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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.  


  1. What's the deal with all the eye blinking? Criterion B3? I was watching that autistic Lamo bloke on TV the other night, and guess what, he also blinks a lot.

    Seriously, I think it is generally acknowledged that this set of diagnostic criteria is up for review and is generally applied to and intended for the diagnosis of young children. It is also pretty much accepted in autistic circles that autistic adults often figure out how to conceal many of the characteristics that might earn ticks for these criteria. A suspiciously large number of autistic people have well above average level of intelligence, so there's a considerable amount of smarts to apply to the task of passing for normal.

    Having a short temper, a monotone voice, a high IQ, a top ability to concentrate on one task for a very long time, a love of technology and computers, not much luck with relationships, a passion for uncovering the truth and a problem with spelling are some traits that seem to be unusually common amongst autistic adults. Sound like anyone you know of?

  2. I don't know if this bloke is aspie or not but I do know that people who make disclaimers about not having the expertise to DX someone and then go ahead and do it any way probably are not aspies. There more likely just someone who likes the sound of their own voice....or keypad as the case maybe .Congratulations, you are not likely to suffer from aspergers , go get a cookie . We don't get cookies :(

    As one who has been Dxed with Aspergers, I can tell you that a reputable diagnostician relies heavily on childhood memories and not just current behavior for the reasons that Lilli mentioned...we tend to learn how to fake many things except being an all around asshole . I also think that much of the criteria, while accurate, also leaves out the associated co-morbids and misinterprets the traits that are observed .

  3. "not much luck with relationships,"

    it is astounding, though, how often people who assume that everyone wants to be like them mistake a deliberate decision not to have relationships as a failure to have them.

  4. I'm doing a PhD involving research on Aspergers and Assange is not an Aspie. Most people have at least some so called "autistic traits" but that does not mean they are on the autism spectrum. I myself have a multitude of so called "autistic traits" and quite a high Autism Quotient but I do not have Aspergers. I think the same could probably be said for Assange.

    As another commenter pointed out, the DSM criteria for AS is insufficient to capture the variety in Asperger's presentations and no experienced clinician would rely on it to make a diagnosis (clinicians who specialise in this area usually have extra training and certifications on autism). But even accounting for this Assange not appear to be an aspie. There are many reasons for his, including some you mentioned in your post. The main one I want to point out is that his constant traveling to "new" places (prior to his house detention) would for most Aspies (but not all, there are exceptions) cause considerable anxiety. In fact if I were forced to put a diagnostic label on him (for arguments sake) there are two other diagnoses relating to deficiencies in social cognition I could consider before Aspergers.

    For some reason, in recent years, anytime someone is identified as having a systems oriented brain and is perceived as "odd" the Aspie label is hurled in their direction. It's a shame that some people have such a narrow vision of "normal" variation in the human condition that they assume that a diagnostic classification must be applied whenever a computer geek behaves in a manner they consider unusual. As you point out, this is probably more of a case of introversion - which these days is increasing being mistaken for some sort of psychopathology, Asperger's being one of them.

  5. Just because one might choose to interpret human behaviour using concepts such as the autistic spectrum (which has a body of theories and research and numerous often-conflicting communities of stake-holders pertaining to it) rather than concepts such as "geek" (nothing more than a colloquial term) or concepts such as "introvert" (a term with little scientific theory or research behind it), that does not necessarily mean that the person choosing to to use the concept of autism to interpret behaviour believes or advocates that a clinical stigmatizing diagnosis is required or appropriate for anyone that the label is being applied to. One prominent autistic-rights group warns its members against getting a clinical diagnosis. Terms such as "autistic" and "Asperger syndrome" and "aspie" are much more than diagnostic labels or disability labels.

  6. I think he does but that he's extremely high functioning and has learned coping behaviors. Don't forget being social and having an intimate relationship are different. And charm and politeness can be mirrored. I say yes. I have it and sans the sex organs he's almost a mirror of me. *wink