Monday, May 30, 2011

Thoughts on Aspergers.

Asperger's syndrome is one of the disorders on the autistic spectrum - a milder form of the condition that afflicted Raymond Babbitt, the character played by Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. Those diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome often have high, or very high, IQs.

Many programmers exhibit Aspergers-like behaviour. Aspergers syndrome can involve an intense and obsessive level of focus on things of interest - which is in my experience widespread in this industry. I would perhaps go as far as to say that it is possibly an advantage if you have ambitions to be a great programmer. It is I would think a lot easier for someone with Aspergers tendencies to find the motivation to spend the required number of hours reading highly technical literature. Literal interpretation is another common (but not universal) hallmark of Aspergers. For many years I simply thought this was a side-affect of working in a so binary world, now I wonder if it is simply that the controlled, binary, world of computers attracts people who would score highly on an Aspergers diagnosis.

I wonder also what the industry would look like if it were possible to "cure" Aspergers. I've seen several blogs claiming that in the post-agile software industry with it's focus on teamwork and cooperation there is only limited space for this type of programmer. However, I would disagree. I do not believe that it is impossible to be a sufferer of Aspergers and still have good social competence. My main example for this belief is myself. I am usually described as a individual with good social skills and an extrovert and communicative person. However, I recently took an online test with a battery of questions aimed at typical Aspergers behaviour. Although not a diagnosis the test gave an interesting result. An average person in a control group had a score of 16 whilst a majority of those with an Aspergers diagnosis scored 32 or more. My score was 34. Just as dyslectics can learn to read so can those with Asperger tendencies learn to interact in an increasingly social industry - it may require more effort that it does for other types of individuals but it is possible.

I think, ultimately, it depends upon who decides what is functional or what is normal? Hans Asperger, who first identified the condition, wrote that to be successful in science an amount of autism is essential. Is Aspergers simply a medical definition of being a nerd?

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