Taking Children Seriously

Asperger's Syndrome, Aspidistra Syndrome and Junk Diagnoses

Posted by David Deutsch
on the TCS list on Fri, 24 Oct 1997 03:34:38 +0000

A poster wrote:

This is written in a state of growing confusion – so I hope it's not too garbled!

I advise you not to tell any medical friends of yours about this confusion, nor to admit to having any tendency to garble, otherwise you yourself may be diagnosed as having Aspidistra Syndrome and dragged off to the loony bin.

A friend who works as a consultant paeditrician has suggested to us that our oldest child has Asperger's syndrome and she wants to start a process of referral to get him formally assessed and get some “help” particularly with “social skills.”

Without ever having heard of Asperger's syndrome, I was 90% certain at this point that it is complete rubbish, just from the way in which the situation has been presented.

Having read tons of literature over the last month

I looked it up on the web, and found a vast amount of pseudoscientific junk (i.e. prestigious papers in Psychology). The Syndrome is even more tacky than I was expecting – tackier, for instance, than Dyslexia or Attention Deficit Disorder – and that's saying something. What it amounts to is that if a child (aged 3+) ...

has a tendency to say “you“ or “he/she“ instead of “I”;

talks at length about a favourite subject or repeats a word or phrase over and over again;

have “few“ facial expressions apart from anger or misery;

has some clumsy and exaggerated gestures;

has “eccentricities”;

cares little for the rules governing social interaction;

sometimes watches spinning objects for long periods or time;

is intensely attached to some of his possessions;

is clumsy and uncoordinated, and poor at sports;

has a good memory (sic);

becomes intensely interested in one or two subjects (sometimes to the exclusion of other topics);

is a target of teasing and bullying at school...

(These last two are especially poignant, aren't they?)

... then he has Asperger's Syndrome. This means that most children have it; and if they are especially creative and self-confident, reject authority and take their own passions and rights seriously, then they are at increased risk of being pounced upon and punished for having the disorder.

The standard punishment (referred to as “treatment,” of course) is to force the child into

a regular, organized routine;

and for his teachers to concentrate more than usual on his

comprehension of abstract language

so as to make sure that he

grasps what they are trying to communicate.

(whether he wants to grasp it not).

Quoting the poster again:

and talked around it the descriptions of Asperger's do fit

Surprise, surprise.

However as John is home educated and free to make his own social contacts away from the bullying and age segregated ethos of school he is not short of friends at all.

Also some of the “indicators“ that my friend has picked up are things which I think may be due to John living in a less conventional family that she can easily conceive or approve of.

Quite so.

(Others I can see have some validity,

I can't see how the fact that he conforms to part of this catch-all pattern can have any significance whatever.

though I'm not sure they are so extreme or warrant major intervention with the way he is.)

See: even thinking about him through the vicious distorting lens of this Syndrome has made you contemplate major, destructive coercion of your child. This may even have harmed him already – and your relationship with him. I say, stop now, and forget you ever heard of it.

My friend is worried that his “differences“ will become more obvious as he gets older and make him less socially acceptable,


but again I am wary of any programme that just sets out to make him conventionally functional or artificially gets him to conform. I don't want his life to be unnecessarily hard because of “difference“ or because I have failed to get him help in an area, but I would rather he received information that helped him to decide for himself how to behave and interact on the basis of who he really is and I have this gut feeling that state “help“ wouldn't be about this.

I'd say, unless the “symptoms“ of this “syndrome“ are unpleasant to the child himself – and given what the “symptoms“ are, that seems unlikely – it would be morally wrong even to mention it to him.

The information I have so far suggests that once we get embroiled in any “official“ medical/diagnostic procedures we may find ourselves in an arena where we are not in control of how the information is used on John (because of legislation about local education authority jurisdiction over children with “special needs”) and that again makes me feel very wary.

That seems very wise. They are not noted for their non-coerciveness.

The other side of this is that my friend has suggested that in her opinion my two daughters are seriously missing out on parental attention because John is so dominant and needy. (She doesn't think our three year old son is missing out)

You may have independent reasons to trust this person's opinion on matters other than tacky Syndromes. I don't, so I can't comment.

Any non coercive suggestions about:

-proceeding or not with formal diagnosis for John


-helping John get information that will assist him with social interaction

If and only if he asks for assistance with social interaction, or appears to want to know how to avoid a particular difficulty with social interaction, give him the relevant advice (to the extent that he seems interested). Not otherwise.

without pressuring him to become someone else.

Asperger's Syndrome is no more than an excuse for doing exactly that.

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