Below is my self-diagnosis for Asperger Syndrome using the (outdated) fourth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV). For each diagnostic criterion I identify the source of my developmental problem, how I struggled with it, my particular solution, and the ensuing result. I have only minimally modified it since 2008 (when I was forced into early retirement due to Aspie burnout).
Aspergians, as some of us with Asperger Syndrome call ourselves, are often late-bloomers whose elaborate inner lives lead to slower social development. When left to our own devices we pursue special interests and behave like nerds. When social contact is forced on us in an attempt to keep us with our peer group, we learn that people are not fun to be with and we seek peace of mind by retreating into our inner worlds. Because we don’t master social games we are treated as simple-minded. We are described as lacking empathy but we cannot empathize with what we’ve never felt. We are taught there’s something wrong with us for thinking independently and not conforming to a conventional mold.
Criteria for Asperger Syndrome, and how they affect me
(I) Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:
(A) marked impairments in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body posture, and gestures to regulate social interaction
(B) failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
Problem: I didn’t develop typical peer relationships because I didn’t find them enjoyable.
Struggle: I analyzed social interactions trying to figure out why my peers found them relaxing while I didn’t. I sensed there was something wrong with me and tried to figure out what. I used my peers as sounding boards to analyze my feelings, or I’d study them like an anthropologist.
Solution: I learned to meet my needs for human connection through captive audiences from my job and from 12-step meetings, which provide me with a surrogate social life.
Result: I’m financially secure and have no close relationships to interfere with my devoting all my time and energy to reading and writing about autism.
(C) a lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interest or achievements with other people, (e.g.. by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest to other people)
Problem: My interests were too narrow and focused to attract my peers.
Struggle: I habitually derailed discussions with conversation-stoppers like commenting on the etymology of a word. I lacked the context shared by my peers and felt frustrated that my peculiar interests were disregarded.
Solution: In my profession I learned to rely on explicit direction from a boss, which I balance against my inner need to veer onto idiosyncratic tangents.
Result: My blog provides an outlet through which finally to communicate my deeply-felt interests.
(D) lack of social or emotional reciprocity
Problem: I didn’t think much about people’s feelings because they distracted me from the intellectual focus I treasure.
Struggle: My emotional indifference not only impeded direct communications but interfered with my understanding what was important or relevant socially, corporately, or scientifically.
Solution: I used intellectual over-achievement to compensate for contextual blunders.
Result: I have learned to live and work independently, which serves me well in my retirement.
(II) Restricted repetitive & stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following:
(A) encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus
Problem: I become oblivious to my surroundings so I can enjoy the intellectual focus that arises when my mind is calm.
Struggle: I’ve always maintained passionate interests, some of which have facilitated professional success. I was reading graduate-level math and physics textbooks in high school, and solving textbook exercises was my favorite pastime.
Solution: I’ve learned to maximize mental clarity by treating feelings as processes to observe rather than obstacles to overcome.
Result: I’ve spent my life developing singleness of purpose and mental clarity, which I’m now cultivating through my passionate interest in autism.
(B) apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals
Problem: Environmental variation interferes with the intellectual focus I seek.
Struggle: I adhere to routines whenever possible because they comfort and calm me. I eat the same foods every day in a ritualized manner. When changes in routine are necessary I prepare myself emotionally weeks in advance.
Solution: I use routines to ground me when my habitual introspection becomes unproductive.
Result: My routines provide me with the emotional stability necessary for pursuing my interests.
(C) stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g. hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements)
(D) persistent preoccupation with parts of objects
(III) The disturbance causes clinically significant impairments in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
Problem: I’m a late bloomer taking a winding path through life, succeeding through stubborn perseverance.
Struggle: Despite high intelligence, strong motivation, and family support, it took me 7.5 years to complete a four-year Bachelor’s degree and I was unable to complete my dissertation in either of two PhD programs. My engineering career has been hampered by organizational and communication difficulties. Although I’m self-disciplined and enjoy working independently I have an idiosyncratic sense of what’s important and tend to pursue marginally relevant tangents. My mind gravitates toward intricate technicalities and forgets broad perspectives. I have not developed close personal relationships outside my family-of-origin.
Solution: I completed two prestigious masters degrees (physics from Princeton University and electrical engineering from the University of Colorado) and enjoyed a productive engineering career.
Result: My latest outlet for proving my worth is my blog, which will elaborate upon skills I’ve mastered that most people lack.
(IV) There is no clinically significant general delay in language (e.g. single words used by age 2 years, communicative phrases used by age 3 years)
(V) There is no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or in the development of age-appropriate self help skills, adaptive behavior (other than in social interaction) and curiosity about the environment in childhood.
(VI) Criteria are not met for another specific Pervasive Developmental Disorder or Schizophrenia.
The above three criteria are met.