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Why geek geniuses may lack social graces 483

chadmulligan gave us the head's-up to a recent story about research into why "geeks" lack social graces, and don't appear "normal". The answer may be due to mild autism for some geeks.
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Why geek geniuses may lack social graces

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  • by jabber ( 13196 ) on Monday September 13, 1999 @06:33AM (#1685131) Homepage
    CNN.com is running a related story [cnn.com] on social phobia, panic attacks and selective mutism.

    Their spin is unfocused, and suggests both a developing condition and/or a psychological trauma that causes the above behaviours.

    We should consider social factors as heavily as chemical and neurological ones, when contemplating geekness as a form of autism... It seems, to me at least, that being geek is a reaction to the environment, or a predisposition to a particular pattern of behavior. It is not something of which we should be 'cured' in either case.
  • It's kinda funny, that everyone is saying what one is and what one isn't. I pride myself on being just different. My mother is white, father is black. I am into computers, blading and hanging out with friends, drinking and doing 'fun' things and 'romantic' things with my fiance.

    So am I black or am I white? Am I geek, nerd or just another guy on the street. It's all subjective and is based on what people view as common. If you are a geek and see the intelligence and ingiuity in me, you might consider me a geek. If you see that I am not dull or 'stupid' you might think so too.. on the flip side, if you are 2x intelligent than I am, you may think of me as a fool (less chances of so if your ego isn't huge).

    I am not trying to prove a point, but make people think.

  • Must post comment until the paragraph spacing is just right!


  • On the other hand, if there had been articles like this around when I was in school, and teachers and councelers had deemed I didn't need to go to music and gym because of my nerdiness, I wouldn't have shed a tear :-)

    /. is like a steer's horns, a point here, a point there and a lot of bull in between.
  • I agree, it's not fair for "geeks" to be labeled as "not normal", when those happy little bouncy basically "useless" people are what "we" are supposed to be like.

    I mean "useless" in the sense that they go on to do basically nothing with their life(In my opinion, anyway), like be lawyers, journalists, managers, play professional sports.. sure some do something like teach english or whatnot, and I'm not really trying to bash them or anything, but, I mean, without "geeks" where would the rest of the world be? "Geeks" invent things, "geeks" can fix things, "geeks" have the best imaginations. Without "geeks" the world would be pretty boring. The world would probably be in the stone age, talking non stop to each other. Who knows. Oh well. I'm just frustrated with the world.
  • ... and that's the point. It's a perfectly natural aspect of human development allowing for maximum diversity among the same species (i.e. by killing of certain parts of the brain and allowing others to take their place you can have high heterogeneity from a common blueprint). If it wasn't for biological tricks like this we'd all still be in dank caves.
  • Seriously though, perhaps the definition of "normal" is what's messed up. My entire family is used to doing six impossible things before brunch - is this "normal"? Perhaps the reason why humans are a dominant species is that we adapt.

    Perhaps we have adapted to high input lives. Autism may be that adaptation. This may have started with the introduction of television, for all we know.

    And for the record, I can dance, I can sing (used to perform with my family in front of thousands), I can shmooze at parties, and I don't think the football jocks are "normal" - they're the deadweight in this society that we lug around as ancestral baggage.

    Brains are what we need for the next century, not luddite notions of what's "right".

    If the sociologists had their way, half the kids in school would be labelled as ADD.

    Oh, and I'm also in the PTA - have served many offices in that as well as political ones.

  • Nobody is claiming that *every* geek has mild autism, but the comment about startle reactions struck a nerve. If I'm startled, it takes me a *long* time to recover, and I'm sure that it's a large part of the reason why I pay such intense attention to my environment.

    As for the idea that many of us have shadow autism, why is this so objectionable? It's fairly well accepted that there's a high incidence of bipolar disorders in this field, yet you don't see people bemoaning that label. Is it simply a matter of "good press" for the latter, since it's associated with genius?

    As to the general idea of "shadow" manifestations of severe mental illnesses, that mirrors what we see in many genetic illnesses. One copy of the gene gives you some benefit, but two copies of the gene causes problems. I guess that's an argument against geek in-breeding. :-)
  • Maybe it's because I just finished reading Ubik by Philip K. Dick and Natural Law by Robert A. Wilson, but this article struck me as bing tailored for a "certain" audience. Which is leading me somewhere that we don't need to really go. The one thing that made it cool was the percieved intent and the Freud thing at the end.

    ANYway. I have a question. I have noticed that lots of people derive their "pride" and/or "confidence" from ego tripping which usually leads to bashing people that are not like them. Ism skisms I believe is the term.

    The question? Oh yeah right. Why do so many people have to feel like they are right?

    Is that a condition (yeah I know two questions, jail me!)?

    Maybe we can call it being human.
  • Geek has different connotations to different groups. To people in the computer field, it tends to mean somebody who is excellent with computers. To people in other walks of life, it tends to mean people with little or no social graces.

    So, yes, I am using it with two different meanings. I'm trying to use the meaning which was used in the article.

    As for why don't geeks have social graces, that becomes a circular definition (ie: Recursion (n) see recursion). While it is a valid reason, it doesn't explain it unless you already know it.

    In this case, the people are trying to explain why geek geniuses, as a rule, have so few social graces. They've found something which at least provides a correlation (however weak) as to the why.

    As other people have pointed out, there are a ton of other reasons why they could have so few social graces. From the other responses I've read, I'd have to take this report with a whole salt lick, instead of just one grain.

    But that doesn't necessarily invalidate the association. It's very possible that people with a mild form of autism are considered geeks. No, I don't think they should be cured, provided they are happy with who they are. If, however, they want those social graces, shouldn't we try and help them understand why they might not have it, and help them find a "cure"?

    Personally, I think it's an area worth further study.
  • Okay, I started to talk when I was real young (under 1), I had no social problems until I home schooled in 7th/8th grade, then after that I became a hermit, I am afraid to talk to people and stuff, I never leave my house, I'm just a hermit. I don't rock or anything though, I can keep up with beats of music (and my music is fast, go Metallica!). I don't seem to have any symptoms, but then I remember, sometimes if I get real mad or something, I will punch myself in the head, (then I will have to punch the other side of my head to make the pain "even", but that's another story), If I remember correctly, don't people with mental problems/autism, like to hit themselves when they are aggravated or whatever?

    Does this mean I have like a really really low autism, or am I just anti-social and need to just practice being social again?

    $mrp=~s/mrp/elite god/g;
  • There's even a simpler explanation for this than incompetance. Greed. Psychologists want to be able to diagnose everyone with some form of disorder. Charge them $200 an hour, plus the cut they get from recommending prozac to every patient, and they never have to have a sports car more than a year old. There's a book, published by the American psychologist's organization (I don't remember the name of either), in which every disorder is listed and numbered. They publish it every year. The reason every disorder must be enumerated is that without a number, the psychologist can't bill the insurance company for that disorder. Yet, they are the ones writing the list of disorders. Sound like a conflict of interest to anyone else?
  • I'd say that 99% of the biological disorders (OCD, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc) are not defined societally, but are actual illnesses of the brain. If there is something physically wrong with the brain, then that will manifest itself in behavior. It's as simple as that. I also think that a lot of illnesses that many people say are just "in your head" have a biological basis. I recently read an article (in the New Yorker, I believe) where a neuroscientist suggested that Attention-Deficit Disorder comes from the inability to perceive lengths of time reliably. Yes, there are many illnesses that are based in society (and are also defined by the society) but there are many more where there is actually something wrong with the way a person's brain is working.
  • It's interesting. The original article speaks of a book called Shadow Syndromes. It's more than likely that this book dealt with all sorts of shadow syndromes, and less than likely that konstant has read it.

    Yet, as a geek (as most of us here are), konstant took the stance that this analysis of his traits and their relationship to a disease was a personal attack. He was only able to see the word Autistic, and not the larger picture.

    My interpretation was not that geeks are abnormal because they are on the thin part of a bell curve. My interpretation was that autistic people are normal, because they are on the bell curve at all.

    But then, maybe I'm not a geek.

  • ...with the same brush.

    I am in my 20s with a computer engineering degree, and I got good marks at school. I have 4 computers on my desk at work (well 6 if you count my PDA and digital cell). I develop S/W for a living - I'll work plenty of 12-hour days durnig a crunch. I have 2 more computers at home. I work on a personal website project with some of my spare time. Classic geek/nerd?

    Well, I am married and have lots of friends. I play organized sports (hockey, baseball) 3 times a week. I rally my car in solo II racing on the weekends.

    What's the point? Just becuase people who exhibit these "mild autistic symptoms" and happen to be smart does not therefore mean that everyone who is a "nerd" or "geek" is un-coordinated, smells and wears a pocket protector.

    The question should be "why do x% of these people who have these characteristics also have above-average intelligence?" and not "why do geeks/nerds exhibit these characteristics". There is a big difference.

  • Thank you for a *reasonable* post. I think it's interesting that one article which *skimmed* a study is suddenly flamed so heavily. sheesh. I didn't read anywhere in that article that *all* people who work with computers are autistic, and I didn't read that we should drug it out of those who aren't (never mind that there really isn't a 'cure' for autism)

    Interestingly, both me and my son were at various points diagnosed with mild autism..his diagnosis has been changed, and my mother just stormed out of the doctor's office and wouldn't take me back (good for her!).

    The problem isn't in the diagnoses so much as in the reactions -- there are quite a few people with autism of various severities doing good things out there, and it *would* explain a lot about a few computer geeks I know (myself included) and if people would consider it as 'just another theory' [and I mean professionals as well as laypeople] rather than some sort of religious fact [by that I mean believing it even though it can't be proved..you can prove downs syndrome with genetic tests, you can't prove autism except by observing symptoms, which, as several people have pointed out, can also be caused by other conditions) and use that theory to design ways of migitating annoying symptoms (as designated by the person in question, not a random board of psychs or even their own psychs), without losing the good 'symptoms', then we'd go far with this.


  • by Anonymous Coward
    The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, perhaps the finest post-graduate school for mathematical and computer minds in the world, has a course that teaches its entering geniuses the most basic social skills -- often at a rudimentary level. MIT students wittily dub it "charm school."

    "Entering"? Nope. "Wittily"? Sure. "Finest"? Oh, if you insist.

    MIT kinda takes a sabbatical each January, and the students and faculty hold various activities to entertain each other over the month. People show movies, take intensive and concentrated language classes, hold game tournaments, and what have you; each department will sponsor dozens of events and students hold about twice as many on their own.

    One of the traditional events is Charm School, an utterly tongue-in-cheek collection of booths in one of the main lobbies. I think its description can be found somewhere on this page [mit.edu]. Two years ago, I think, Miss Manners was the guest of honor.

    I'd chalk this whole topic up to more of that vague, unsubstantiated, grasping-at-straws quality of the article that others have already pointed out. Let's move on.

  • Interesting. See anyone you know? ;)

    IMHO, it's very interesting to compare the "symptoms" of mild-autism, ADD (and ADHD), and the "hacker mentaility". Perhaps what makes geeks geeks is a different way our brains are wired.
  • There have been a series of views on the state of geeks today. I personally have become so confused at the differing stances on "Geeks" "Nerds" "Hackers" and "Crackers" that I just classify myself as a Geek because I have become so tired at explaining what a Hacker is.

    The point being, this study has actually begun to hit the surface of how geeks work. Most of these studies are funded because most of the individuals who in high school were austracised (sp) from any social clique are maturing into indispensable members of society. The "jocks" and "preps" are getting out of college and thrown into the fire. Most of them come out of the fire scorched and bleeding from not having to deal with abuse. However the pre-scorched pre-beaten Geeks and Nerds who drop out of high school, or leave high school having been through the fire learn to cope.

    And survive..

    Study high-school and you will find your answer to how "socially inept" individuals survive.

    Study us... and you will find that we've been studying you much longer.
  • >I am also tired of people not understanding the difference between someone who is just different and someone who is functionally impaired and needs help.

    This reminds me of a behavior that is the bane of code reviews: wasting everyone's time criticizing things because "I would have done it differently" instead of sticking to things that actually fail. I agree with you: the world would be better off if people could distinguish between matters of personal taste and matters of objectively measurable difference.
  • by Fastolfe ( 1470 ) on Monday September 13, 1999 @04:33AM (#1685160)
    Social graces are irrelevant. Politeness and the expression and the care for emotions leads to inefficiency.
  • that is seems people are taking offense at being labelled a geek, mild autism, and possibly ADD. Does is really make a difference to any of you that you're labelled these things? Personally, I think most of us should be proud of it. Hell, it could be worse; we could be starving artists (what I was almost doomed to be), paralegals or even lawyers (blood-suckers), or maybe just trashmen. Now, who cares that we're being labelled by the media or misunderstood by the so-called specialists on the human psyche? Hmmm, in Victorian England, having a sex drive was considered a psychological disorder, and even being left-handed in the middle ages was considered an original form of brain damage. So we're misunderstood and labelled. Chances are, most people that label geeks are jealous that thse geeks are able to understand things that are beyond the scope of the majority of the population. Laugh at it and see it for what it is. Utter nonsense.
  • In their original form they are both insults and neither implies any kind of social skills.

    Now it's the 90's and nerds and geeks (as well as other technically competent people who weren't ever called nerd or geek) are getting money and power. So, rather than say "I'm sorry for insulting you", contemporary society has chosen to redefine the terms so it looks like the insults never happened.
  • I disagree. This author uses the term geek and nerd as one in the same. I think a geek is a nerd that has social skills. I know that I am social, and yet at the same time like to find time to myself and a computer. I guess slashdot is an example of geeks. Those who post I would think are social in real life. What do you guys think?
  • Could it be that we dont enjoy the same type of 'social events' as others do?

    The fact that we talk to most of our friends via online forms of communication: IRC, ICQ, E-Mail, etc... instead of constantly calling them up and leaving annoying messages on awkward answering machines? True I do like the way voicemail works on my cell, but icq is still cheaper :P

    I like LAN Parties and hanging out with other technical people who I have something to talk to about. I personally don't drink or smoke, and I really dont enjoy many parties where I spend half the night defending the fact that I don't drink and the other half trying to figure out what they keep trying to place in my drink.

    I think it's really a matter of style, how many people who look back on the 4 or 5 years they spent either in high school or college drunk off their asses can say it was really worth it? I'd say if I had to venture a guess maybe half of them, the ones who got lucky and didn't get sued for sexual harassment or something else stupid while they were drunk or didn't get arrested.

    I'm at college now, and alot of people think I'm nuts because I enjoy an afternoon of chilling out listening to cds, watching movies, or playing video games while their 'out' doing shit. Then I walk outside and see the great fun event their all doing... sitting around being porch monkies in the sun. Not what I would consider fun, maybe I just dont understand the concept of baking my way into cancer on a saturday afternoon and consider myself cool for doing so.

    Take it as ya like, but I dont agree with a good 40% of the social norms out there of things to do.
  • I'm not sure it's autism. Maybe it's just because he's Bill Gates. I'd have trouble making eye-contact with people, too.

    Yah, it's sort of the convicted-murderer-trying-to-look-the-mother-of-on e-of-his-victims-in-the-eye effect, but in this case it's the evil-unstable-os-building-fiend-trying-to-look-a-p issed-off-user-in-the-eye effect.
  • society is irrelevant, emotions are irrelevant, you will be windowed, resistance is futile.
  • I like computers..definately computers. Oh yeah...


  • While I won't even try to pretend to have the faculties to diagnose your mental state, I feel safe recommending that you wear a helmet until you visit somebody who can :)

  • Here's how I see it.

    The field of psychology is fundamentally flawed in that all the bookworms and loners who write the psych dogma are themselves abnormal.

    They project, onto those whom they would like to emulate, the definition of 'normal'. Normalcy, per a sub-conscious desire to fit in, is wishfull thinking on part of the psycho-babbler. It is a fictional standard to which they (and so we as sheep) aspire to, based on the image they hold from childhood, of those they wish had been their friends - the social butterflies.

    We all know the 'bell curve' model of statistics. We can all make the mental leap of comprehension, and realize that normal, in this context, means 'average' statistically. It explains why the 'popular' kids are always so 'mean' to their peers. Pun intended.

    Also, lets consider for a moment that nothing is ever accomplished by the average. Mediocrity barely succeeds in sustaining itself - nevermind driving the world forward. Mediocrity did not put mankind on the moon. The average socialite was home eating bland meatloaf and oatmeal while the geeks and idiot-savants at NASA did the impossible. The mediocre stared in wide-eyed wonder as those they once pushed around, now stood a million miles above them. The different became the better, the Neil Armstrong, the Charles Atlas. They shook and rocked the mediocre status quo, and being average didn't feel so glamorous or popular anymore.

    The psychological label of 'average' serves to do only one thing. It bludgeons the outstanding into a cookie-cutter mold of sameness. It homogenizes the radical and exceptional, before they have a chance to give the psychology geek something better than 'average' to aspire towards.

    Much as Freud's own screwed up relationship with his parents gave us the Oedipal Complex and Penis Envy, so does the modern label of 'normal' force the better and the different into hiding.

    Let's let the psychologists talk. Let's let them broadcars their findings using the technology we developed. Let's let them feel above average, and then let's bitch-slap them down with their own research papers, just for being different and for standing out above the crowd. Let's medicate them for having such disturbing ideas. Obviously, they suffer from ADD, and they must be protected from their own instability. :)

    Long live Harrison Bergeron!
  • by FascDot Killed My Pr ( 24021 ) on Monday September 13, 1999 @04:36AM (#1685172)
    I've thought this for years so I wouldn't be surprised.

    On a similar note, many geeks (particularly moderately to very successful ones) probably have mild cases of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). I wouldn't be a bit surprised to find myself diagnosed with this (which is different than actually having it).

    It all boils down to "What's normal?" When my roommates and I argued about dishes in the sink and socks on the floor, was it because I was too anal or because they were too sloppy? When I correct people's grammar, it is because I feel they have been imprecise--but they don't feel that way. Who's right? As a character in Greg Egan's book "Distress" notes, the next big social battle will be over the two H's: Health and Humanity. Do people with "disorders" but who are otherwise fully functional have a right to stay that way? His example of autistics hits home right here, I suggest you all check it out (although the plot isn't directly concerned with this topic).
    Put Hemos through English 101!
    "An armed society is a polite society" -- Robert Heinlein
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Why can't people just understand that it's everyone else that is "not normal"? I for one am getting sick and tired of "geeks" being slammed for their "lack of social skills". I am both a "hardware geek" and a "programming geek" and I was happily married at the ripe old age of 21 and have 3 great kids. (I am 27 now) I belong to the PTA, serve in my church, and generally do all the things that other "normal" people do. I just happen to enjoy re-compiling my kernal while watching monday night football! When will the "geek" prejudice stop!?!
  • Early on, I displayed some symptoms. Like my father, I didn't speak until I was 3 yrs old (and even then, I developed my own language before I switched over to English -- e.g., my parents tell me part of the vocabulary was "ruck-row" for truck. Later, I tended to trip frequently over nothing (or, as my parents put it, over black scuff marks on the floor), that the number of bruises I had actually led to a brief abused-child investigation.
    Since then, I've adjusted pretty well. Still irritate my mother when I don't telephone her frequently (Q: nothing new to report, so what's the point in calling her? A: to make her happy. That'll be $2.35 long-distance charge, please).
    Christopher A. Bohn
  • My daughter was noticeably odd at 2 ys old, and was officially diagnosed as "high functioning autistic with hyperlexia" at 3. Clumsy, speech difficulties (reverses "I" and "you"), doesn't look at people's faces as much as normal, reading at 24 months, etc. She is definately wired differently than most of us.

    When she's older, she'll probably fit the Bill Gates-style nerd stereotype pretty well. She's a wonderful child but very odd, and it's hard for me to imagine where she'll fit in to society, except as a "tech geek".

    Thank hypothetical supernatural power that the hacker subculture exists and welcomes any odd duck that can do the work! This is something to be proud of.

    Disclaimer: most of us "tech geeks" are reasonably socially skilled (at least at work, as adults). My guess is that fewer than 10% of us gain our "tech mind powers" from any form of autism. But isn't it nice that autistics are welcome, too?
  • The "technical" term for mild autism is "Asperger's Syndrome".

    That's just one of a whole family of diseases. The larger category is PDD, or "Pervasive Developmental Delay" -- a category of which autism is only one extreme. My older son has this, and I'm probably one of the people who show the "shadow syndromes" which are a much, much milder example of it.

    There are many good sites on the WWW which discuss this, but unfortunately most of the good information is still in books. But you might start with autism resources [autism-resources.com].

  • why, so you or me can talk to/with them?

    Here's how I see this. Commercial chickens are quite uniform. White leghorns. They are all white, with red combs. Paint a red spot on a chicken. It'll be pecked to death soon enough.

    I see the same happening here. Can't talk to Joe? OK, let's marginalize him with an appropriate label (mild autism? geek? nerd?), find out what's wrong with him, try to fix him (ritalin, ostracize him, reeducate him). Can't leave well enough alone now, can we? what if he asks to be left alone, and we keep insisting on wanting to talk with him, and he gets violent? Now he's an anti-social, paranoid schizophrenic freak that now we feel safely justified in institutionalizing him, one way or the other.

    See how fast this snowballs, and how in some ways this trait of ours, it sort of creates its own problems that it tries to find solutions for?

    Yes, I am as guilty as anyone else (who isn't guilty of it? Maybe Mtr. Teresa), in my own way. All of us who laugh about PHBs, the "jocks", "suits", "stupid lusers", "rednecks", "nonecks", et al. It is the same in reverse. But we of the geekly/nerdish tend to not go much further than that, or at least because our culture isn't mainstream, so it isn't a problem for everyone else as long as it is out of sight/mind. The flip side (i.e., "outing" the geeks and nerds, trying to "fix" them) is going a bit further.

    Notice how there aren't too many studies finding out why ex-cheerleaders make the best telemarketing employees, and other BS research on stereotyped groups?

    Is it safe to draw analogies between this social atmosphere and the atmosphere that convinces those who would seek to "fix" homosexuals by beating the shit out of them, figure out why they're so "queer" [ref: studies of "homosexuals have morphological brain differences". I'll look up some references in Medline if you need them], etc.? Probably not, but I'll lay it out there., because it seems like the next step.

    I guess I have seen parts of the story of the "Lords of Chaos" that gets run on MSNBC too many times...

    Yes, I know that it takes all types to make the world go round. But when a large group of the population starts to forget that/refuse to accept it/{wish/want to make the world more like them}, and buys into the "us vs. them" mentality, especially the "it's their fault" part of it, then problems start to happen...

  • What I'm seeing in the replies to this post is the assertion that I'm improperly condemning a good book and a decent scientist. Apologies if that's the impression I gave.

    My concern isn't with Ratey, Johnson, Courchesne et. al., who I don't doubt are honest scientists only trying to discover the truth. The danger isn't with rational people like those, but with irrational people who will inevitably hold up their work as an illustration of what is "wrong" with geeks.

    Sure, maybe Gates has a mental problem. But don't go extrapolating from him to geeks in general. For one thing, he's in a far more exclusive segment of the population: megalomaniac billionaires, and is arguably more representative of that clique than of nerds.

    The very fact that this study was conducted but no such studies were conducted on jocks indicates to me there is a bias in operation.

  • by Marillion ( 33728 ) <ericbardes AT gmail DOT com> on Monday September 13, 1999 @06:53AM (#1685204)
    I can't let all these readers who are bashing this story go unchalanged. Every day, I watch a living example of high-functional autisim right in front of me.

    I have a four year old who is all but a poster child for this. At one year of age, he knew his alphabet; by three, he could write words and phrases in his choice of three or four fonts; now, he can spell phoneticly and a wide variety of interesting typograpohy (ie: substituting a cookie for the letter "o" - with the Nabisco logo faithfully reproduced with the painstaking detail described). Testers have rated his visual spacial skills off the chart. His motor skills are another story. He can button any button on his shirt as long as he can see it. He can't button the top shirt button because he can't see it. He still can't conduct a decent verbal conversation or catch a ball. Don't even talk to me about the washroom. *sigh* He uses phrase fragments clipped out of everyday life, TV, movies, commericals to express what he wants and doesn't always adjust the phrase to match the tense, gender or person.

    The only thing I'll challange is the issue of musically ability. Both by wife and I are musically inclined; each of us are from musical parents. My son can sing quite well. I think there is a whold branch of autism that has outstanding musical ability, but that is another posting. (I guess that's because "Normals" in journalism don't go into enough detail :) )

    On the humorous side I guess that what happens when geeks breed - I married a math major.

    Having a label attached to this "condition" has empowered us a parents to direct our public school system to address my son's education. It also helps everyone who evaluates him know what to expect. I dislike labels, catagories, and pigeon-holing as much as anybody; but, as long as I can use a label to benefit him, I'm willing to live with it. A label gives educators a reference to see everything that is good in him and strategies to deal with his compulsive need to finish the twenty-seventh drawing of the "Bill Nye the Science Guy" logo (Using the correct fonts and shaded letters, of course). The last thing I want is to see his special abilities homoginized by educators who don't understand it.

    As an interesting side note, most of the literature we've read indicates that this affects boys far more than girls. This is probably a leading reason why our profession is so male dominated.
  • What you are describing is classic social phobia. It sounds just like my life a few years ago-- before I got help. Read up [yahoo.com] about it on the WWW and get books on the subject. You should also seek professional help -- you might benefit from medication and/or therapy (I needed both).

    Good luck and feel free to email me...
  • Geeks don't all use computers...
  • I saw on the special that Ted Copple hosted a few weeks ago how many parents want to use cloning to improve there future offspring's intelegence and health and eliminate such abnormalities. If my parents had done that who would program their vcr?
  • I apologize. I should have paid more attention to your disclaimer. A moment's worth of frustration is not a mind full of hate--it's natural.

    And you're right on the labeling. Of course, it doesn't help that we geeks keep using the label on ourselves. Ever notice that "geek" is a word that sounds fine until someone who isn't one uses it?

  • by laborit ( 90558 ) on Monday September 13, 1999 @08:46AM (#1685257) Homepage
    Let's calm down here... I see a lot of people who seem to think that the only reason for this kind of research is to either diminish the severity of people with severely disabling mental disorders, or to come up with an excuse to medicate anyone who's different into a quivering, conformist pulp. But the basic issue isn't who to give what label, but the origins and mechanisms of both ordinary and abnormal behavior.

    One of the great discoveries of modern psychology is that "healthy" and "pathological" behavior can fit on the same continuum. Someone who's afraid of dogs isn't necessarily diseased in a deep and pervasive fashion; zhe's showing an unsually maladaptive manifestation of normal learning principles. Similarly, we now recognize that schizophrenia (one of the most alien and easily "other-able" conditions) can show up in mild forms like schizotypal personality disorder, and even very faintly in people who are totally normal.

    Autism is a very severe developmental disorder, differentiating sufferers from normals from a very early age and continuing throughout life. If it turns out that autistic behavior also occurs on a continuum, that would be a real bombshell: it would provide a new way of categorizing and studying "antisocial" behavior, and it would suggest new methods for socializing and teaching even the most autistic children.

    The amazing abilities of rare autistic savants are well-known. If these turn out to share mechanisms with extraordinary abilities in significantly less disabled individuals, that could teach us a lot about helping both types of people to cultivate them, and about how thought works in general.

    Yeah, maybe the angle of "explaining" geekiness is being overplayed - but there is solid, useful science here, even if the media ignore it.

    - laborit
  • by clawson ( 5082 ) on Monday September 13, 1999 @07:02AM (#1685258)
    But why say them if you totally do not mean them?

    If you ask a question, "can you do this for me?", and the person says, "No", and then you blow up on him, how civil and polite is THAT? Look at how much is countered against civility in the guise of "being assertive", "don't take NO for an answer", etc., as in, be as close to rude and obnoxious as you dare... Can't have it both ways, although everyone seems to try...

    If you ask a question and aren't willing to hear all the answers, then rephrase your question to the request that it really is. If the sign says, "only regular or plain hamburgers on $.29 hamburger day", and you try to order a hamburger without pickles, don't blow up on the dude working the register because you didn't look at the sign or believe that it applied to YOU. You are not the emperor of rome.

    Trying to deal with social hypochrises, inconsistencies, nuances, etc., is what drives people crazy.
  • I wish they wouldn't have made it sound like the class is on the same level as the computer science and math classes, but I suppose a little research is too much to ask of the press these days. The manners class is taught during "Independent Activities Period" which is essentially the winter break at MIT. You can do whatever you want during this break and if you happen to be on campus there are a lot of classes you can take for fun. Some classes you can even take for credit during this period, but the manners class is not one of them. Anybody who is motivated to teach a class may do so and they often do with subjects that range from beer brewing to sushi making. Anyway, the manners class is in the same league as these other for-fun classes (although it is easily one of the more popular classes).
  • I'd say that 99% of the biological disorders (OCD, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc) ... are actual illnesses of the brain.

    Yes, absolutely. But normalcy is also a disease of the brain, if society were to choose to call it that.

    Your personality is determined by the physical condition of your brain. So personality disorders are, too. No news there.

    (Of course, experience -- going to school, learning to dance, taking Prozac, being hit in the head with a two-by-four -- changes the condition of your brain. I was not born knowing Perl. If I had been, my parents would surely have tried to cure me.)

    But society is what gives names to certain conditions. Society determines which conditions are "normal", which are "optionally treatable" and which "must be treated".

    To pick a particularly controversial example: until the 1970s homosexuality was defined by psychologists as a disease, to be treated at all costs (electric shocks, aversion therapy, brainwashing). Today, homosexuality is considered by many to be a common variation of human personality. (Of course, there are others who still prescribe brainwashing.)

    Most people would agree that extreme bipolar disorder is an illness which should be cured. Unfortunately, some of my friends have mild-to-average bipolar disorder, and they aren't sure if they should be cured or not, or at what cost.

  • by Myrmidon ( 649 ) on Monday September 13, 1999 @06:22AM (#1685267)

    I didn't see any mention of "curing" anyone's "disease" in the article. They're making the same point you are: personalities have ranges. "Mentally ill" is an artificial concept: a fuzzy line drawn, in this case, between people with extreme autism and people with very extreme autism.

    This is banal stuff. Unless you're a psychologist, employed to sort personality types into neat and artificial categories, it's obvious. Oliver Sacks, in The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat [amazon.com], talks about meeting his first Tourette's syndrome patient. He walked out onto the street after the interview and was startled: Tourette's syndrome was everywhere! Half the people he passed seemed to have one involuntary tic or another. Obviously, half the world is not sick. Rather, Tourette's syndrome is human nature. Only more so.

    If "mentally ill" is a fuzzy concept, "mildly autistic" is completely blurry. Bill Gates shares a few characteristics with autistic people, but so does everyone. Perhaps the concept of "mild mental illness" is like the concept of "race": it has a social meaning but no scientific one, because the small differences which are meant to "define" it are lost in the noise of normal human variation.

  • by eriko ( 35554 ) on Monday September 13, 1999 @04:39AM (#1685282) Homepage

    Social graces are irrelevant. Politeness and the expression and the care for emotions leads to inefficiency

    Fie! Social graces are the packet headers of everyday life. You don't just walk up to people and shout information. "Excuse me" is the english version of the TCP/IP SYN flag. "Hello my name is..." badges are merely the world-at-large's version of a source field. The social graces let strangers communicate without conflict-and when they are ignored or misinterpreted... off to the bit-bucket (or is that gib-bucket?)
  • I think the format of this questions speaks more about the structure of the human brain than the question itself. It is the product of a binary mind.

    It seems to me that the brain has an easier time classifying data when it can contrast a concept with its opposite. Makes since biologically, if you think about how neurons use electrochemical gradients to define specific open/closed (on/off, true/false, 0/1) states. Sure, we are capable of more complex analysis, but I think that is the result of weighted aggregates of tiny decisions made on a cellular level and that these fundamental decisions are boolean in nature. This is why you find it so much easier to classify an idea by separating it from what it is not, and why you may feel compelled to do so.

    Think about how you learn to use a boolean value in a database. When I first had to visualize true/false, I saw them on opposite sides of a divider. Now when I had to incorporate NULL values into the picture, I did not visualize the three states as equal. True and false were still on opposite sides of a divider, but then I created a larger divider and positioned the true/false aggregate on the opposite of the divider from the NULL concept.

    I'm largely talking out of my ass while reflecting on my neuroscience education as an undergrad, but it is interesting, isn't it? It could just be the result of a Western upbringing, what with all the heaven/hell, creation/evolution, nature/nurture, oppositional kind of philosophy. Taoism seems to allow for more variability.

    Tying back into the topic, does this mean the autistic have deeper, more streamlined boolean thought patterns and the less autistic have more breadth of though but less depth (not that these concepts are neccessarily opposites)? It would mean that the former could store deeper links but would take longer traversing the tree to get there.

    OK, that's it for me.

    --darkness is not the opposite of light, but the abscence of it.
  • It's not so much lacking a sense of rhythm, or being unmusical- for autistic people it's kind of 'all or nothing'. There's a similar situation with Parkinsonians- their rhythm and flow of movement can be totally, totally screwed up, but put on music and they can dance as if there was nothing unusual about them at all- sometimes. And that's the trick- the 'sometimes'.
    I've played music at times when I was 'on', and I've also tried to play music when my 'rhythm' was just not there. It can be pretty frustrating to have a thing like that not be under your control. There has to be a flow somewhere to latch onto, or you're toast- you can play _with_ anything no matter how tough, the stronger the groove the better you can contribute to it, but you get screwed up by bad grooves or unsteadiness. I've done some OK work with sequencers- it's possible to make sequencers 'drive' the beat but still preserve the artificial perfection of it, and that can produce some very strong performances.
    Quick precis: Autistic people can _too_ keep time and perform music. The question is, to what extent is this a facade? What is the 'soul' of autistic music? A lot of my stuff suffers from this paradox- the more commercial it is, the more likely it is that some element of posturing was involved. When I just make music for me, it tends to be very very abstract- I'm capable of listening for hours to the shortwave 3-meter band (there's a satellite broadcasting there, sounds like bionic white-noise). I've made music with a chaotic-equations program (MidiChaos, a little Mac hack from the 68K days) that I enjoy, but which is so abstract that most people would hurl :) I guess it's just a matter of taste, and how much you're willing to sell out... because apart from an ability to play blues guitar and write the occasional pop song, 'my music' is really damn inaccessible to most normal people o_O *g*
  • by Katydid ( 80531 ) <<Hegemon22> <at> <yahoo.com>> on Monday September 13, 1999 @07:11AM (#1685289)
    First, thank you very much for mentioning that book! I read it a while ago and couldn't remember the title/author recently when I tried to recommend it. Very good book.

    I thought until about a year ago that I was mildly OCD and borderline ADHD as well; I can focus on something more intensely than anyone I know, I'm an extreme perfectionist, I'm sensitive to things being out of place, I sort my M&Ms and Skittles, etc. Then I found out what the real cause was: I have ADHD, and rather severely as well; some symptoms can be similar to OCD. Despite the fact that I am female, I tested off the charts for hyperactivity for my age. This late diagnosis came because of a misunderstanding of ADHD.

    ADHD is very badly named. It is not a disorder. I do many things much better because of my ADHD, and I'm very happy I have it. It also is not necessarily "Attention Deficit" - it's more the inability to regulate attention properly. I can read a book or work on a webpage for hours without noticing the time or taking a break. But I can't sit through five minutes of a boring class without tuning out or fidgeting. Someone in another thread mentioned that he fidgets a lot; this can be a sign of adult ADHD. However, some people with ADHD, particularly girls, aren't hyper at all; they can even seem lethargic and spacey.

    Why does it matter? Well, I was diagnosed halfway through my senior year of HS. I'd been taking honors (IB) courses as well as college classes but with a 2.4 GPA. My final semester of HS, my GPA was over 3.0 for the first time ever. Medication was part of the solution, but knowing how to take advantage of my "disorder" was just as important. If I hadn't been diagnosed, I am sure I would've been fired from my summer job. Instead, they've asked me to keep working for them during college. Some of you have good jobs, good lives, few problems. For those who don't, this may be one of the reasons.

    If you want a good summary of ADHD, try http://www.add.org/content/interview/peter.htm or the parent site, http://www.add.org/ - all kinds of good stuff. I also recommend the book "Driven to Distraction" by Dr. Edward Hallowell; some of the information is slightly outdated, but it has more information on, and sample cases of, adult ADHD than any other I've found.

    Sorry about the too much information post; my late diagnosis and the problems it caused make me want to inform people who have been misinformed, like I was.


  • >>The obvious question is: why characterize the jock extreme as genial and average, but depict the geek extreme as the early onset of a disease!?extreme? I graduated salutorian of my high-school class - right behind the most beautiful, and socially graceful girl that has ever lived. I wrestle and was good enough to make it to the state tournament. I was the captain of the cross country team, and at a 185lb was the biggest runner in the league. (I didn't play football because my mother wouldn't let me play a sport where the ambulance showed up before the game started. Besides the coaches were nasty and foul mouthed).

    I can be completely graceful, when I wanna. But I usually don't wanna, unless I think there is a posibility of sex being involved. Which there usually isn't, so fsst. I prefer to spend my time digging into the latest technology. I spend a lot of conversational time explaining to the underinformed what the hell I'm talking about.

    So, am I a geek, or am I a jock?

    Wait a minute now, I used to stumble over my feet a lot. My Dad always said that I would fall over the marks on a basketball court, but I could run down a dried-up riverbed with no problem (maybe that explains the cross country thing). I used to walk to supper with a sci-fi book in my face. My wife is an aerobics instructor, and I'm one of her best students. I program computers for a living. I like to fix things, and discover how they work. I like to throw large parties with lots of friends that work out regularly.

    So am I a geek or a jock? Why does there have to be a distinction?

    My comments are all of those here claiming that they get beat-up because they're smart geeks that dress funny. My contention is that a smart animal is the one that bends itself and its environment to suit its own needs. If your getting your ass kicked for wearing a black trenchcoat, then it is fairly stupid to keep wearing the black trenchcoat without responding to the violence (by HERF gunning the assailant's car, for example). If you're not smart enough to remove the threat of violence, then you're not very smart.

    You people who want to believe that being smart or good a computers, please do so, but quit whining here. Some of the most beautiful people I have ever known have been the smartest (and I participated in 'gifted' classes in school, so I associated with all the smartest in the school). If there is a correlation between intelligence and social grace, I would postulate that it is the opposite of what people on this site claim. Beauty and intelligence usually walk hand in hand.

  • In a recent article in the New Yorker that profiled the players in the MS/DOJ case (sorry, it's not online -- you have to actually read a magazine), it was mentioned that Bill Gates' apparent inability to mesh socially was often rumored to be due to mild autism. Mentioned are his singlemindedness and his habit of rocking or other types of repetitive physical behavior often noted by people who interview him.

    The article said that this was kind of a "dirty rumor" circulated about him -- akin to whispering about a disease or addiction.

    I'm guessing that "mild autism" is probably a poor way to label whatever phenomenon this is, since it seems to imply all the usual things associated with severe autism, like total withdrawal, idiot savant behavior (think Rain Man), destructive repetitive physical movement and so on.

  • by konstant ( 63560 ) on Monday September 13, 1999 @04:42AM (#1685303)
    Like most people, I know many very bright but awkward geeks, and equally many dull but charismatic socialites. There is also a vast spectrum of personalities between these poles.

    The obvious question is: why characterize the jock extreme as genial and average, but depict the geek extreme as the early onset of a disease!?

    Only social preference can explain it and until I hear that jocks are probably mildly afflicted by downs syndrome I'll be happy with that explanation. Naturally society prefers to deal with technical talent as an illness requiring a cure - socialites are so much easier to have around!

    Let's face it. Intelligence has at least two components, the social and the logical. Mixtures of these produce everyone from the poet to the garbageman. And as with any bell curve, you will have some people at either extreme. This is not abnormal; it is inevitable. Norming out society (and, no doubt, prescribing drugs to quell the fears of jock mothers that their children may turn out "odd ducks" in the words of the article) is only going to change the definition of what is an extreme jock or geek. The social dynamics will still be present and they will still have an equally difficult time getting along.

    Let's just allow people to be who they are, ok?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 13, 1999 @07:15AM (#1685304)
    So I now have a name for my "disorder". Cool. I hope that means I can demand "Reasonable Accommodation" under the Americans with Disabilities act so my rah-rah football hero boss and his ex-cheerleader sidekick know to include me out of the pep rallies and compulsory motivational-seminar-of-the-month sessions and fad-of-the-week management books.
  • by Chris Johnson ( 580 ) on Monday September 13, 1999 @06:26AM (#1685312) Homepage Journal
    I don't mind saying I'm 'legally autistic'- as in 'on disability w. Asperger's Syndrome'. I understand even making such an admission exposes me to frantic hateful attacks from Randites going 'there's nothing the matter with you! just try harder you lazy bastard!', but I thought it was a useful context to say some things I thought needed saying.
    Asperger's is incurable. It's like trying to cure being six foot tall, or trying to cure bipedal locomotion. What Asperger's really is about to me (and I make use of some resources I have to learn more about this) is "what rules do I need to live by in order to survive?". Neglecting this or trying to deny it with stubborn willpower damn near killed me- at one point I got sent to an emergency room with internal bleeding from ulcers (typically, I sort of ignored the pain of it, having decided that 'willpower' and my goals were more important).
    One of my needs is for the flow of my attention to flow naturally. I cannot handle derailment- even if I force myself to permit it, I take an absurd amount of damage from it in stress, and get driven farther into autistic defenses. For instance, I've managed to work out ways to do computer repair work and maintain it without burning out or flaking out. One of these ways is this: my boss is totally aware of who I am and where I'm coming from, and from day one I have arranged that I do not answer the telephone. (heh- I'm picturing a lot of heads nodding out there in slashdotland ;) ) Seems awfully trivial- but when the dislocation of changing your train of thought and answering the phone really _hurts_ and undercuts the little oasis of stability you've built for yourself, sometimes you have to ask for what you need. I did. I also show up whenever I like and stay as late as I want, because I cannot control when I'm going to be able to sleep, so I can't keep regular hours either- that's another one I learned through rough experience. (reminds me of childhood and routinely getting 2 hours sleep before school because my head wouldn't quit processing). Again, I got this through being honest and also willing to _stay_ late if needed- I go into work with the understanding that it has permission to switch my 'track' over to computer repair for however many hours it takes. My boss considers it his job to tell me and the other (equally obsessive) computer tech to go _home_ when we're threatening to spend 12 hours on the same intractable problem!
    It's bad to behave like some types of geekiness are diseases to be stamped out- but it's worse to behave like these differences, these different needs, don't exist. I don't know how many other autistic geeks (include 'Asperger.h') are out there- I've seen a couple touching posts from people who felt really crappy about themselves- and it's not OK for me to shut up about it anymore. I WILL be heard from- as much as I can communicate, and not a bit more ;) because autism/asperger's may not be a 'disease' in the sense of 'fix meeee!' but by GOD it's different, and ignoring that kills people slowly.
    Those of us who are autistic geeks generally cannot go on grand crusades to define and protect our image, establish our identity as a worthy thing, prove our value. We typically have a hell of a job keeping our own boats steady and no attention to spare for PR. Even when a Slashdot article shines a beam of light on us, the comments are mostly people arguing ABOUT us, arguing we don't exist or don't count OR arguing that we are totally normal, really, and must be treated as regular guys!
    Well- we're out there, we are the worst stereotypes and the fondest rationalizations all rolled into one, and we certainly are not going away. (That would be change- ew! Find another line of work? yuck!) So people had better get used to the idea. It's not new- ever read 'The Hacker FAQ'? It's practically a tutorial on 'how to give an autistic person a work environment that is nurturing and let them perform optimally'. The fact is, for many of us this is NECESSARY. We aren't as adaptable as your regular Joe- to really be kick-ass productive members of society we _need_ our quirks to be respected and understood, otherwise it's like having a track star run a race with both hands tied together behind his back. ("You run with your legs, right? Shouldn't matter."). To explore that simile a bit, in running arms are used for _balance_ and if you did that to a track star they'd be totally uncomfortable and slowed down, running very unnaturally. It's the same thing for autistic people working and being expected to maintain regular-folks social interactions- the balance is off, it's exhausting and unproductive, and as inappropriate as tying a track star's hands behind his back.
    We don't need cures, we don't need help faking normal societal attitudes- we need the proper context. It's not so much to ask. There are pluses and minuses to this- the most important point is, this is not an option. Treat us like Joe Sixpack, and you lose, we lose, everybody loses out on the potential harmony that is there for the taking, for anyone willing to make a bit of an effort to accept what they don't understand.
  • Yes, these terms are pejorative, but so is "social junkie" (It's inevitably the perogative of the numerous to set the ideas of what's "normal", but you're running the same "label as bad whatever's different" routine that you're justly complaining about). But I think you're overlooking the fact that this sort of research will help to reduce any such stigma (not reinforce it). Much of the negative baggage of terms like "mild autism", "geek", et al have to do with lack of social reciprocity that makes others uncomfortable ("I was being friendly - why did he/she blow me off?"). Understanding that
    1) there's a source for it that's not just "weirdness",
    2) that the "condition" plays a strong part in the enormous contributions to the world of computing (and technology in general - I bet Edison would've met these criteria), and
    3) there's a learnable skill set that can reduce the discomfort of social interactions for both "normals" and "mildly autistic/geek/ADD people",

    is an important step in getting people to make realistic and profitable adjustments in attitude.
  • Better come up with a better explanation. One cannot be "mildly afflicted by downs syndrome." Down's Syndrome is a specific defect in which there is an extra 21st chromosome. Either you have it, or you don't (although the severity of its symtoms vary).

    There's a "mosaic" form of Down's Syndrome in which a certain percentage of cells have trisomy-21, and the rest are normal. The proportion seems to be quite correlated to the severity of symptoms. This also makes sense in light of recent therapies that aim to treat some of the symptoms with massive amounts of antioxidants and aminoacids - the abnormal cells cause varying degrees of metabolic overdoses and deficiencies. There are some articles on CERI [ceri.com] about this (warning: controversial issue).

    I personally have an acquaintance with mosaic Down's who holds down a regular job... he's somewhat forgetful and badly-coordinated, but so am I :-)

  • This cerebellar slowness may also explain some of the intellectual feats of the mildly autistic "computer nerds" that are now reorganizing the planet. (Bill Gates, according to Shadow Syndromes, is reported to rock himself, spend hours on the trampoline, not make eye contact, and have trouble making social conversation.)

    Does it bother anyone else that Billy Boy is being identified here as a "computer nerd"? Accepting for a moment the geek/nerd equivalence assumed in the article, just how can they say this? Has he written any code at all since Altair Basic? Has his entire company ever had a single, decent, original idea, or produced a robust, high quality product?

    His wealth and evil power come not from any particular computer skill, but from the deal he cut with IBM. Negotiating skill, I would think, would be a contraindicator of autism, and is certainly not something your average nerd can manage well. (I think this has something to do with the working conditions under which most nerds/geeks suffer: they're doing for money what they would otherwise do for free and are not good enough negotiators to conceal that fact even if they were so inclined.) His subsequent successes are a result of marketing, which is not exactly a nerdly activity either.

    It's interesting that Linus, the "computer nerd" who is now genuinely reorganizing the planet, doesn't fit this profile at all.

    -- Captain Carrot

  • by Duke of URL ( 10219 ) on Monday September 13, 1999 @07:25AM (#1685347)
    As gathered from theWhat is Autism? [autism-society.org] page

    Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. The result of a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain, autism and its associated behaviors have been estimated to occur in as many as 1 in 500 individuals (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 1997). Autism is four times more prevalent in boys than girls and knows no racial, ethnic, or social boundaries. Family income, lifestyle, and educational levels do not affect the chance of autism's occurrence. Autism impacts the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Children and adults with autism typically have difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities. The disorder makes it hard for them to communicate with others and relate to the outside world. In some cases, aggressive and/or self-injurious behavior may be present. Persons with autism may exhibit repeated body movements (hand flapping, rocking), unusual responses to people or attachments to objects and resistance to changes in routines. Individuals may also experience sensitivities in the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste.

    See also this Autism [syr.edu] resoucre page.

    Ok. Here's my (Duke of URL) bit: As mentioned in the main story Autistic people tend to have underdeveloped cerebellum which plays a role in coordinated movement (think athletes).
    Autistics may also have RAS's (Reticular Activating System) which may be improperly developed. The RAS filters out unwanted stimuli (such as the sensation of the pants on your legs, the air on your arms and all the other stimuli you never think about). With a damaged RAS they may be experiencing sensory "overload" and attempt to focus on one thing or avoid social contact to compensate.

    For once a question on /. that I can handle. My psychology degree wasen't a waste. I hope.

  • Definitely ;)
    In all seriousness, it's _great_ that there's a form of human endeavor where the quirks we're stuck with are considered 'par for the course'. I think part of this may simply be availability- lots of people can take MCSE courses (*shudder*) but the fact is that most of them simply will not be able to organise the information system that is a personal computer into a coherent and well working whole.
    Those who can, can write their own ticket- and among them have always been the serious 'nerds' who just plain were from Mars, so a precedent keeps being set: the weirdo is kept around or even enticed to stay because he is the one who can save everyone's butt when the problem gets particularly hard.
    There are tests for some of these things, though not always for the exact capacity you're interested in- my personal favorite test story was for part of a test called the 'GATB', a sort of vocational aptitude test. One part of it involved looking at a drawing of a 3D shape and picking the 2D cutout that could be folded into that shape. I loved it, it was so much fun I wheedled the testgiver into letting me look at the rest of the problems in that category after the time period stopped (just to _see_ them, to do the hard ones, to finish them). I tore through those problems with geeky glee, and it turned out that I'd set a TEN YEAR peak for that particular test. I don't think it's at all an accident that I enjoyed it so much... it was cranking up what Temple Grandin calls 'the Sun workstation in your head'. I have Asperger's Syndrome. I'd never had an example quite so obvious to give me confidence in the face of my other obvious lacks and liabilities, to show me that I was good for something. Finally, the truth- I need to go into origami ;)
    No, seriously- what that test revealed was this: although my brain is a very balky and inconvenient instrument, there are some things it can do that your average person just can't. Ever since, I've been trying to figure out how to actually put it in gear, as it were: I can predict trends about stuff I'm interested in (I tend to be interested in the computer industry, and have called many shots accurately, didn't gain by it though- my current hunch is that MS is breaking free of its dependence on government in general and the US government in particular). I design stuff. I'd like to give as much of it away as possible- of course if you just give something away nobody notices so you have to build it up a bit first.
    I'm glad the tech world has a place for people like me- and I wish people were as enlightened as you are, back when I was growing up. Back then nobody had a clue, and I was sort of Skinner-avoidance-response trained to look people in the eye and not rock, in a remedial school. It didn't change me, it only made me decide that the world was a very hostile place where you had to act certain ways or be punished. It feels good to think that your daughter doesn't have to go through that...
  • by HSinclair ( 64082 ) on Monday September 13, 1999 @09:14AM (#1685361) Homepage
    Many people seem to assume that the article is saying that all geeks are autistic. Not by any stretch of the imagination. The article is just trying to explain some of the geeks. Geeks like me.

    It wasn't until recently that I realized that I can't get along with people because I am deaf to almost all forms of body language. I can't catch all the subtle hints that people drop all over the place, I just never notice it. I love Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series so much because he details all those little nuances in words that I would never ever catch in real life. Because of that that series of books, and a few others, seem more real than real life to me.

    I've never been able to make smalltalk. It wasn't until recently that I've been able to train myself to make programmed responses to the everyday "Hi, how are you?" "How was your weekend". So on and so forth. I have to think about these responses before otherwise I'm utterly flabbergasted. Even now I'm not quite sure if I'm making the right responses, I'm making an effort to observe other people making that kind of smalltalk so I can see what they do.

    I only feel at home talking when I'm talking online, or with very close friends and family. Online I have time to think about what they said, and there is no subtlties in expression that I would have to try to puzzle out. With my two friends and my close family I know them so well that I can make an educated guess at what they're expressing nonverbally.

    Like the programmer, I cannot empathize, and I cannot understand empathy or understanding directed towards me. I, too feel that they're "invading my mind". I consistently score the lowest possible score on the "introverted" scale of whatever test I'm taking. So much of what I think I don't think anyone else in the world can understand, and I guard anything I write like a hawk. I don't even let my boyfriend (yes, I'm female) in on what I think most of the time, for fear that he, too will invade my mind. Like Bill Gates (Gasp! I'm comparing myself to bill gates!) I avoid eye contact at all costs.

    I've never been coordinated. My rhythm is horrible. Remember that Volkswagen commercial where they're driving down the alley and everything is going to the beat of the music? I didn't understand it at all, even after seeing it several dozen times, until someone pointed out to me that everything is actually moving the beat.

    A few things in the article didn't match up with me. I don't rock, but I do compuslivley fiddle with my hair, my pencil, or whatever's sitting on my desk (I have a flexure with me now that I'm playing with when not typing). However, enough things did make sense that it gave me the heebiejeebies.
  • by Enoch Root ( 57473 ) on Monday September 13, 1999 @04:50AM (#1685375)
    If you ask me, this is another case of modern psychology mistaking the symptoms for the cause. Lacking interest in social activities doesn't have to be a mental disorder; heck, that's the kind of thinking that leads to the conclusion that every single human being is insane, not the least of which those who act impossibly normal.

    Here's a little cue: maybe people of higher calling don't exhibit perfect social skills because while other boys were learning to perfect the art of sucking up, lying and trying to get girls, some of us were reading about astronomy or programming a Texas Instrument.

    I was rather antisocial and introverted when I was a kid, but I developped my social skills perfectly once I began to care about whether the girl next door wanted to go out with me or not. As a matter of fact, most geeks and nerds who end up wanting to augment their face-time end up doing it better than others, because they approach the problem with great analytical skills instead of going into it blind.

    I've seen a lot of "social geeks" who end up changing their outward personality as the situation demands, and generally not restricting themselves to one single style of clothes or speech, but rather a collection of them. If you approach social relations as a system and social behaviours as the laws by which the system can be affected, then succeeding in that system is similar to understanding physical forces in a system of masses.

    The others just don't care enough about it for the time being.

    "There is no surer way to ruin a good discussion than to contaminate it with the facts."

  • The "technical" term for mild autism is "Asperger's Syndrome".

    This is one of the forms of autism where you have a normal or even very high IQ, but no social sense at all (see Oliver Sack's excellent book "An Anthropologist on Mars" [oliversacks.com] for details). Granted there will of course be varying degrees of this, too.

    One of the indicators of Asperger's is the inability to read other people's emotions from their faces. This is not necessarily the "geek" case... I consider myself to be a case of mild autism, in the sense that I have coordination problems and had serious social problems for my first 25 years - and even today I often have problems with "implied" social interactions. My wife always fills me in after a conversation on what the person was really thinking - I can read the surface, but not the undercurrents.

    As for coordination problems, I gave up on learning to dance. I can't imitate movements other make with their feet, although I have less trouble with hands - I even learned to juggle and know about 20 3-ball tricks. 4 balls seem out of reach, though.

    There are several other "geek" symptoms which apply, although the only ones I'd rather be cured of is the dancing problem, and a fear of speaking before large groups of people.

    BTW is wearing Birkenstocks a "geek" symptom...? I always liked them, even before reading ESR's jargon file :-)

  • by remande ( 31154 ) <remande@@@bigfoot...com> on Monday September 13, 1999 @07:38AM (#1685380) Homepage
    Jeez...thanks for the geek supremacist racism...

    Geeks are not normal. If we were normal, we'd be like the majority; that's pretty much the definition of "normal". We are abnormal, and for the most part we enjoy that. That's called "geek pride".

    That's a far cry from geek supremacy, the idea that geeks are the only people that matter. I have a lot of geek pride, and no use whatsoever for geek supremacy.

    The average person is not "useless". If you want to keep a society running, you need a lot of different types of people. Imagine a world without your "useless" people, populated only by geeks. Where would we be?

    I'll give you a hint: pretty hungry, pretty fast.

    Cops. Farmers. Soldiers. Factory workers. Managers. Sales clerks. All positions that need to be filled, all positions that geeks aren't particularly good at (mostly because we aren't particularly drawn to them, as a group--obviously, there are exceptions). All positions filled by your "useless" people.

    Not so useless, are they?

    Even where I work, I thank God for these "normal" people. My company has sales and marketing divisions. Sure, there's some friction there, but they're damned useful people. They sell the stuff, bring the money in, pretty much make sure that I only have to worry about making the systems work, rather than that and selling them. If I don't have a sales force watching my back, I don't eat. If the sales force doesn't have geeks watching their backs, they don't eat.

    Vive la difference!

  • I have to agree to a large degree with this article. Obviously there are some things I take issue with, but on the whole I would agree with the correlation this author is drawing. Atleast people are finally paying attention to geeks - and recognizing their worth and valuable contributions to society.

    As a curious sidenote - national post's servers throw out alot of extranneous icmp/7 packets.. or so my firewall says so....


  • by Anonymous Coward
    When it rains, it pours. Just last week I was turned on to the existence of Asperger's Syndrome, which is the highest form of high-functioning autism. Reading the symptoms, I immediately recognized about 75% of them in myself - gaze avoidance, ability to talk long and well on technical issues, but no clue as to how to make small-talk, a kind of analness for precision in language, the ability to learn social graces only via rote repitition (I sure would like to attend those "charm school" classes, there is a lot of stuff I just need practice on to figure out how to handle myself in social situations), and an absolute inability to dance.

    There has been a lot of talk about how people with Asperger's are common in the computing industry and how it is actually a boon for us in terms of being able to understand and focus on the abstract details required to make our technology go.

    For me, learning about Asperger's has been useful not only in recognizing that "I am not alone" but in helping my most beautiful and socially adept wife to better understand why I am the way I am, which can only be a good thing of our relationship.

    To learn more about Asperger's, just go to google.com and search for it, there are literally thousands of sites on the web that talk about it.
  • as well as of massive overdiagnosis of things like ADHD/ADD.

    I suspect this psychologist is reading things a bit far into these results. While is possible there are a few highly intelligent technical people who are mildly autistic, I think it is very rare.

    I think it's much more likely that parents who were themselves clumsy and socially inept bring up distant, socially uncomfortable children. This may be part of the "nurture" makeup of autism that these researchers are considering, but I have trouble seeing it as a disease.

    Speaking from pretty decent samples -- TJHSST and CMU SCS -- I think it's far more likely for nerds to
    a) Do ballroom. Nerds dance as well as anyone and we're always looking to meet girls.
    b) Do S'n'S or have other interest/background in acting and theater, including film.
    c) Be perfectly socially graceful, except for lapses of lust over hardware, and a deep enjoyment of conversations no one else can understand.

    I strongly believe that physicists have a reputation (well deserved IMHO) for being poorly dressed (atrocious prevalence of khakies/sneakers ... ) because it's comfortable and they honestly have more important things to do than care. When they do choose to dress well they have no problems doing so...
  • My daughter (8) is also Asbergers, and the use of scripted fragments always amazed and amused us when she was younger. Most of the time to understand her you had to have seen the movie/show she had seen to understand her meaning. It always reminded of the SNG episode where Picard was standed with a alien race that spoke only in metaphors. Now she has focused on dogs, as in AKA breeds and classes. She excels in math and written langauge. But she does not know how to converse with her peers.

    Some time back I saw Temple Grandin (autistic with a PHD in animal Science and the designer of many of the large animal handling processes used in meat packing plants) when she told of her visit to NASA. After a tour and meeting many of the engineers, she came to the conclution that NASA was just "a big club-house for autistics".

  • by Fastolfe ( 1470 ) on Monday September 13, 1999 @07:47AM (#1685407)
    "Please continue to hold. A representative will be with you shortly. We apologize for the long wait time."

    No you're not. If you were truly sorry for the annoying length of time I'm sitting here on hold, you would be spending money getting more people and/or upgrading your call center to see that it doesn't happen again.

    Grr.. A simple "Thank you for holding" is sufficient.
  • by twit ( 60210 ) on Monday September 13, 1999 @04:53AM (#1685421) Homepage
    Consider the source of this article: The National Post, or The Daily Tubby, a cruel perversion of a once good financial paper, the Financial Post. It's widely thought to have the content of the Toronto Sun (a tabloid like the New York Post) wrapped in the layout of the Globe and Mail (a reputable and venerable broadsheet like the New York Times).

    Of course, you might like the Sun or the Post, and you might even subscribe, but you probably don't mistake them for quality journalism.

    As for the article: Shadow Syndromes is indeed a good read, but the central premise, that psychiatric disorders are only the severe end of a continuum of human behaviour, is not new. Nor does it support the conclusion that many single-minded geeks have an attenuated form of autism: autism is not a psychiatric or behavioural disorder but a neurological one, with manifest and concrete differences between the normal brain and the autistic one.

    A corresponding argument might be that a broken arm is merely at the far range of variation in normal arms. Which it isn't. It's a broken arm.

    It may be that parents of autistic children are themselves autistic. It is already known that autism is heritable. It is already known that autism varies widely in severity. But to paint all geeks with that broad brush, without any but anecdotal evidence, is irresponsible. To buy the conclusion is also equally irresponsible, and I'm glad to see that most /.ers aren't.

    Consider also Occam's Razor, where the simplest explanation is most likely the correct one. Do you think that many geeks find social activity difficult because they are relatively inexperienced in it, or because they have a mild form of a rare neurological disorder?

  • basically "useless" people are what "we" are supposed to be like.

    That is a rather arrogant view to take. The construction worker who built where you live, now are they useless? Does what they do have no meaning? Lawyers impact the world heavily. Most US lawmakers are lawyers, and even though you may not like them what they do affects millions of ppl, thet's pretty significant. journalists heavily shape how the majority views the world that is also significant.

    No one person is more or less meaningful in this world. To think that is so is eliteist and very narrow-minded. Jesus was a carpenter, and he influenced the entire western civilization (I don't care if your religious or not, the man did heavily influence how we live today.) Geek is a label, just like normal, jock, propellerhead, etc. Labels only exist to sterotype and restrict. Stop labeling and thinking that because you play with computers that your superior. You know the guy who built my house did something alot more meaningful and lasting than anything I will most likely ever create. Why? Because everyday I'm reminded of it when i look at my home. Because when I live somewhere else another person will live here. that is meaningful. All people have meaning eveything we do effects countless others we will never know. Remeber that, we are all connected in some ways.

  • Now nerds are afflicted with a shadow symptom.

    So quick, discover a cure. The human race doesn't need amazing discoveries, inventions, leaps of science, breakthough advances in medicine :-)

    Take that with a gallon of sarcasm.

    But its nice to see someone start to look at geek and nerd habits as possibly a heriditary function, which may make us deviate from the non-existant human norm. But I think most of us wouldn't trade out geek abilities for a nice normal life. We prefer the admiration of our fellow geeks for a well crafted hack as opposed to the minor platitudes for behaving well in public.

    the AC
  • Fascinating. I myself was diagnosed with ADHD - inattentiveness/impulse control at age 6, and it's pretty much stuck with me to 24. From in here (the head) it's pretty similar to what you describe in your son. I have never had a problem visualizing complex systems, a talent that is extremely beneficial to my chosen profession (net. eng.). Also, throughout my life, I've noticed that I pick up on stupid little phrases and use them _far_ out of context. (please don't ask, it's rather embarrassing) I also have good musical ability. On hearing a song once, I can almost always recall it completely from memory, and even if I miss the key, the note progression stays consistent. I can hear harmonies on the second time around, once I've gotten past the thrill of the melody. I'd be willing to bet your son harbors a great deal of musical talent.

    Also, there's the issue of the lack of attention. The slightest thought can pull me away from something. I have difficulty completing _any_ task as a result. I'll say this for various pharmeceutical (sp?) treatments, tho. On Ritalin, (which only lasts for about 4 hours per dose) _every_ problem listed above drops away. I cease to exist in a perpetual dream state and become more 'real' if you will. alas, it's so damned fleeting. I'd give real money to cure it once and for all...

    Whoa. i rambled :) see?

    makes me wonder how much we'll finally know about ourselves as a species when we have accurate design schematics for the hardware we run in...
  • ...would this even be a point of conversation if the "majority" of society were not narcissistic self-promoting social junkies [to one degree or another] trying to figure out why the "geeks" exist in the first place?

    Look at how loaded those words are:

    mild Autism. ADD/ADHD. "Hacker". "Geek". "Nerd".

    All are terms with some serious social stigma associated with them, in that they are not considered "normal", and at least 3 of them are something that "has to be fixed".

    But being overly social is OK...???

    Oh well.
  • Well, the article is interesting, and probably some proportion of so-called "geeks" and "nerds" exhibit mild autism. But I think the article is rather misleading, as most people who would consider themselves "geeks" or "nerds" are simply intelligent and often a bit introverted (i.e. shy).

    I know several people who are involved in science or technology fields, and who are shy. To an outside observer, they may appear to lack social skills. However, these people often have strong empathic traits, and are overly sensitive to social cues (which are opposite to autistic tendencies). They get along well with each other, and have active social lives within their social circles. (Admittedly some of them did not have much in the way of social lives in high school, where they were in a very small minority!) People tend to interact best with others who share interests and abilities - if you are someone who is highly intelligent and interested in something specialized, you may not seem socially adept to most of the populace. This does not necessarily mean you have a brain disorder!

    Public education is probably good for people who have a mild version of autism - but it would be unfortunate for the already-stigmatized groups of introverted geeks/nerds/etc to be branded as having a mental illness. Be nice to have more non-negative publicity out there to combat the recent negative happenings ...

  • by Bret ( 5207 ) on Monday September 13, 1999 @10:25AM (#1685462)
    The phrase "mild autism" should probably be replaced by "Asperger's Syndrome."

    As psychiatrists and neurologists learn more about disorders such as manic depressive illness, depression, autism, obsessive compulsive disorder, ADD, ADHD, etc, they are learning that these are all "spectrum disorders."

    The spectrum for ALL of these disorders ranges from so severe that it is CLEAR that there is a serious problem, to so mild that the issue would probably be better characterized as a personality trait rather than a disorder.

    For Bipolar Disorder (manic depression) there is a whole range from the person who thinks he is Jesus, and jumps off a building thinking he can fly, to something called "cyclothymia" which is basically cyclical moodiness which isn't strong enough to result in depression or mania.

    For the "Autism" spectrum, it is actually called "Pervasive Developmental Disorder." I have a diagnosis of "Asperger's Syndrome." My oldest son has "moderate autism." My youngest son has PDD-NOS (PDD- Not Otherwise Specified." We expect that when he is old enough to be evaluated for Asperger's Syndrome, he will be diagnosed with that instead. (He is currently 5)

    I mention those two specrums because they are the ones I have personal experience with. (I also have something called "Bipolar Disorder Type-II,. which is like Manic Depression (Bipolar Type-I) except that I don't lose touch with reality when I get "hypomanic.")

    Anyway, there are many documented benefits to being mildly bipolar. There is a book called "Touched by Fire" which discusses the fact that mood disorders are common among sucessful people in creative fields such as art, music, literature, etc.

    Some of the benefits of Asperger's Syndrome are:

    1) Hyperlexia -- Learning to read at a VERY early age

    2) Visual Thinking -- Most people tend to think in terms of words rather than pictures

    3) Literal Thinking -- People with Asperger's Syndrome tend to think very literaly. This is a definite plus for things like math, science, or computer programming, but it is a definite negative for things like social skills.

    4) Learn from books -- Most people have a difficult time learning a complex subject by reading about it. They tend to need to have people explain it to them. On the other hand, people with Asperger's tend to learn from written materials better than they learn from lectures or personal explanations.

    If Asperger's Syndrome was proposed as a "developmental disorder" all by itself, it probably would be laughed off by most people. (Just as many people in this thread seem to be doing.) The reason Asperger's Syndrome is accepted by most professionals is because of the very clear _spectrum_ from severe autism (called Kanner's Autism outside of the USA, I believe) to mild (also called high functioning) autism, to Asperger's Syndrome. Understanding Autism (and other spectrum disorders) will probably require understanding the very foundations of human personality. Spectrum disorders really appear to be generally based on good personality traits being pushed to the point where they become problems. People who are on the borderline between "typical" and "disordered" will often be quite superior at certain things, but quite inferior at other things, as the inherent trade offs of the disorder emerge.

    Rather than viewing Asperger's Syndrome as a disability, perhaps it should be viewed as an "overclocked brain."


  • Well, I'm not saying it can be done overnight. But in general, regardless of the social occasion (job interview, chatting up a girl I like, trying to pass as nice and cheerful when forced to go to a party), I work it out as follows:

    I apply relativity to the situation; I eliminate the stress this way, by basically stopping to care about the outcome (doesn't work perfectly always, but it helps; I do it perfectly with job interviews: what if I don't get a job? It's just more Kraft Dinner and peanut butter, plus a lot of time on the computer at home!)

    I analyse the situation by establishing clearly what is the goal and the hurdles on the way (e.g., I want to make a good impression to this girl, but I don't know what she likes)

    I research the subject (e.g., I ask around what she likes, or watch her to determine it)

    I establish a strategy, which I am willing to abandon on the fly (e.g., I'll walk to her and ask her about the latest homework, then mention her Charlie Chaplin binder)

    Once it's over, I calmly review what happened, study mistakes and successful strategies, and see how I can repeat it.

    Just to show you how geeky the above is, you can liken it to coding, as it is taught in school:

    Step 1: Establish the goals

    Step 2: Analyse the resources and potential difficulties

    Step 3: Research the missing tools

    Step 4: Establish strategy (i.e. Crow's Foot diagram, etc.)

    Step 5: Analyse results

    Still not convinced? Liken it to the scientific method:






    Now, most hackers and most great scientists will be "naturals" at the above-mentioned methods, so they don't need to work it out analytically. Same goes with socialites. But for the rest of us, who can code but not interact with immense success socially, we can have an analytical method.

    Just try it out...

    "There is no surer way to ruin a good discussion than to contaminate it with the facts."

  • by Pedersen ( 46721 ) on Monday September 13, 1999 @05:03AM (#1685490) Homepage
    Being very computer literate and being a geek are two separate things entirely. You can know everything there is to know about computers, but not be a geek.

    Geeks, in the social sense, have little to no social graces. And that is the crux of the article: Why don't they have social graces?

    The answer could be that they DO have a mild form of autism. I have no idea if the research is accurate enough to point that way. However, I will say this: People other than Mormons live in Utah. So, it's incredibly unlikely that all of the autistics he researched were Mormons.

    I also didn't get that he was trying to justify the stereotype of "nerd" or "geek" (which, outside of technical discussions, are interchangeable). I saw him trying to figure out why one particular group appears to have the traits of a given stereotype. And, you have to admit that, by and large, the geeks/nerds of the world do have quite a few of those traits. Not the "normal" kids in school. The ones who everybody trips because they always fall in funny ways, and then "spaz" on everybody around them.

    If the research is accurate (and from a cursory glance at some of the results, it seems like it could be), then we may have an actual explanation for why at least some portion of us are the way we are.

    As an aside, from the sounds of it, you find geek to be an insulting term. I do not. I just wish I could get the people around me to understand that being a geek is, to some degree, a chosen way of life for me. And I rather like being one.
  • There was an ad running on the radio here in SD a few months ago for some mortgage vampire company that was actually kind of humorous...

    "All our available customer service representatives are with other callers. Your call IS important to us, and will be answered in the order recieved. The current average wait time is..." "Four Days." "Eleven Minutes".

  • How?
    And why is it that suddenly, people who cannot be social are no longer part of the EVERYONE needed to make the world go around?
  • by fable2112 ( 46114 ) on Monday September 13, 1999 @05:04AM (#1685501) Homepage

    I'm going to try not to lose my temper here, but it is going to take a lot of effort. This brought back the bad memories of my earliest Hellmouth experience (private school pre-K teacher insisting that I was autistic because I couldn't, at the ripe old age of four, tie my shoes -- supposedly this meant I didn't care about my classmates).

    OK. Here goes.

    I am really tired of trendy diagnoses, and the "dilution" of legitimate problems into the latest label to slap on a deviant kid. I don't want this supposed "autism" thing to go the route of ADD for boys or clinical depression for teenage girls.

    I am also tired of people not understanding the difference between someone who is just different and someone who is functionally impaired and needs help. The best line I can think of from I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is "Please, Doctor, my difference is not my sickness." If someone is absolutely unable to function in society, is a danger to self or others, or recognizes a mildly self-destructive behavior pattern that is getting worse, then by all means get that person some help.

    But enough with the armchair diagnosis. And if someone is merely "different," but can hold down a job and isn't running around with an Uzi threatening to destroy himself or anyone else, what the hell is the problem?

    The other fun part of all this is that someone who has something about them that makes them seem superficially crazy and ALSO has an underlying problem that has nothing to do with the superficial one will have a hard time finding help because the superficial problem-that-isn't-a-real-problem will outweigh the real problem that they came to get help for in the eyes of the therapist. And yes, I'm speaking from (somewhat) personal experience here, both my own and that of those close to me. *sigh*

  • by Chris Johnson ( 580 ) on Monday September 13, 1999 @11:18AM (#1685524) Homepage Journal
    I have some personal experience on this one. There was a time when I became homeless and ended up in a psych ward on the assumption that I was depressed. I didn't mind admitting that I didn't see what good I was to the world, and that it would be much easier if I offed myself, though I wasn't going to do it as I knew people who would be hurt by such an act.
    I now understand that depressed people would say such things from a position of great anguish, like living in a state of just-having-gotten-terrible-news ALL the time without relief, and so they'd be hurting enough to override their usual instinct of self-preservation.
    I wasn't in that kind of anguish- was reacting kind of dispassionately to the way the world seemed to be shaping up- but what throws people is this, I don't really have much of a self, never have. I mean that literally- it's a part of the human mainspring and in me it's not really there... People have mentioned Spock, but think Data, instead. Data is a bit of an icon for a lot of autistic people. That level of disconnection is damned tough for a normal person to understand, and to make matters worse, either Data or an autistic person _can_ learn to mimic regular human emotions quite convincingly, which happens as a matter of course.
    Perhaps this is what irritates me about certain belief systems such as Ayn Rand disciples ;) when the clarion call is 'All For The SELF!' my reaction tends to be 'for the what?' and I don't understand. To me, that is such an empty motivation, so hollow... there needs to be more, not for any grand emotional reason but simply because Self, to me, seems like a pathetically feeble thing to base a worldview and belief system around. Hence, other belief systems, notably the GNU strain of Free Software, seem a lot more suitable- to me, a person with very low priority on Self, the notion of Cooperation or Society seems significantly more useful. And if something like the GPL really _bugs_ people whose ethic is Self primarily, I find I have no sympathy whatsoever, which is my bias, not considering the Self important or useful.
    Maybe the popularity of the GPL and such cooperation-forcing situations is particularly strong among those of us who are autistic and do not have a strong emotional bias towards the Self? What sort of person finds it easy and harmonious to 'sell out' the Self and contribute to society?
  • >can anyone name the event in SciFi history that took place to day?

    Would that be the day that the moon was knocked out of earth's orbit and Martin Landau and Barbra Bain got stuck on Moonbase Alpha [space1999.net] with a bunch of other third-rate actors and some cheesy special effects?

  • by PollyJean ( 54795 ) on Monday September 13, 1999 @05:26AM (#1685531)

    I don't think it's total BS. I think there's probably something to it, but, as with any theory, it's just an idea with some evidence to back it up.

    I'm a literature geek (I majored in English, not computer science), so I would suggest you guys read Madness & Civilization by Michel Foucault. It's a really interesting study of the defintions of madness throughout history and how they change. Why is this book relevant to this discussion? Well Foucault (who had to be one of the greatest geeks who ever lived...medical doctor, historian, scientist, literary critic--just thinking about his output makes me tired), believed that societal opinion is a lot of what defines mental illness. It's separating the "other." So one doctor labels a set of traits a "disorder." It doesn't mean that we geeks are all autistic. It does mean that perhaps there is a correlation between some stereotypical behavior and a medical syndrome.

    Foucault's book discusses how public perception has historically defined mental illnesses. This not to say that there's no such thing as a mental illness (believe me, I know that there is). It is to say that the way in which people are treated as a consequence of that illness is as relevant as the illness itself.

    Being a geek or a nerd (and I'm not going to get into the semantics of each word's meaning. I've been called both, as well as many more) is indicative of a society's dislike of anything or anyone different. For whatever reason, those of us called "geeks" are often considered strange. I know I got odd looks when I started jumping up and down with happiness because Neal Stephenson published a new book or when I became selectively mute when I got to meet Neil Gaiman. Whether we're geeks because of mild autism or because that's just who we are, this article is more about other people's reactions to us than our reactions to them.

    I'm of the opinion that perhaps the reason why so many geeks have such low social graces is because of the way in which we are treated growing up. If you're an outcast for long enough, you may start believe that other people and their social graces aren't worth dealing with. I've been called a psycho because I really, really like and follow science fiction. I go to cons, I post on boards & I buy lots and lots of books. I don't believe this is a psychosis, but this other, so-called normal person thought so, the fact that I can dress nicely, get invited to parties, speak well, know which silverware to use in a formal place-setting & love to dance notwithstanding. I was different enough for her to have to separate herself from me with name calling.

    If some people who are autistic get diagnosed as such as a result of this research, then wonderful. The same with dyslexia, depression & a variety of other treatable disorders for which treatment can make life just a little easier (again, I know). I believe that the vast majority of geeks do not have this disorder, but it's important that those who do have the opportunity to get treated if they want to. For those of us who're just geeks because that's just who we are, more power to us. And screw those who have a problem with it.

  • "Paging Dr. Daniels. Dr. Jack Daniels. Sense of humor needed for this John Doe -- STAT!"
  • While at first I was dismayed at yet another attempt to classify people as "normal" or "abnormal", this line of "Where are the women Geeks?" got me thinking about the prevelance of autism related to gender.

    After a little bit of digging I found the FAQ below which mentions that Autism affects four times as many males as females.

    Within the past few years there has been much publicity given to the fact that educational interest in maths/sciences/engineering is clearly disproportionately male, and growing.

    Possibly coincidence, but a little food for thought...

    [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM IV)]:
    http://web.syr.edu/~jmwobus/ autism/autismfaq-defi.html [syr.edu]
  • OK, so a lot of you take this article as insulting. I can see why. But while maybe the doctor conducting the study doesn't quite get it, I think maybe there's a lesson to be learned here: people do not all have to think exactly the same way to be healthy. One of my biggest problems with modern psychology is that it's desperate to class anything slightly out of the ordinairy as something bad that can be fixed. But recently, with the advent of newer, more powerful drugs that promise to make us all 'normal', we have to ask ourselves, do we *want* to be normal?

    I for one would never give up my geekhood. I know lots of others feel the same way. And in a strange sort of way, if this turns out to be true, it feels like justification to me. Before, it seemed like we were misguided folk who just never learned. But now, maybe we really are wired different. We're driven by different things. Some would call this a problem to be corrected, but I say that it's mother nature acknowledging our right to be unique. And seeing how much of modern technology is founded on geek accomplishment, I damn well don't see how people can say how we are is *wrong*.

    So don't take this as discouragement, take it as a sign to keep the path. While some psychologists may see this as another thing that needs 'cured', it may just show that abnormality is more normal than most people thought. And hey, we already knew that anyway, right?

    'I love it when somebody's own sig describes how much they suck so much
    more concisely and elegantly than I possibly ever could.'
  • Quite a little backlash we have going here... This is a wonderful time to bring up a topic that has been eating at the back of my mind since I started reading slashdot, quite a while ago.

    It is my opinion that people generally take this kind of report far too personally. Understand that the author is not trying to peg every computer literate person as suffering from autism. The foundation is that people who suffer from a lack of social and physical graces, and subsequently exceed in ability to focus, exhibit traits that are similar to autism. Thus Louis Skolnick, from Revenge of the Nerds, was a good candidate for a mild case of autism.

    The lesson learned here can be applied just about everywhere. Calm down a little folks. Don't make a knee jerk defensive reaction and start screaming how any author clearly doesn't know what s/he's talking about until you've thought it through. If, after some investiagation and reflection, an injustice has truely been served... then let 'em have it.
  • The danger isn't the article itself, the danger is the interpretation placed on it by people who will use "science" to promote their private interpretations of the world. Consider how dyslexia and ADHD have both been used to explain why some children have difficulty in school. Yes, there are many people with ADHD and dyslexia. But are there as many as these casual diagnoses claim? How many students are being underserved because they are placed in a special education class for their dyslexia when they could easily maintain the pace of the other students if only they were encouraged in the right way?

  • Watch "Rain Man". Read "Forrest Gump" - the book, not the movie. Doesn't it sound familiar to you ?

    Quick intelligence, overwhelming shyness, strange (sometimes even downright irritating/childish) behaviour. Inability to understand most social codes of the outside world. In some cases, total inability to entertain a simple, meaningless conversation.

    Most striking fact : In some occasions, the surging of bad memories (remembering a difficult or even simply embarrassing situation) launches a brutal burst of shaky movements, sometimes with a clear self-destructive origin (such as brutally grasping your own head), maybe coming with bribes of sentences that an observator would find totally meaningless. These movements can be controlled, especially when there are people around, but at the price of significant effort - and even then a big, odd kind of shiver is noticed.

    The above may be taken as a good description of autism. It also happens to be a description of many people that can be called geeks, including myself - even for the last part, which may not be the case for everybody.

    Still, of course, I'm not a real autist, I have friends (even non-geek friends ! :o)), I can talk to people - although I am extremely reluctant to talk to people I don't know, and the simple fact of having to give a phone call is scaring.

    We have learnt to adopt an attitude that does not induce blatant hostility from the outside world. For many of us, we have learnt it the hard way. For some of us, this has been done by trying to cut down almost any social contact. Re-learning social skills is a difficult task that some (quite few, in fact) never achieve.

    We are aborted autists, just the same way as Jupiter is an aborted star.

    Thomas Miconi
    PS - Of Course, I'm not talking about *all* of you, dear readers. Still, I think many among you will understand what I mean.
  • by Jburkholder ( 28127 ) on Monday September 13, 1999 @05:18AM (#1685581)
    True enough. After my son was having trouble paying attention in school, we started talking to the doctor about ADHD. Started to recognize a lot of traits in myself. I still think that ADHD is not so much a 'disorder' than it is the hunter/farmer syndrome where our brains are just wired differently. Unfortunately the farmers run the schools and much of society so the hunters seem to be 'misfits'.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 13, 1999 @05:20AM (#1685583)
    konstant trolls:

    The obvious question is: why characterize the jock extreme as genial and average, but depict the geek extreme as the early onset of a disease!?

    Not only doesn't the article characterize jocks as genial and average, it doesn't discuss them at all. Nor does the article depict geek behavior as early onset of a disease.

    The article looks at the nerd stereotype, and people who seem to match that stereotype (eg. Bill Gates). It finds that many of the mannerisms and behaviors presented by these people appear to be less extreme versions of the mannerisms and behaviors presented by people with autism. Have you ever watched Bill Gates speak without a podium? The way he rocks on his feet is a classic symptom of autism. Not early onset of a disease, a mild form of a neurological condition.

    He goes on to talk about how the different setup of an autistic brain, in a milder form, could be a boon to people in highly technical fields.

    He says nothing about "Norming out society", nor about "prescribing drugs to quell the fears of jock mothers". In fact, he explicitly dismisses the concept of "Normal". He merely gives insight on where some people in the "geek" and "nerd" community might get their behavior from.
  • If you read the whole article, you'll see it ends with a reference to Freud and the idea that there is no such thing as normal. No where in this article, and I am assuming the study, does it indicate that these behaviors are wrong.

    Obviously, our society does place some value on the notion of normality. There are behaviors that exist typically, and behaviors outside of that are considered abnormal. Its abnormal for you to be this smart in the first place. But does anyone condemn you for being smart? No. In fact its rewarded. There may be some behavior associated with intelligence, however, that we do, as a society, consider negatively abnormal. This study addresses some of those common relationships in behavior.

    Like any study, you should be critical. But keep an open mind. They aren't excusing anything. They aren't making any decisions about how we should treat people. If anything, the are opening the doors to a better understanding of the behavior that makes a 'geek'.

  • Another condition that many nerds share is a mild form of Turret's Syndrome. This is the one often associated with twitching.

    Nah, twitching is Tourette's syndrome. Turret's syndrome is associated with rotating slowly to face the target.

  • I saw it visiting a friend in a psychiatric ward. An old woman I'd never seen before started talking to me, telling me I should visit her in her house in the country and they'd have a great party. As soon as she found out my name she started treating me like an old friend. I found it hard to be friendly while still keeping my distance. I'm pretty sure she's still there: I got the impression she'd been there a while and wasn't expected to check out any time soon.

    So while some geeks may not have their social skills as honed as they could be (and I'll second the person who advises you to use your engineering skills on the problem) we're all fortunate not to be too far away from the roughly sensible arena of behaviour.
  • seems like there's a lot of people on slashdot who like to fly off the handle and seem to have poor reading comprehension skills.

    The obvious question is: why characterize the jock extreme as genial and average, but depict the geek extreme as the early onset of a disease!?

    *sigh* go re-read the article. it does not imply that everyone technically inclined is diseased or deformed. it suggests a possible explaination for extreme examples of behavior that most people would call nerdish or geeky.
    there is no reason for everyone to say things like "this isn't true, i know geeks who aren't socially inept". the article never refuted that.

    on a side note (since i'm already typing), i saw a press conference with bill gates once and he was sitting on a table swinging his legs like a 6 year old. at the time it really struct me as strange; not even something i'd consider to be covered by the geek or nerd stereotype.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 13, 1999 @05:48AM (#1685604)
    The article mentions "not being able to connect with people" or appearing "out of it" or "not being able to read people" or having a "Spock-like way of speaking". Is this even a defined disorder? It all sound like iffy/kinda/sorta/well_"you_know" mumbo-jumbo. With all due respect, WTF is Autism?

    If the article is right then we should be cheering in that it demonstrates that Autistic people can benefit society as specialists. On the downside, it labels the entire tech industry as being composed of people with mental problems.

    I think the bottom line is that everyone's personality is just different. And it's not "wrong" or "messed up".

    We are geeks. And we do not need to be cured.

  • Perhaps that's why the investigation was launched. But I assure you that not only do I remember the events (well, at least the tripping), I had never forgotten them, so they are not "recovered memories."
    Christopher A. Bohn
  • by dattaway ( 3088 ) on Monday September 13, 1999 @05:55AM (#1685613) Homepage Journal
    Could the opposite of autism be schizophrenia? It talked about an autistic person taking several seconds to pay attention to a change in surroundings, say someone walking in the room. It seems a person who is autistic is very good at concentrating on one thing at a time. I know someone who seems to be the opposite:

    I had a chance to see a behavior that was quite different than autism at my family reunion. You see, an uncle of mine is schizophrenic. It was over 20 years since I have seen him and expected him to be a total nut. He used to be a straight A and got degrees in physics and mathematics, but at a point in his life, something changed.

    He now seems to only do things 15 seconds at a time. A typical day would include playing a great piece on the piano for a moment, goes for a quick walk down the street, stops for several seconds, continues for a moment, etc. Repeat several hundred times and that would be his day. Always distracted. Surprisingly, he is very intelligent and is fun to talk with --not the most productive conversationalist, but he is very likeable and has the most innovative approaches to ideas. He can not hold a job or drive a car due to being distracted constantly by the busy way he views the world around him.

When a fellow says, "It ain't the money but the principle of the thing," it's the money. -- Kim Hubbard