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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Julian Assange has Asperger's Syndrome

There's been a lot of speculation on the web about the possibility that Julian Assange may have Asperger's Syndrome. Aspects of his behaviour that support this "diagnosis" are (1) his reported social awkwardness and occasional ignorance of obvious social cues and (2) his obssession with computers, technology, justice, and crap like that.

My Assessment: As I've said in the past, I'm a social psychologist, not a developmental or a clinical one. That said, I at least have some idea of where to get information about psychological disorders. Let's look at the diagnostic criteria in the DSM IV This more narrative description of how someone with Asperger might behave  on is also quite good. Here are the DSM criteria:

A.Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following: 

(1) marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction 
(2) failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level 
(3) a lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest to other people) 
(4) lack of social or emotional reciprocity 

B.Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following: 

(1) encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus 
(2) apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals
(3) stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g., hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements) 
(4) persistent preoccupation with parts of objects 

C.The disturbance causes clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. 

D.There is no clinically significant general delay in language (e.g., single words used by age 2 years, communicative phrases used by age 3 years). 

E.There is no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or in the development of age-appropriate self-help skills, adaptive behavior (other than in social interaction), and curiosity about the environment in childhood. 

F.Criteria are not met for another specific Pervasive Developmental Disorder or Schizophrenia 
Other than the scraps he's had with some of his former editor-partners and DDB (who is a rodent and doesn't really count), and the fact that he seems like sort of a d-bag in bed, I see no evidence that Julian is unable to engage appropriately with people. He stays completely focused on the person talking with him, maintains steady eye contact, and responds in a normal manner, except for the content of those responses, which is almost impossibly brilliant. He directs people's attention to things in an appropriate manner, in fact that's a large part of his interactions with the media and members of the public. 

As to criterion (B) I haven't seen any reports of ritualistic, stereotyped behaviour. While he may have a preoccupation with computers, technology, and social justice, this is not the same thing as spending 12 hours a day making origami octopuses and ignoring everyone around you. 

Clearly criterion (C) is not met, and (D), (E), and (F) are exclusion criteria. 

A few people have commented that he has some sort of mild form of Asperger. I don't know if they know this, but the whole disorder is about to get booted from the DSM as a separate category, to be subsumed under Autism Spectrum Disorder, so saying that someone has a mild form of Asperger's is about to make even less sense than it originally did. 

So from now on, instead of saying that he has some mild form of a mild form of autism, maybe we can just conclude that he's a pretty introverted person and that you're distracting him from his interactions with his own incredible mind with your idiotic blather (I'm talking to you, Keller). In summary, sometimes it's Asperger's, and sometimes the person just can't fucking stand you.  

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Keller Files 1:3 Julian Assange is "Difficult"

As we read in Bill Keller's delicious piece of crime fiction, Julian Assange is all sorts of hard to deal with. He's got a bad temper that flares up with no apparent provocation, he's overly sensitive to criticism (I assume that's what "thin skinned" means, but I don't normally use lay terminology in a piece that's going to be published on paper), and he cares little for the welfare of others. Similar sentiments have been expressed by the British newspaper the DisreGuardian (copyright @TauxFu, 2011), with which Assange has also fallen out. Sounds like our boy may not know how to work and play well with others!!

My assessment:
     I have two areas of commentary about this. The first is that Julian seems to reserve these behaviours for his interactions with people and organizations he believes have betrayed him. Clearly he doesn't do this all the time - sometimes betrayal is met with nothing more than a dismissive response.  Given that betrayal involves little more than a few keystrokes or a quick visit to a police station in Sweden, it's surprising that there aren't more heads being kicked around by Julian's big boots. Ways to avoid being yelled out by Julian? Don't stab him in the back, don't tell the police that he can't get it up, and don't try to make money off of his hard work. Seems simple,yes?
     My second area of commentary pertains to how difficult it must be for Julian to deal with these people. I walk around most of the day with the word "IDIOT" sitting on the tip of my tongue. It's only with supreme self control that I can prevent this word from screaming out of my mouth like buckshot out of Sarah Palin's hunting rifle. Given that I don't have much inherent self control, you can imagine how much of a psychological strain this puts on me. So here is someone whose IQ is 30 points above mine at minimum. He spends most of his time suffering fools, and the rest of the time he's asleep. While he displays absolute calm, part of him must be dying to unleash a torrent of biting commentary that nobody else will understand. The reason he talks so slowly is probably because he constantly has to think about how he can dumb things down so that other people can make sense of it. I know that this makes me sound like a snobby bitch, but the truth is.. oh wait that is the truth. Anyway, let's be thankful that Julian is such a calm person overall, and is willing to share his thoughts and ideas with us. Thank you Julian. We love you!