If You Recover From Asperger's, You Never Really Had It

In a New York Times op-ed piece, Benjamin Nugent, author of American Nerd: The Story of My People, recounts how "for a brief, heady period in the history of autism spectrum diagnosis, in the late '90s, I had Asperger syndrome." His symptoms: 

I exhibited a "qualified impairment in social interaction," specifically "failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level" (I had few friends) and a "lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people" (I spent a lot of time by myself in my room reading novels and listening to music, and when I did hang out with other kids I often tried to speak like an E. M. Forster narrator, annoying them). I exhibited an "encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus" (I memorized poems and spent a lot of time playing the guitar and writing terrible poems and novels).

The general idea with a psychological diagnosis is that it applies when the tendencies involved inhibit a person’s ability to experience a happy, normal life. And in my case, the tendencies seemed to do just that. My high school G.P.A. would have been higher if I had been less intensely focused on books and music. If I had been well-rounded enough to attain basic competence at a few sports, I wouldn’t have provoked rage and contempt in other kids during gym and recess.

These characteristics not only convinced Nugent's mother, "a psychology professor and Asperger specialist," that he suffered from a mental disorder but landed him a role in the 2000 instructional video Understanding Asperger's. A few years later, something embarrassing happened:

After college I moved to New York City and became a writer and met some people who shared my obsessions, and I ditched the Forsterian narrator thing, and then I wasn’t that awkward or isolated anymore. According to the diagnostic manual, Asperger syndrome is "a continuous and lifelong disorder," but my symptoms had vanished.

Since the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which was the basis for Nugent's diagnosis, rules out the possibility of recovery, it seems he was misdiagnosed. Then again, as Nugent notes, telling a friendless adolescent nerd he suffers from a lifelong social impairment that will make it impossible to function normally in the world could have a tendency to impede recovery, making the label to some extent a self-fulfilling prophecy. The diagnosis is also self-validating: People with Asperger's never recover because anyone who does recover did not really have Asperger's to begin with (just as people who insist alcoholism is an incurable disease say problem drinkers who learn to drink responsibly were never really alcoholics). Nugent emphasizes that at age 17 he "fit the bill," so if he was misdiagnosed it was apparent only when his life turned out better than the experts thought it would.

Based on his own experience, Nugent welcomes the proposed redefinition of Asperger's in the upcoming revision of the DSM, which calls for putting it in the same category as autism and tightening the criteria. Assuming that happens, many people who currently have Asperger's will, like Nugent, no longer have it. But it would not be correct to say they never really had it, assuming they met the behavioral criteria set forth in the current DSM. As with drawing a line between normal grief and "major depression," there is no biological test that can verify the diagnosis. It is all a matter of how psychiatrists choose to label (or not label) certain patterns of behavior, which nevertheless can have a serious impact how people perceive themselves and live their lives. 

For more in this vein, see my 2011 Reason essay "Diagnosing in the Dark."

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  • ||

    Here's my question: Do people call him The Nuge?

  • sarcasmic||

    I call him "Dork".

  • ||

    Whether he is or not depends on the answer to my question.

  • sarcasmic||

    There's only one "Nuge", and that's Uncle Ted.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    The Nuge is autistic. He avoids people and would rather kill things with arrows than play music.

  • sarcasmic||

    "You can't grill it if you don't kill it."
    -Uncle Ted

  • killazontherun||

    I hire people to do that for me, and pick up the kills packaged in a store. I'm just more cold blooded than the Nudge. Forest are fucking boring.

  • killazontherun||

    Oh the Nuge, not the Nudge. Thought you meant that blue alien leader asshole who cries over his kills.

  • Almanian||

    As long as this Nugent hangs with his Blood Brothers and uses his Whack Master to kill and eat fresh meet (even if only in D&D and other fantasy games), and is down with ROCK AND ROLL INSANITY, that meets Uncle Ted's threshold.

    Or so I'm told...

  • ||

    Those things all go with being called The Nuge.

  • Korduroy Kristen||

    Ted Fucking Nugent, drug warrior/bootlicker scum, ain't my uncle.

  • killazontherun||

    Bet he would be willing to play your uncle. How old was that first wife us his when he married her, fourteen?

  • sarcasmic||

    You didn't have Asperger syndrome, you're just a dork.

  • lily||

    1Bi or want to find people having the same sexual orientation?---datebi*cO'm--- is a safe and free site for you.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    This seems to be related to the Obama Administration's theory regarding drone victims: If you're dead, you weren't a non-combatant.

  • killazontherun||

    You get my only +1 for the week for that one.

  • ||

    You can never have too many made-up diseases.

  • Pudgeboy||

    Thank you... so ridiculous, so true.

  • Tim||

    When will "Nerd" become an official disorder?

  • Almanian||

    "Nerds! Nerds! Nerds! Nerds! NERDS! NERDS! NERDS! NERDS! NERDS! NERDS!!! NERDS!!! NERDS!!!!!"

  • Ogre Sparky||

    I HATE NEEEERRRRRDDDDDDSSSSSS!!!!!!!

    *crushes beer can on forehead*

  • ||

    These characteristics not only convinced Nugent's mother, "a psychology professor and Asperger specialist," that he suffered from a mental disorder

    Ding ding ding we have a winner. The mother was using him to justify her "research". It is pretty gross to use your son as essentially a lab rat for your kooky diagnoses.

  • ||

    You are not a child. You are a science experiment. Jesus mom couldn't you just be a stage mom or something?

  • Tonio||

    Stage moms are also exploitative. And don't even start me on pageant moms.

  • ||

    That was the joke. Stage moms are about the worst moms imaginable.

  • ||

    Have you ever seen "Dance Moms" or "Toddlers and Tiaras"? They are truly frightening.

  • ||

    No. But I have seen the previews. And they are horrifying. What the hell is wrong with people?

  • ||

    A lot of them are fatties, and they are obsessed with their daughters' looks. I have seen them put makeup and hair extensions on actual infants. It is very creepy. Like tarran says below, projection central.

  • Almanian||

    Specifically, "Highland Dancing" moms - as in Scottish Highland Dancing - are the woooooooooooorst.

    Smacking they little bitch daughters around and slapping the shit out of them..."Ya dinna win chompionships lookin like that then!" Insane...

  • ||

    Please tell me you are kidding Almanian. The fact that I can't really tell is a sad cometary on society.

  • Ogre Sparky||

    I watched 5 minutes of Toddlers and Tiaras once. After the first introductions I turned to my wife and asked if she noticed anything all the mothers had in common. She said, "what, they're all fat cows?"

  • tarran||

    I saw an article in cnn where a stage mom was suing a reality show for "sexualizing" her daughter.

    It was one of the more impressive bits of projection I've ever run across.

  • Tonio||

    Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, IOW hypochondriac moms who invent or project symptoms onto their kids.

    And I'm not surprised that this was a psychologist.

  • ||

    Did no one ever think it was a pretty neat coincidence that someone who specializes in Asperger's just happened to have a son with that very condition! Fancy that! It will be so convenient; when she takes her little sideshow on the road they can share a hotel room, just like they do every year for Motherboy.

  • Abdul||

    I just figured it was contagious, which is why I always wash my hands after visiting the comic book store.

  • ||

    "Maybe we should call it 'Operation: Hot Mother.'"

  • Jeff P.||

    She's a MILD: Mom I'd Like to Diagnose me

  • Coeus||

    My mom was kinda of the same way (though I feel she was sincere and concerned). She was a school counselor. Everytime she learned about a new learning disability, I must have had it. I had huge arguments with her over that crap. Irlen lenses, ADD, dyslexia, ect.

    Though, when I got to college, I realized she was right about the ADD (never had to focus til then), and it also turned out that another problem of mine is technically a form of dsylexia, though that's a coincidence, as directions weren't what she was concerned about.

  • ryan||

    'ADD' is most likely just a side-effect from your environment growing up and your subsequent mental condition. You can't even necessarily assume it's a bad thing, as long as SOME things get your attention. Maybe you just don't understand your own preferences which leads you to pursue activities that don't interest you.

  • Coeus||

    Call it what you want, I still have a hard time retaining information that I read without a white noise generator going.

    Though it should probably be ADHD, as I fidget and pace constantly.

  • Tim||

    OT
    Real life AVATAR in Peru as noble savages emerge from jungle and deal death to scientists, eco tourists, etc:

    Clan members have been blamed for two bow-and-arrow attacks on people near the riverbank in Madre de Dios state, where officials say the Indians were first seen last May.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/46202743

  • ||

    I love how they talk about them like they are fucking animals.

    The behavior of the small group of Mashco-Piro Indians has puzzled scientists, who say the encounters may be related to the encroachment of loggers and by low-flying aircraft from nearby natural gas and oil exploration in the southeastern region of the country.

    Has anyone thought of asking them why they are pissed off?

  • sarcasmic||

    When I read your first sentence for some reason I thought you mean bestiality.

  • Alack||

    When I read your first sentence for some reason I thought you mean bestiality.

    I think Freud had a theory about that.

  • Tim||

    Apparently they murdered the only guy who could talk to them;
    "The problem is that 'Shaco' was the only person who could talk to them," he said. "Now that he's dead it's impossible to make contact."

  • tarran||

    Maybe it turned out that they weren't fans of Wham!.

  • Sparky||

    And I'm sure people won't shoot a few because they're worried about harming the indigenies.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Real life AVATAR in Peru as noble savages emerge from jungle and deal death to scientists, eco tourists, etc:

    All they need now is a white man to cross over and show them how to take down the technologically superior race.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Hopefully with some decent writing this time.

  • killazontherun||

    Nah, just let it die before it turns into a franchise. Everything about the movie was crap weasel bullshit.

  • ||

    Someone might want to tell them that we've harnessed the power of the sun (at least for destructive purposes) and have been known to slaughter millions in our wars.

    We're like evil gods.

  • Tim||

    Actually I'd bet that's why they shoot first.

  • ||

    Perhaps a demonstration of our awesome power is in order.

  • Tim||

    This is PERU, probably the only weapon they've got is some tacos that will give them diarrhea.

  • ||

    Under the Monroe Doctrine, our right to destroy things with nuclear fire is unlimited in the Western Hemisphere.

  • Evan from Evansville||

    How about not fucking with people? I mean...that's pretty much my governing principle concerning everything. Oh, they shot someone who got too close? IN THE FUCKING HEART? And he was a FRIEND?! Take the goddamn hint. Don't fuck with large organisms that express anger on their court. It's kind of a rule.

    I'd like to shake the hand/perform whatever custom they are cool with to express gratitude with the dudes who shot those assholes.

    I am seriously in love with this article. People were faced with existential threat. Fighting people with engines, steel, guns and every other trapping of modern life, they went out in the jungle, home field advantage out the ass, and fucking fought them off with a bow/arrow.

    I respect the hell out of that.

    "The following month, another [tribal member] fatally pierced the heart of a local Matsiguenka Indian, Nicolas "Shaco" Flores, who had long maintained a relationship with the Mashco-Piro."

    People now brag about killing Iraqis from a mile away with a sniper rifle. Put one of those (admittedly EXCEPTIONALLY badass) guys in a room with one of the tribal warriors who manged to pulled this off?

    I know who I'm betting on.

  • killazontherun||

    You are invading my domain right now. Guess you'll respect the hell out of me if I shot you in the heart too.

    The claim of dominion over an uncultivated area the size of the Peruvian jungle is absurd. Take North America, even now after the greatest industrialization in human history, there are great swaths of land not used. I wont even quote official figures for the current era I've seen as they sound unrealistically low. But the estimate for population density of habitat versus wild forest was 4% habitat to 96% unused. Do only indigenous people get to claim that 96%? Hell fucking no. That is obscene.

    Same here. If the indigenous tribes want to murder their neighbors than they deserve what is coming to them. It wont be pretty.

  • killazontherun||

    But the estimate for population density of habitat versus wild forest was 4% habitat to 96% unused when Western settlers first came over.

  • Evan from Evansville||

    Yeah. That's some bullshit, right there.

    The tribe (I admit that we can't verify this) apparently numbers in the hundreds.

    And they've probably lived there...pretty much as long as their cultural record goes.

    It's their home. Property rights. They have houses. Children. Hierarchies.

    It seems like the only thing you have against them is that they don't have a State to legitimize them.

    Fuck off, slaver.

  • Evan from Evansville||

    And to claim that they are marking the ENTIRETY of the Peruvian jungle is absurd.

    They've marked off their land like a lion marks his; by walking around and making sure no one fucking gets near. Urine may be involved, true.

    If you want to invade my home and claim that you're just walking in for a fun visit, then you deserve whatever you have coming to you. It won't be pretty.

    (Hint: In that second to last sentence, your deserving what comes to you = my beating the shit out of you.)

  • kinnath||

    I have utmost confidence that I would have been diagnosed with several disorders and drugged continuously throughout school had the current standards been applied back in the dark ages of the 60's and 70's.

    I've read many serious articles that clearly state that "shyness" is a disorder and must be treated. Tack "nerd" onto that diagnosis and you have a totally disfunctional kid in today's regime.

  • EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy||

    This.

    At times I feel that there is an active campaign on to define introversion at a disease.

  • ||

    I was just thinking about the difference between now and the 60s/70s. Back then, parents let their kids wander around the neighborhood from a quite early age, and, of course, without being at DEFCON SUE EVERYONE, the things we were allowed to play with--high slides, lawn darts, etc.--would now be grounds for immediate loss of parental rights.

  • Almanian||

    "lawn darts"

    A) Best. Toy. EVER.

    B) Also, "Unfinished Houses, Especially the Basements". We were one of the first houses in our neighborhood, so as the other houses went up...GI Joe HEAVEN!

  • Almanian||

    Now,

    a) you set FOOT on a property being built TRESSPASSINGZOMGFUCKNO!! or

    b)MYPRECIOUSCHILDWASINJUREDONYOURDANGEROUSUNFINISHEDCONSTRUCTIONSTONEAGEFORYOU!!!!

  • Sparky||

    "Unfinished Houses, Especially the Basements"

    No shit. At one point my parents had an addition built onto our house. The frame was like a giant wooden jungle gym.

  • Korduroy Kristen||

    OMG, yes - unfinished houses! The workers would leave ladders lying around, too, so we could go upstairs or in the basements before the stairs were built.

    My bro and I used to play in this house while it was being built.

  • ||

    I lost a Sunday school dress shoe in a pool of cement. It's probably still there.

  • EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy||

    B) Also, "Unfinished Houses, Especially the Basements". We were one of the first houses in our neighborhood, so as the other houses went up...GI Joe HEAVEN!

    Damn, but that's true.

    'Course even in the 70's my Mom was down on playing in them. So we just didn't tell her.

  • Lord Humungus||

    don't get me started -

    BB gun fights, wrist-rocket battles, stilts, skateboards being pulled by bikes, digging pits and making traps, stealing lumber from the houses being built, etc etc etc

    We used to wander everywhere without parents - doing whatever we wanted to... until an adult came by and yelled at us, which would cause much running away.

  • Almanian||

    Wrist rockets! Fuck yeah! I forgot about those!

  • ||

    I bet those are totally illegal now.

  • killazontherun||

    There was a public dump a few miles from where we lived and we would track there at least once a week to salvage industrial supplies. We found thick sheets of plastic and I got the bright idea of building a pool beside a stream that ran nearby. We dug a trench four foot deep and about nine by six or so. Spread the plastic is several layers, and spiked it down. Then the coup de grace. I 'borrowed' my dad's welder and burned the plastic on each side down to form a mold. We finished the bottom cast with a little bonfire. It was fucking awesome.

  • Mensan||

    We would go to the houses under construction to scavenge lumber for forts and bike ramps. We never stole any of the good lumber, just scraps out of the dumpster.

  • EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy||

    There's that too. I got my first fixed-blade knife when I was seven. And our house backed onto about 1500 acres of forested ranchland which I treated as a play ground. I'd met examples of all the poisonous snake that live in those parts by the time I was ten and saw javelina in the wild (and knew enough to head the other way at a brisk walk, too). Tried to teach myself to knapp flint and eventually did build a more or less functional bow.

  • kinnath||

    There is -- "shyness" is disorder that must be treated.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Conclusion: his mom is a psycho bitch.

    What is a diagnosis anyway? Do they hand you a certificate with a ribbon on it? No. Its an opinion.

  • Tim||

    Considering who writes the DSM, I'm a bit surprised that "Jock" hasn't been made a mental illness.

  • Evan from Evansville||

    What an exceptional comment.

  • ||

    Nugent welcomes the proposed redefinition of Asperger's in the upcoming revision of the DSM, which calls for putting it in the same category as autism and tightening the criteria.

    Where the hell is the next generation of engineers supposed to come from, then?

  • T||

    India and/or China, apparently.

  • ||

    I exhibited an "encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus

    Anyone who has a psychological problem is characteristically described as exhibiting "abnormal" behavior. But what the hell is NORMAL? Who gets to decide what constitutes standard behavior among humans?

    It seems to me that psychiatrists are a lot like environmental scientists; they determine what normal should be and if you don't fit that definition then there is something wrong with you. But just as environmental scientists can't possibly tell you what Earth's normal temperature should be, how can a psychiatrist tell you what normal behavior should be? I'm not talking about people who are raving, bat-shit lunatics, but rather, everyday kids who keep getting diagnosed with various forms of autism spectrum disorder. I'm not buying it.

    FYI: in middle school, our school nurse suggested to my parents that I might be autistic because I didn't play well with others and got into a lot of fights. I told my father that it was because the other kids in school were dicks and he paid for boxing lessons instead.

  • ||

    When your only tool is a hammer...

  • Almanian||

    This. We "normed" tests as part of our work in college. How does it work? You get a bunch of people of X population and see what most of them do in regards to whatever you're interested in....whatever most of them do is "normal".

    Easy peasy! Works every time!

    Lulz all around!

  • ||

    So your "X population" taken from a small subset of the human population as a whole should be the basis for determining normalcy for everyone? There are so many things wrong with that idea that I'm not sure where to start. Maybe the biggest problem that I have with it is that it assumes that we should all share similar behaviors and traits, and it insinuates that any deviation from the base line is evidence of some kind of flaw.

  • Sparky||

    I like how they say people are "suffering" from being highly intelligent if somewhat socially inept. We always get to see just who's suffering when those dorks start huge tech corps and make more money than the GDP.

  • RSDavis||

    It's a bit more complicated than that, Sparky. Not all Aspies are actually highly intelligent, for starters.

    I've been writing about AS for awhile now, so if you'd like to check it out and see what it is all about:

    http://freedomphiles.blogspot......q=asperger

  • ||

    Korduroy Kristen|2.1.12 @ 3:52PM|#

    Ted Fucking Nugent, drug warrior/bootlicker scum, ain't my uncle.

    Gracias, K.

  • Loki||

    "failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level" ... "lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people" ... "encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus"

    By those standards I think just about anyone with an above average IQ could be an aspy. Whatever, it's probably just an excuse to prescribe more people meds that they don't really need. It's "ADHD" all over again.

  • Max||

    As long a government isn't telling psychiatrists what to say or do, back the fuck off. If a psychiatrist in private practice says eating too much asparugus causes Asperger's syndrome, it's his business. Caveat nutbar.

  • Max||

    Ron Paul has Nazi syndrome.

  • ||

    The picture of Benjamin Nugent with this article reminds me of Sheldon from Big Bang Theory. hmmm.

    He looks nothing like Uncle Ted.

  • ||

    Most Asperger's expert would say you can sort of grow out of it. That's because Autism Spectrum disorders are developmental delays. And like many delays (such as some learning disabilities), progress can be made - it's not a permanent sentence.

    The DSM has all sorts of problems and has since its inception.

    Ultimately, it's society that creates these problems. Because kids with Asperger's just learn and communicate differently than is required for mass public educational systems.

  • ||

    Most Asperger's expert would say you can sort of grow out of it. That's because Autism Spectrum disorders are developmental delays. And like many delays (such as some learning disabilities), progress can be made - it's not a permanent sentence.

    The DSM has all sorts of problems and has since its inception.

    Ultimately, it's society that creates these problems. Because kids with Asperger's just learn and communicate differently than is required for mass public educational systems.

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