Pic of the day: A brain fascinated by symbols we cannot understand, and compared to which the "normal" world is too trivial to endure? Or just a sick mind? It may depend on the eyes that see ...
I read about autism in the current issue of Illustrert Vitenskap, the Norwegian magazine of popular science. The article drew on a couple articles I have seen before, and then some. It was quite long and quite interesting (if you read Norwegian, at least).
It is generally accepted that autism is becoming more and more usual. It seems to be increasing exponentially, but this may not be entirely true. An important reason may lie in changed diagnostics. When I was a kid, an autist would still be classified as mentally retarded, since he (it is usually a boy) did not speak normally, if at all. It is anybody's guess how many of the idiots in our past were actually autists. Today this is usually discovered, since there is such a high awareness of the problem.
The recent surge may partly be attributed to Asperger's Syndrome, which is now diagnosed a lot and grouped with autism. This was most certainly not diagnosed before. These people were just considered weird, eccentric, not quite normal, original. And let me say this straight out: I am not convinced that this diagnosis is a progress. When reading the various articles and web sites casually, I come to the conclusion that I had Asperger's Syndrome myself when I was a child, and I bet a goodly number of my readers would recognize themselves as well. This is suspicious already. And is it really right to diagnose this condition as an illness or some such, when it may just as well be described simply as a difference?
I reacted particularly to one expression in this latest article (not that similar things haven't been written elsewhere). "The child is normally gifted or very intelligent, but has problems with normal social interactions". What is wrong here? The conjunction "but". I can think of a couple others more fitting, but let us rather transpose this and tell some other parents: "Your child is highly athletic, but does not play well with quadriplegics."
How do you go about interacting with kids who are either much bigger than you, or much dumber, or both of the above? It is certainly no easy matter, and you have to wonder whether it is even worth it. I had this problem myself when I was a kid. When I started school, I was the youngest in my class. I was also, by sheer coincidence, small for my age. Oh, and I liked to read books and newspapers, and was casting long looks at my dad's typewriter. The "normal" kids struggled with the alphabet, and their interests were mostly in running around with a ball, fighting, and bullying those who were smaller. If this had happened today, I had almost certainly been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome and offered some kind of treatment. But who were the actual sickos?
There is, as the article pointed out, a somewhat slippery slope between autists and common nerds, such as computer programmers. Nerds who marry nerds are way more likely to beget autists. This fully explains the over-representation of this problem in California. When you correct for the large number of nerds who have invaded Silicon Valley and its environs, you have basically accounted for the extra autists and semi-autists.
It's not as if people in California have used some special vaccine on their children. There was one study that implicated a vaccine. It was a study of 12 children. Meanwhile a study of 500 000 Danish children finds no connection at all. For what it's worth, not all countries use mercury in their vaccines, and the autists still pop up. (I agree that it sounds like a strange idea to put poison in a vaccine for babies, but whatever else it does, there is no proof that it makes children autistic.)
One fact that I did not know, was that in autistic children the brain cortex grew faster than in other children. This is the part of the brain normally associated with thinking. (On the other hand, the part associated with memory seems to be less developed.) I have in the past written about the consciousness loop, a trait that seems to be unique for humans, in which we become aware of our own awareness, and can redirect our output back into our own brain. Could it be that in extremely nerdy babies, this loop could start before the language is established, language which shapes and regulates our inner feedback normally? A runaway consciousness that develops without the guidance of our culture? An inner life using symbols we have no idea of, so vivid that the world of men seems too dull to capture the attention?
I don't really know, but the thought struck me because of the connection between autists and us nerds. Certainly this is to some degree true for me: I find my own company to be more interesting than most (but luckily not all) other people. And some of my thoughts are hard to express. When I try, my language grows stilted and strange, another Asperger's symptom from what I read. Some of my thoughts are not in words at all, but in music or in multidimensional models. For some reason however, I cannot easily think in images. I can sense them sometimes, but they never make it to the surface. Perhaps I too have an under-developed brain bridge? Well, they may find out if they cut me up when I am dead. Though I doubt they will be looking for such things, more's the pity. It would be nice to contribute to human knowledge with my death. But at least I'll try to do so with my life.
Hopefully in the future, those lacking in the brain department will be the ones diagnosed and treated. Those who live shall see. In advance, I propose the name "Apeberget Syndrome". (Norwegian in-joke here: Apeberget, the ape hill, is the nickname of a certain group of football supporters / hooligans here, infamous for their low standards of intellect or ethical behavior.)
Umm, icy cold? Yes!
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