A meme that keeps going around is that Asperger Syndrome (AS) is somehow universally good. The DSM doesn’t list things that are beneficial, so any diagnostic criteria has to be for something that has some serious down-sides – even if there are positive aspects to it. Of course on the Internet the debate won’t just end there.
Positive Aspects of AS
The main positive aspect of AS is intense concentration on topics of Special Interest, if a Special Interest is something that is related to a high paying job (such as computer programming) then that’s a really good thing. Of course a Special Interest that isn’t related to well paid employment or for which most people get paid little and only a lucky few get paid really well (such as music) isn’t going to be a good thing by objective criteria.
It seems that most people on the Autism Spectrum have sensory advantages over Neuro-Typical people (NTs). Better vision and hearing are quite common. It’s good to be able to notice small and quiet things that most people miss, but that’s not a benefit that most people seem to particularly desire. The down-side is that loud sounds and bright lights are more unpleasant and it’s easy to be distracted by things that other people won’t notice.
The desire to give lectures has obvious benefits for any profession where giving lectures is a large part of the work, this is one reason why so many Aspies end up in academic careers. The down-side is that this is usually combined with a lack of ability to recognise when people aren’t interested in receiving a lecture.
Things can work out quite well for people on the Autism Spectrum who have a special interest that relates to a well paying career, who don’t have any problems that prevent them from getting and keeping a job.
Neutral Aspects of AS
On forums some Aspies report that they don’t want to have friends, presumably their needs for friendship are met by the interaction with other forum members. As far as I can determine they are happy like that. I’m sure that such people are a lot happier than people who want friends and don’t have any.
The incidence of asexuality among Aspies is apparently a lot higher than among the general population (something like 30% vs 1%). This isn’t a bad thing for those people (I am not aware of any evidence to suggest that asexuals are less happy than people with average sexual desire), but it is evidence to suggest that Aspies are not the next stage in human evolution.
Negative Aspects of AS
The DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for AS has as section C “The disturbance causes clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning“, in the proposed changes for DSM-V it’s merged into “Autistic Disorder” with section D being “Symptoms together limit and impair everyday functioning” . These seem like clear disadvantages, it doesn’t seem possible to be diagnosed as being on the Autism Spectrum without having some real disadvantage.
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) seem to usually be correlated with Sensory Processing Disorder. Symptoms of SPD can include a lack of tolerance for noise, lights, certain types of clothing, dirt, and lots of other things as well as being physically clumsy. SPD is not in the diagnostic criteria for any ASD but it seems that most people on the Spectrum experience it to some degree and many regard it as the worst down-side of Autism.
Spiritual Aspects of AS
I’ve seen a claim that AS gives them some advantage over NTs in terms of spiritual development. When someone manages to prove that their God exists or whatever other supernatural belief they have is based on fact then I’ll consider this possibility.
I think it’s worth noting however that most religions seem to place some emphasis on humility, that seems to go against claiming that one’s neuro-type is genetically predisposed to being successful at religion.
There are many positive, neutral, and negative aspects of AS that I didn’t list, I only mentioned some of the more common ones. How the positive and negative aspects compare differs on an individual basis, some people seem to be better off by objective criteria. But it seems that the best outcome is to have a different life experience that isn’t objectively worse, which usually seems to involve a career in computers, science, engineering, or academia.
Really if we were better then the Neuro-Typical people (NTs) would envy us, and I haven’t seen much evidence of that. The NTs who do think that AS is a good thing seem to have little knowledge of AS.