut. Possibly two of G. Suhareva’s case study children went on to become successful in drama and the arts. Others remained institutionalised. Of course, people who are not as severely affected still experience tremendous struggles. Hopkins himself suffered a fairly miserable and lonely childhood.

How Secondary Languages Relate to Asperger Syndrome

I discovered the other day a very simple way of using linguistics to explain Asperger Syndrome – the diagnosis revived by Lorna Wing in the 1980s, yet not always fully understood. I will add, in passing, that so far as my own estimated diagnosis is concerned, Asperger Syndrome appears to be a co-morbid condition.
So, about how learning a language can help to understand Hans Asperger’s essays:
Some few months ago, I decided to continue learning Latin (I had done some Latin back in 2002). It’s worth considering how the manner in which we learn another (the secondary) language differs enormously from how children learn their primary language. So, children acquire basic language over some 10 years, and this process comes about via imitation, exposure to everyday vocabulary – increasingly more complex with age. On the other hand, a language student acquires a new language “intellectually” and “mechanically”. Rules of grammar are used in such a way as the new language is broken down theoretically. Gender, tenses, cases, conjugations and rules. A talented adult in the space of one year might be able to read some texts of Caesar, which would have taken a native Roman child some years to understand. Naturally, a fairly young native speaker will still be ahead of the adult student because the child will possess a more basic, but wider, vocabulary, as well as a “feel” the adult student lacks.
Other differences. The adult students relies upon intellectual recognition of grammar rules to make sense of a sentence. Please recall your past classes of school French, with the blackboard and chalk, nouns, indefinite articles, future tenses and imperfect pasts. French children never needed such explanations since we all automatically acquire our primary language.
So, here’s the point:
Asperger children are to be compared to the students who learn a (secondary) language through the intellect but now, instead of verbal communication, we substitute non-verbal communication. Remember, those with Asperger Syndrome show weakness in the interpretation of non-verbal language. Neurotypicals automatically accumulate the unspoken rules of social interaction, as an ongoing process from infancy. When not to stand too close, interrupt, change the subject, when to empathise with others, when to smile, frown or make eye-contact. Asperger children are deprived in this area, although it is quite possible to “explain” these subtle rules. However, despite the fact Asperger children can indeed understand social interaction, as a mechanised system of dos and don’ts, they will never appear natural, or live up to expectations. Just as a student of Latin will never equal the use of language demonstrated by a native Roman speaker of, say, 180 A.D.
Very typically in Asperger Syndrome, the disruption in the processes of non-verbal communication will block off abilities to learn from others. Asperger children will perform very badly at school and appear “stupid”, or disinterested. This happens because normal children gain knowledge through the medium of social interaction – an area that isn’t an option with Asperger Syndrome.
Sometimes Asperger children, despite doing very poorly at school, nevertheless, develop a passion for reading, or become engrossed in some particular interest (numbers, patterns, a musical instrument, even Latin!). According to Asperger, in minority cases, some children start to do much better in later life and may follow an intense interest in music or maths. On the other hand, many others end up as social misfits or severely limited in the area of employment.
Adults with Aspergers, strangely enough, tend to use plain verbal language differently, more formal and rigid. They also have poor hand-writing.
If the differences between primary language acquisition and secondary, mechanised language teaching are understood, that helps very much to understand Asperger’s syndrome.
Briefly referring to Latin, psychiatrist and advocate of Asperger Syndrome as a diagnosis, Lorna Wing, made this remark in her case studies summary. One of the patients had studied Latin:
“He attended a private school and did well in subjects needing a good rote memory, such as history and Latin, but fell behind at the stage when comprehension of abstract ideas became necessary.”
Ancient languages can be very complex when we attempt to learn them theoretically. There is far more to it than simple rote memory. If a secondary language is concerned, as already stated, it takes far less time to acquire a schematic knowledge of the language than via exposure through culture and surroundings. That is, learning a modern language such as Estonian or Hungarian requires far more than rote memory. Ancient languages can be even more complex. Many people with Asperger Syndrome do very well with dead languages since there’s no requirement to communicate verbally.