Tuesday, July 17, 2007


This is a post about Asberger's Disorder, which I define as nerdism. I don't have Asbergers myself but I have acquaintances who do and they're such nice people that I can't help taking an interest in their ailment.

This illness was diagnosed in the early 90s by a pediatrician named Asberger who worked with autistic children. Autistic people have problems interacting and communicating with other people. They make odd, repetitive sounds and fixate on objects. Extreme cases are lost in their own world. Asberger realized that nerd behavior was a mild form of autism and may be treatable by methods developed for autistics. The kid in the video above does a pretty good job of explaining it.

If the girl in the video above seems familiar it's probably because you've seen similar women in sci-fi and comics conventions. Hers is a physical type. I realized this years ago when I was at a sci-fi convention and found myself surrounded by nerds who all had similar physical characteristics. I remember thinking, "If nerdism is nothing but a lifestyle choice then why do so many nerds speak, talk and walk the same?" It dawned on me that nerdism must be a condition or a disease. I told all my friends about it and they thought I was crazy. None of us had ever heard of Asberger's Disorder.

Incidentally, I don't mean to imply that nerds are automatons with no individual characteristics, just that they share certain distinct behaviors.

Nerdism sometimes allows for intense focus, which is an advantage, so a lot of nerds don't want to give it up. For those who do there are treatments: anti-depressant and anti-psychotic drugs are sometimes useful.

This last video (above) has nothing to do with Asbergers. It's about Tourettes Syndrome. I stumbled on it while looking for Asberger media. Boy, Tourettes makes Asbergers seem like a walk in the park!


katzenjammer studios said...

Hey Eddie, that guy doesn't really have tourettes. Looks like he's made a bunch of other comedy videos. Interesting characterization of a person with tourettes tho!

AS is so interesting! My theory about nerds is that they couldn't socially fit into an established paradigm, so small groups create their own nerdy paradigm and conform to the group around them (huddling around cards or rocks or whatever).

MatDerRan said...

I lived with a kid who really has Asberger's Disease. He's a smart kid, a nerd but mostly because people after one conversation with him try to avoid him. Not picking up social cues means that long after you are finished discussing something he will follow to continue. It's not something most people can deal with on a daily basis. It also makes his short fuse go off easily.

It's really annoying moreso if you don't know that it's something he can't control and you have to have literally tell him to stop. It's interesting, at least I'm a fan of eccentric people.

Anonymous said...

There's another theory about nerds being just a certain type of temperament. It all goes along with the Jungian Typology.

Here's a test to find out your type (if you're interested):


The theory says that of all the sixteen Jungian types, four tend to be the "nerds" of society...the NTs "Intuitive Thinkers". They are the INTP, INTJ, ENTP, and ENTJ.

I'm an INFP. :)

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I meant to say, I'm an INFJ. Until a few years ago I tested as an INFP every year.

But I'm right on the edge on J/P preference. Like just a few points being J.

Anonymous said...

Just for the record; it's called the AsPerger syndrome.


Emmett said...

Speaking as an Asperger myself, I don't totally disagree with most of these words. In fact, if anything, I hope that most of you recognize the different worlds that most of these people live in. I have never been to a comic or sci-fi convention, so I don't know how accurate their portrayals are.

Mr. Fitzgerald, would you say that nerdness comes in different forms. I do not believe there is any one form of it. Woody Allen can be considered something of a nerd, but not the type most would identify. There are parts of myself I can consider nerd-like, just not the way most would portray it.

Kali Fontecchio said...

Interesting observations Eddie!

Great coincidence! I went out to eat yesterday, and saw a person with tourettes in the parking lot! He was walking along, and then a fit occured and he bent over cursing, trying to cover his head. He did it a couple of times before walking away from where I was at. It scared me so bad at first- I thought he was yelling at me! I think that's the only time I've seen someone in public with tourettes.

Alex Whitington & Rob Turner said...

It's crossed my mind that autism could just be extreme nerdiness.
But that's not a very nice thing to say so I didn't say it.

Anonymous said...

Eddie, I think you might have fudged a fact. Asperger worked with some kids with a similar disorder in which he called "autistic psychopathy" in the 1940s. He died in 1980. It was a psychologist named Lorna Wing who named the syndrome after him in 1981.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Katz: You think the Tourettes video was fake? If it was then this is the second time I've been fooled. Evidently the Stanislavsky interview I posted was fake. I guess anything you get off YouTube is suspect.

Nerd is a word that's thrown around pretty loosely these days. Some people think anyone who likes science or cartoons and is shy is a nerd. That seems silly to me.

According to the book I'm using, Asperger people speak loudly with little inflection, make poor eye contact, hold peculiar postures, have unusual habits, dress oddly, speak in monologues, can't pick up on social cues, and are blind to the needs and discomforts of others. These go way beyond simple shyness and interest in science.

If I had Aspergers, and if I wasn't doing brilliant work in some important field, I'd try the medication. Asperger people strike normal people as curiously cold and uncaring in spite of their desire to talk. You don't want to be perceived that way.

BTW, we've met and I definitely don't think your enthusiasm for cartoons makes you a candidate for Asperger.

Brian: I'm not a fan of Jung but I have to admit his theory of types is interesting. I'll take the test.

crsP said...

Alex Whitington said...

"But that's not a very nice thing to say so I didn't say it."

I too will refrain from posting my comment regarding pickles and ass burgers.

Anonymous said...

Tim Burton's girlfriend stated that she believes Burton has Asperger's and that it helps him to focus. His all-black clothing is symptomatic of some other affliction.

Anonymous said...

" His all-black clothing is symptomatic of some other affliction."

Emo-Poseur syndrome.

Kelly Toon said...

Eddie, why aren't you a fan of Jung?

I'm an INFP.

I also go to FURRY conventions. Wow, you want to see the nerdiest of the nerds . . .

Unknown said...

Hey Eddie,

that video is definitely fake... watch the last 10 seconds of the video. He says the drug he is taking is called 'placebo'. Sort of a weird punchline... could've been funny if he delivered the line well.

Also if you pay attention very closely you can tell he's 'thinking' about what he's going to say. He hesitates several times when he breaks into a 'fit'.

As far as the nerdiness or Aspergers thing goes, I'm not so sure most nerds are really afflicted by it. They're just shy or don't like sports and find other ways to fit in.

I remember a time when I was just like that. Very reclusive, unable to strike up conversations with people, and boy did I love cartoons... wait.. I still love cartoons.

However now I find myself more often the center of attention or at least trying to get attention.

I guess what I'm getting at is for every 1 person that actually have this syndrome there are 100 others that just need a kick in the ass.

J. J. Hunsecker said...

>>According to the book I'm using, Asperger people speak loudly with little inflection, make poor eye contact, hold peculiar postures, have unusual habits, dress oddly, speak in monologues, can't pick up on social cues, and are blind to the needs and discomforts of others. These go way beyond simple shyness and interest in science.<<

That sounds like Quentin Tarantino.

Jennifer said...

Wow - that video from the young boy about Asperger's was amazing. He did a really good job explaining his illness, and it was done tastefully. This is a really good video for mental health professionals to show patients and/or patients' caretakers.

This topic is fascinating - when I was recently diagnosed with gluten intolerance (celiac disease), I did some research on gluten-free diets. Not only are gluten-free diets used to treat celiac disease, but it's also used to treat Asperger's and other mild forms of autism. However, Asperger's and autistic patients must also not eat casein (milk proteins).

Anonymous said...

I'm really interested in this topic, because I think even I have some tendencies. Everyone has tendencies, but alot of people comment that I do repetitive obsessive compulsive things all the time and have strange habits and follow instructions and recipes too closely. I think that's pretty damn cool.

I'm an ISTJ, like Truman, Rockefeller, Polk (one of my favourite Presidents), and Warren Buffet. That test is so accurate
it's scary. What are you guys?

I doubt Asperger's Disorder is just something that you are have, like Tourettes. I think that everyone has a different percentage of aspergers tendencies. For example, I bet normal people have about 50% Aspergers personality traits and 50% social traits. A nerd would probably have 55% Aspergers. I'd probably be closer to 6% aspergers, and a person that's actually diagnosed with it is probably in the 75% or higher range. These numbers are just theoretical, of course.

This site has a great description of the different Jungian types. I need to read his book about archetypes, the more I find out about Jung's writings, the more I like.

Emmett said...

"Tim Burton's girlfriend stated that she believes Burton has Asperger's and that it helps him to focus. His all-black clothing is symptomatic of some other affliction."

I've read the same thing too. I've seen Tim Burton live in person, and he definatally has some mannerisms associated with aspergers. And judging by his work (of which I am a huge fan), his mind definatally works in a way that's unusual to most. As an artist, he has a great outlet to communicate.

It should be noted that Aspergers come in many different forms. They have different mannerisms and see the world in several different lights. In my opinion, what links all autistics together is communication struggles. And I say this with personal experience.

pappy d said...

If you're interested in Asperger's, I want to recommend a really great novel "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time". The teenaged hero's not diagnosed in the book, but he has all the symptoms.

Anonymous said...

Hey, guys, I found a great Aspergers quiz! Very thorough!

My results were:

"Your Aspie score: 112 of 200
Your neurotypical (non-autistic) score: 55 of 200
You are very likely an Aspie"

Shocking! Nut it seems I only got slightly over 50%. That sounds very minor.

Anyway, I think the lesson here is that Aspergers can occur in degrees and that everyone has a few tendencies.

Pseudonym said...

One thing that's under-appreciated is that autism is a continuum. Up at one end are the slightly geeky types (probably a lot of people here, truth be told), and at the other end is Rain Man. Asberger's is somewhere in the middle.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jorge: The Asperger test people want a lot of personal information before they'll let you take the test.

Jennifer: Gluton-free? What is gluton? It sounds like you stumbled on something useful for the Asperger people! Thanks for mentioning it!

Anon: I KNEW I was going to mis-spell that! Oh, well...

Roberto: Aaaargh! I don't know what to believe! I got that information from a YouTube video called "What is Autism __ Hans Asperger," and the same information appeared in another video clip. But...I've been burned by YouTube information before, so...

Anonymous said...

Eddie, after you click "go directly to test" the only required information is Year and month of birth and gender. You can skip the rest.

Lester Hunt said...

I've always thought that a nerd can be defined as someone who is much better at dealing with things than with people (where "things" includes, eg., mathematical objects). ... Interesting that we do not have a word for people with the opposite sort of imbalance, though it is surely at least as common and nearly as dysfunctional. We don't seem to regard it as abnormal!

Anonymous said...

I've always thought that a nerd can be defined as someone who is much better at dealing with things than with people..

Mechanics aren't usually great with people, generally speaking, but they usually aren't considered nerds.

The classic nerds that have been promoted in media are science and math wizards with little to no social skills.

People that have their emotions into something so deeply that they are addicted to it (like cartoons) are geeks, not nerds. They span the spectrum from social geniuses all the way to socially non-functional.

I'm a music and cartoon geek according to the way the word is used nowadays.

Shyness isn't the determining factor for either. You can be outgoing and be a nerd OR a geek.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Kelly: Why don't I like Jung? Aaaargh! That would take a long answer!

It probably seems odd that I'd have a visceral reaction to what seems like an old man's innocent speculation. Rousseau, Nietzche, Bakhunin (spelled right?),Marx, Jung, Salinger and others all seem so quaint and harmless now, but in their day they were powerful influencers of brick-throwers in the street. If Ghengis Kahn or Atilla had written books they too would probably seem quaint and harmless now too.

I don't know if Jung was a national socialist or not but he was a big believer in the Aryan supremacy theories of his day and believed that Christ came to establish a religion just for Aryans. These ideas meant a lot to him and I have a feeling that his race theories underlie a lot of what he said about the collective unconscious. His works were edited after the War to delete these references. Later the hippies used his ideas to discredit attempts to make psychology scientific.

I don't mean to rant. I don't know much about Jung and I do think his ideas about personality types are interesting. If he has good ideas I hope I can be unbiased enough to recognize them.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Lester: Interesting point! Maybe there will be a formal condition that describes the disfunctional opposite of nerdism.

Anonymous said...

Eddie, my best friend taught children with behaviour disorders for 7 years (recently she's started a family with her husband). She's had lots of kids with autism in her classes. Different degrees of autism.

She'd tell you (as she's told me) that autism can be a combination of a brain/central nervous system disorder, temperament, chemical imbalances, diet, environment, etc. There's no one formal name that covers the many layers of problems these children have.

Don't think that because I posted Jungian typology that I'm discounting everything else. I'm not. I don't buy into a lot of Jung's ideas either, but I've been studying his typology theory for 23 years and have found it to be very accurate in a lot of ways. I have my own theories about how it could be improved a little, but I won't bore you with that unless you'd like me to. :)

Anonymous said...

Being a nerd doesn't indicate you have autism. People always want to say, "you have something wrong with you" when sometimes it's just temperament, mannerisms (which are learned), environment, etc...things that may have nothing to do with any degree of autism at all.

Anonymous said...

But when you add chemical imbalances, bad diet, bad environment, TO autism, it's intensified.

Hope that makes sense to you.

Okay, I'm through. I think. :D I can talk about this for hours. Sorry about going on and on.

Sean Worsham said...

Ya wanna know a funny story Eddie? I asked about Aspergers Syndrome around the office full of geek types and I pronounced it as you spelled it "Ass Burger Syndrome." I got chortles of gawky laughs when I said that. Kind of ironic eh? :) They all then promptly corrected my pronounciation and I said, "You guys are such lucky ass burgers!" :)

Anonymous said...

Interesting quiz, Jorge! :)

Your Aspie score: 43 of 200
Your neurotypical (non-autistic) score: 172 of 200
You are very likely neurotypical

Lester Hunt said...

I just found an article by the Campbridge developmental psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, who makes much the same point I do above, except instead of saying it about nerds, he goes all the way and makes the point about autism. He says:

"It is not that the neurotypical brain or the autistic brain is more evolved than the other: each has evolved differently, one to empathize and master the social climate, the other to systemize successfully so as to master the physical niche."

You can find his article here.

Jim said...

hehe, ass burger.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Lester: Interesting article! I wonder if evolution really works that way?

Anonymous said...

Asperger's Syndrome (not "Asberger") was not diagnosed in the 1990s. It was originally studied in the 1940s by a pediatric psychiatrist named Hans Asperger. He didn't name it, but did describe it quite well in his studies.

The term "Asperger's Syndrome" was coined in 1981 by another psychiatrist, in honour of Asperger's work.

There's a lot more to Asperger's Syndrome than just "being a nerd" (though that can be part of it). Some Aspies (as they're known) have trouble with sequencing, such as following the plot of a movie, just as one of many examples of different "brain wiring". And many Aspies actually do grow up, manage to have social skills, marry, and lead productive lives. Some even go on to be the world's richest man.

I'm not an Aspie, although as a child I probably came pretty close to it. And while I was a nerd and still am a geek (note: not all geeks are nerds!), not all nerds are Aspies.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Anon: I got the info I posted from a YouTube video: "What is Autism? - Hans Asperger." The dad in the video said the Asperger book didn't appear in translation in America til the early 90s. (Sigh!)I guess you have to take net videos with a grain of salt. Thanks for the correction.

Anonymous said...

Eddie: gluten (not 'gluton') is the protein in wheat. A gluten-free diet eliminates wheat, barley, oats, and other cereals that have gluten in them.

I've lived with a roommate that had celiac disease and had to follow a gluten-free diet; she could only eat bread & pasta made from rice flour, for example. I never thought about all the foods made from wheat and cereal until I knew someone who couldn't eat them!

Zach Cole said...

I happen to have autism spectrum disorder, which is exactly why I'm obsessed with animation and spend afternoons watching cartoons frame by frame.
A lot of autistic kids become obsessed with anime or video games, but for me, it was Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Now I read books about animation history, and I collect old cartoons.
So, I'm an animation nerd.

Anonymous said...

I'm the guy (geologist) in the 2nd video. I spoke at a conference a few years ago and I said that for me Asperger's is "a nerd with side effects". Yes, some with Aspergers are nerds but their nerdyness is exaggerated to a clinical degree, thus they face great difficulties (side effects) and they require help. A "normal" nerd, sometimes, maybe an extremely mild case of Asperger's.

The comparison with the nerd stereotype is a double-edged sword, while it aids recognition it diminishes the profound negative impact that Aspergers can impose.

John Noone said...

Yes, this is way late but I just ran across a link to this post and feel compelled to tell you how totally brilliant it is. Great posts never die!

Anonymous said...

I have an 11 yr old child with Tourettes syndrome. I find it amusing that people want to act like they have TS. It amazes me that people think it would be funny to have involuntary muscle and vocal control. I guess its funny to twitch your head for so long that it aches, or to lick your lips until they bleed, How about this, is it funny to try to play a sport and get made fun of for wanting to be like evry other child in America

bangu said...

Anybody who makes fun of Tourettes is either ignorant or heartless or both. I have a son with a mild form of Tourettes. He also happen to be an amazing athlete. So...go figure. So much for preconceived notions. But is is difficult when we witness motor and vocal tics. We don't know the course that this will take. It could get worse like it could go away. In the meantime, compassion is appreciated, not being made fun of.

Anonymous said...

For a start it is Aspergers Syndrome, not Asbergers. It is not an ailment or illness like a cold or the flu. You don't get over it - ever. It was discovered by Hans Aspgerger in the 1940's, not the 1990's.

Both my husband and son have Aspergers Syndrome and they are beautiful talented people - my son is a classical pianist.

If you wish to write on a medical condition, do the people who have that condition the courtesy of researching it (even basically) first!