Is Aspergers really a "disorder" -- or just a different cognitive style?

Some researchers have argued that Aspergers can be viewed as a different cognitive style, not a disorder or a disability, and that it should be removed from the standard Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (much as homosexuality was removed).

Why? The debate seems to revolve around the concept of "central coherence."

“Central coherence” (CC) is receiving increased attention across a variety of clinical neuroscience disorders. Essentially, CC describes a style of thinking on a continuum. On one end of the continuum, you have people who tend to think globally or use a gestalt perspective (i.e., the big picture is seen rather than paying attention to details). The other end of continuum includes people who are detail-oriented (i.e., they focus on details). Being on either extreme of the continuum can produce problems. Very high CC can lead to problems with missing important details that need attention or action. Those with very low or weak CC can be detail-bound, losing sight of important global interpretations of the situation or environment.

Aspies appear to have low CC and are overly-focused on details to the expense of a global perspective. This could explain typical Aspergers behaviors (e.g., valuing sameness, attending to parts of objects, persistence in behaviors related to details, etc.). With the concept of central coherence in mind, having a propensity for details suggests a “cognitive style” located on – or near – one end of a continuum, not a “disorder” per say.

Aspies have advocated a shift in perception of Aspergers as a complex syndrome  (i.e., a characteristic combination of opinions, emotions, or behavior) rather than a disease that must be cured. Proponents of this view (a) reject the notion that there is an "ideal" brain configuration and that any deviation from the norm is pathological, and (b) promote tolerance for what they call neuro-diversity. These views are the basis for the autistic rights and autistic pride movements.

The Internet has allowed Aspies to communicate and celebrate diversity with each other in a way that was not previously possible (due to their rarity and geographic dispersal). A subculture of people with Aspergers has indeed formed. For example, Internet sites like have made it easier for Aspie teens to connect.

There is a contrast between the attitudes of grown-ups with self-identified Aspergers (who typically do not want to be "fixed" and are proud of their identity) and mothers/fathers of Aspergers kids, who typically seek assistance and a "cure" for their youngster.

Baron-Cohen wrote of those with Aspergers, "In the social world there is no great benefit to a precise eye for detail, but in the worlds of math, computing, cataloguing, music, linguistics, engineering, and science, such an eye for detail can lead to success rather than failure." Also, Baron-Cohen cited two reasons why it might still be useful to consider Aspergers a disability: (1) to ensure provision for legally required special support, and (2) to recognize emotional difficulties from reduced empathy.

It has been argued that the genes for Aspergers combination of abilities have operated throughout recent human evolution and have made remarkable contributions to human history. Here are just a few of the “abilities” associated with the Aspergers condition (i.e., a low central coherence cognitive style):
  1. Attention to detail – sometimes with painstaking perfection
  2. Higher IQ – some experts say that those with Aspergers often have a higher than average general IQ
  3. Focus and diligence – the Aspie’s ability to focus on tasks for a long period of time without needing supervision or incentive
  4. Higher fluid intelligence – scientists in Japan discovered that Aspergers kids have a higher “fluid intelligence” (i.e., the ability to (a) find meaning in confusion and solve new problems, and (b) draw inferences and understand the relationships of various concepts, independent of acquired knowledge) than non-autistic kids
  5. Honesty – the value of being able to say “the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes”
  6. Independent, unique thinking – people with Aspergers tend to spend a lot of time alone and will likely have developed their own unique thoughts as opposed to a ‘herd’ mentality
  7. Internal motivation – as opposed to being motivated by praise, money, bills or acceptance – which ensures a job done with conscience, with personal pride
  8. Logic over emotion – although people with Aspergers are very emotional at times, they spend so much time ‘computing’ in our minds that they get quite good at it –and they can be very logical in their approach to problem-solving
  9. Visual, three-dimensional thinking – some with Aspergers are very visual in their thought processes, which lends itself to countless useful and creative applications

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


•    Anonymous said... I am reading Tony Attwoods book and am waiting for the rest. It is very upsetting thinking about all the time I have lost and realising I must have this problem and no on noticed or did anything. I had the wrong type of counselling from someone who didn't know about AS. Isn't that really damaging ? SHe didn't get me at all. I felt I couldn't say what I wanted to. I felt inhibited and silly. I was worried about the reaction I would get. This is no good if you are having counselling. I read his book and see loads of parallels in my own past. The past which have tried to forget because it is painful and full of conflict. What I need is to compare real life scenarios with other people's experiences. That would really help. It would repair the past and improve my self-esteem. I would see myself in a new light. That's why I am hoping I can put stuff on here and you lot will say yes I did that I know what you mean, ~I am the same.
•    Anonymous said... We always explain it as my husband's brain is wired differently, or he runs a different Operating System - he's running on Linux while us neuro-typicals are running on Windows. It's not just thinking differently; there's more to it than that. But it does have to do with the brain.
•    Anonymous said... I suspect that there is more to all of the Asperger's/Autism/HFA connections than have currently been discovered by science. Generally speaking, I think Asperger's is being more frequently diagnosed because it is no longer culturally acceptable to be emotionally detached. When I read the descriptions of Asperger's symtoms, primarily the stoic expressions, lack of empathy, and perfectionism, I can list off about 50 people of older generations that I've known that would meet those requirements for diagnosis, but would have been considered completely normal until about 30 years ago. In addition, there is still a cultural stigma against any form of mental disability, a stigma that was worse in the past. I think it is entirely possible that we are seeing an increase in diagnosis because more people are seeking diagnosis, not necessarily because there is an increase in the condtion. As far as if HFA and Asperger's is a disbabilty or differenct cognitive style, I tend to think that in some ways it doesn't make a difference. Generally speaking, our society is based around certain rules of conduct and behavior, that have been established by the majority. It isn't good or bad, it just is. That doesn't mean that aspies can't participate, but we do have to understand that we are on the outside adapting to another culture. I tend to think of it as if I moved to a foreign country. I can't expect everyone to change their language and culture to match mine, I have to learn to mesh with theirs. I think it is important to accept both sides, that it is a different way of thinking, but it is also a SOCIAL diability that affects communication, and its the communication side of things that has to be worked on in order to mesh with society.
•    Anonymous said... From my experience (and just my opinion), it is a different cognitive style!

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