Asperger’s Syndrome is a disorder characterized by poor social skills – however, some believe there are signs it will contribute to our evolution.
Before I explain why, I’d like to tell you a story. Years ago, I worked for a government office that dealt with sick leave and benefits payments. One of my jobs was to work out when a person could start receiving benefits.
A person would receive 28 weeks of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid by the employer, after which they could start getting benefits. The problem was it was a really tricky date to work out. 28 weeks included weekends and many of us got the start date for benefit wrong.
However, there was one guy in our office who, if you gave him the start date of SSP, could tell you in a nanosecond the exact date 28 weeks later. He never got it wrong. He was also amazing with birth and death dates of kings and queens, battle dates. Actually, come to think of it, any history date.
But, he wasn’t good socially. He didn’t ‘get’ jokes, he had no sense of humour and he struggled in social situations. Now I think about him I realise he probably had the signs of Asperger’s.
What Are the Signs of Asperger’s Syndrome?
So what exactly is Asperger’s Syndrome? Asperger’s is characterized by difficulties in social interactions and trouble in processing nonverbal language. A person with Asperger’s will have problems reading social cues and find comfort in repeating patterns or behaviours.
Lorna Wing, M.D., was an English psychiatrist who introduced the term ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’. She divided Asperger’s signs into three key areas:
- Speech: One-sided conversations, sometimes pedantic, focused on one particular subject of interest to the person with Asperger’s, monotonous intonation, repetitive speech.
- Nonverbal communication: Inability to understand facial expressions, a lack of facial expressions themselves, cannot comprehend other’s expressions or gestures.
- Social interaction: Does not understand unwritten rules of social behaviour, acts inappropriately, e.g. proximity to others, stares for too long, says the wrong things, wears the wrong clothes, responds in the wrong way. Has a lack of empathy for others. Inability to form friendships or relationships.
For example, my friend’s child gets extremely upset if he does not have his meals served in a particular purple bowl every day. He cannot eat his food if any of it is touching the other food in the bowl and he has to know in advance what he is eating.
But how can being poorly equipped to deal with social situations and insisting on a purple bowl for lunchtimes aid human evolution?
Why Asperger’s Could Be the Next Stage of Human Evolution
Well, it’s all to do with intelligence. As well as having certain impairments, people with Asperger’s show signs of skills in particular areas of intelligence.
For example, they tend to have extremely good memories, which allows them to learn by rote. Their habit of becoming interested in one or two subjects gives this amazing memory full capacity to absorb every minute detail. They become experts in one specialized field.
And this is where it gets interesting. In the past, you would call men like this one thing – geeks. However, nowadays, these so-called ‘geeks’ are responsible for some of the biggest tech companies, social media platforms, and communication industries on the planet.
And the great thing about these men geeks (and they usually are men) is that in today’s society, they get to meet incredibly bright and socially-capable women. These so-called geeks hook up with socially-adept women and produce intelligent but socially-aware offspring.
Just think about the kinds of people we are talking about.
Famous People Who Show Signs of Asperger’s Syndrome
Founding Father and third president of the United States, Jefferson was a shy man that mumbled and walked around with a mocking bird on his shoulder. However, he did write the Declaration of Independence in one go.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mozart wrote his first symphony at the age of five and went onto write over 600 pieces. Reports of the time state that he was woefully impaired when it came to social interaction. He also had trouble expressing his emotions to others.
Michelangelo’s incredible concentration makes him a candidate for Asperger’s syndrome. Not only was he obsessive over his work, but he was also completely unable to show emotion. His extraordinary memory allowed him to retain sketches for the Sistine Chapel.
“Michelangelo was aloof and a loner. Like the architect John Nash (1752-1835), who also had high-functioning autism, he had few friends.” Dr Arshad and Prof Fitzgerald
What sort of brain do you need to work out the theory of relativity? Einstein is considered to be one of the greatest scientists of all time, but he did show signs of Asperger’s.
He had trouble recognising social cues but was able to narrowly focus his attention to solve one of our greatest scientific mysteries.
Darwin’s fascination with insects, shells and categorizing indicates he had Asperger’s. The man responsible for changing the way we view evolution was prone to bouts of solitude and obsessed with nature.
Sir Isaac Newton
Newton may have developed the theory of gravity but by all accounts, he was a vindictive, unforgiving, calculating, quick-tempered and petty man. All signs of Asperger’s.
Woody Allen makes neurotic films and has admitted to sharing neurotic traits himself:
“I am a neurotic in a more benign way. I mean I have a lot of neurotic habits. I don’t like to go into elevators, I don’t go through tunnels, I like the drain in the shower to be in the corner and not in the middle.”
The famed film director Tim Burton was watching a documentary about autism and said to his long-term partner Helena Bonham-Carter that was how he felt as a child.
Chris Packham is a British naturalist who has a remarkable breadth of knowledge on the natural world and wildlife. Despite having Asperger’s, he has carved out a successful career on TV.
The founder of Facebook has been described as a ‘robot’, he wears the same ‘uniform’ of a grey t-shirt and jeans every day so he doesn’t have to worry about what to wear. However, his company is worth around $230 billion.
So why is it that someone with signs of Asperger’s is likely to do well?
What is it about this condition that makes a person so successful? There’s the intelligence side of it, of course, but also, some experts now believe it is the actual lack of social skills that is a contributing factor.
Think about it for a moment. You have an idea that you think will make millions, but in your normal everyday life, you feel constricted by societal rules and unspoken boundaries. You don’t want to speak out for fear of ridicule, or people thinking you are over-reaching or narcissistic.
But the person who has Asperger’s has none of these boundaries. They don’t follow society’s rules. They are not even aware of them. As a result, they just go right ahead, pitch their ideas and get on with the job.
Tech investor Peter Thiel believes we could all benefit from a little touch of Asperger’s.
“We need to ask what is it about our society where those of us who do not suffer from Asperger’s are at some massive disadvantage because we will be talked out of our interesting, original, creative ideas before they’re even fully formed.”
My final point is that these days, we are all spending more time on our smartphones, our computers, laptops, and in the artificial world. As such, our social interaction is gradually being reduced.
Therefore, being able to connect socially might not be such a big deal in the decades to come anyway. Perhaps it’s time for those with signs of Asperger’s to shine.
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