Woo! I'm high-functioning!

2006-04-11 08:25

So, a friend of mine recently put up some self-scoring Asperger’s tests, implemented based on some tests he foeund as PDF documents.

I have often been told that I seem a bit like an “Aspy”. Of course, it’s the new ADHD; it’s the thing you diagnose everyone with regardless of what their symptoms are, even if their symptoms are “congenital and likely inviolable banality”. (The DSM-V will probably call that a disorder just so no one feels left out.)

I recently read a science fiction book, Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon. It wasn’t until I was fairly far into it that I remembered that the main character was autistic. He seemed so very normal and clear-headed. Big red flag, that.

So I took these tests, and I was unsurprised, it turns out, to find out that I match many of the diagnostic criteria for “high-functioning autism”.

So, looking back, this makes a lot of my life make sense. As a small child, I was almost entirely unable to understand people. They were mysterious things which acted in unpredictable ways. In early gradeschool, the teachers tried to teach me to get along with other kids; unfortunately, the only tool they had for this was having me interact, and it never occurred to them to tell me what I was supposed to be learning. The problem, easily identified once you know about it, was my near-total inability to perceive the state of other people. I believe that people have state. They have emotions, just as I do. But I mostly don’t know about these emotions unless I’m told about them. I am given to understand that, for most people, the emotional states of others can be perceived, essentially subconsciously, from things like facial expressions or tone of voice. All I can do is rote learning and speculation.

What throws people off, of course, is that I’m good at this. At 33, I have a lot of practice in reading people and figuring out what they’re doing or thinking. I’m a fairly fast thinker, so in practice I have time to do the whole set of analysis. I can look at facial expressions, infer likely meanings, speculate on causes, and do so fast enough to act fairly similar to someone who actually perceives these things. What I can’t do is handle bad guesses; if something goes a little wrong, I’m off the rails and I have absolutely no idea what happened. I’ve lost friends over this by angering them somehow and never being able to find out what happened. Because I’m normally good at social skills, they are convinced that I know what I did wrong and I did it on purpose.

Attention is another aspect of this. Back when ADHD was the syndrome du jour for people to be diagnosed with, it was a popular diagnosis for people who might now be called Aspys, because of the hyperfocus. I’ve got hyperfocus. If someone calls me with a technical problem, by the time they’ve managed to go through a couple of sentences describing it, I’m all the way focused on that problem. I don’t take several minutes to “warm up”; I’m on the problem. I can focus clearly and precisely on a fairly narrowly defined problem for hours without noticeable stress.

I have good systemization; I see patterns easily. People have described my learning curve as consistently either perfectly flat or perfectly vertical. The things I can learn, I learn fast enough that it’s effectively instant. The things I can’t learn, I don’t even know what people are talking about. The words never resolve.

I have a lot of mild forms of traditional autistic traits. I love spinny flashy brightly-colored things. I can just sit and stare at strong, bright, colors. My nervous habits include a lot of the mild bouncing or rocking traits… Of course, none of these were ever assembled into a coherent theory until recently.

What’s interesting about this is how this fits into the whole “is this a disorder?” question. Is it? I don’t know. I can’t conceive of what it would be like to not be like this. I have no frame of reference for it. In practice, it means I can do some fairly difficult work very easily, but that things other people take for granted are difficult to impossible for me. I think I’m probably high-functioning enough that I don’t really object. The diagnosis is not merely useful, but sufficient. It’s enough for me to have some information about where my blindspots are. I already knew some of them. I have a little speech I give people who are angry with me for being rude, where I explain that I am doing social things by rote, and if they want me to fix the rudeness, they have to explain what it was and why it was rude, because without that information, I simply have no idea what they’re talking about.

What’s been interesting to me, apart from the retroactive explanation of many of the mysteries of my childhood, is the variety of unusual ways in which this appears to explain some of my quirks. I can’t play real-time strategy games unless they let you give orders while paused, because I can only pay attention to one thing at once. But, if you let me stop to think, I’m pretty good at a lot of strategy games…

Anyway, I’m not entirely sure how accurate this analysis is, but… It fits. The near-total lack of experiential empathy is sort of explicable. The qualifier there covers something I have a hard time explaining; given that I believe that other people have emotional states, yes, I care about them. The problem is that I can’t tell. It’s very easy to mistake this for not caring, but… Mostly it just means I find interpersonal interactions stressful.

Ah, well. I can dress myself. I’m high-functioning. Woo!

Peter Seebach



  1. You dress like that yourself? I'm not so sure I'd call that high functioning. :)

    — seebs_lawyer · 2006-04-11 15:22 · #

  2. Apart from tending to agree with the statement above... ;) This was a very confusing test for me. It was actually difficult to figure out the answers to many of the questions. In the end, I was in the Asperger's range 3 out of 4 times. However, having been officially diagnosed with a DSM-IV-approved affective mood disorder, I imaginge there are some issues around differential diagnoses here.

    One of the peculiar results was scoring well out of the female range for "empathy quotient." The odd part is that I'm very much a creature of emotions, while simultaneously being fairly highly systematized (51 - almost out of the Aspy range...). I guess some parts of this test only work on normally abnormal people? :) Truthfully, despite being empathic in the simplest sense of the word, I'm also emotionally handicapped by having gone through most of my young adult life untreated. I cry at movies, and over baby birds, but I have a really, really hard time with group conversations. I just can't seem to figure out when it's ok to talk... it's *very* frustrating.

    Not that I ever really wondered why we "click," but I always assumed the main part of it was being nearly as smart as you... :P

    — Heidi · 2006-04-12 17:11 · #

  3. "Ah, well. I can dress myself. I'm high-functioning. Woo!"

    You may be surprised at how true that is. The autistic children I work with had to spend years learning how to dress themselves, and even now some of them need hand-over-hand assistance for things like buttons and zippers.

    Autism is funny like that. One person gets it and they're super smart with some social quirks, while the next person may barely be able to tell you their name.

    Oh, and I scored a 28 on the Aspy test. Not too surprising. ;)

    — xMinionX · 2006-05-30 07:00 · #

  4. The vast majority of nomral males will fall in the SQ aspergers range which is interesting in a way.

    — sarkeizen · 2006-06-01 15:24 · #