Monday, September 20, 2010

John Robison wants to study "geek success"

A controversy at one time extant in the autism blogosphere was the lack of autistic representation in the leadership of that well known organization autism speaks. Recently best selling memoirist, John Elder Robison was appointed to a scientific advisory board of AS. He has expressed an interest in scientific research that will help mitigate the problems of autism spectrum disorders.

For a while, it would seem that Robison was more interested in garnering AS funds for his own personal use than he was in reviewing science or suggesting ways that persons on the spectrum could be helped by science.

As of recently this seems to have changed. Robison has apparently been attempting to make a couple of suggestions for directions into which autism science should go. One of the interesting ones is to study geek success. Why would Bill Gates be able to become a billionaire in spite of having autism or autistic traits and why would college professors like Vernon Smith and Richard Borcherds have success in spite of being on the spectrum. when other persons with similar traits are on social security disability? Robison's brilliant suggestion is to study these traits and see how they can be applied to persons less fortunate. The criteria for specifying whether these persons are autistic is Simon Baron-Cohen's AQ test.

Though Robison mentions Bill Gates he neglects to mention any other specific examples of autism success stories. I believe that I have debunked the notion of Bill Gates' autism in my undiagnosing essay which Robison has apparently never read, so I won't go into this further. I am sure the interested reader can find my essay and read the section on Gates and judge for themselves.

One of the problems Robison neglects to mention about the AQ test, is that it is a self-administered test meant for adults with normal or above average intelligence. Not for persons with intellectual disabilities. (Though recently newer versions have been devised for children but it is different than the adult test) As far as I know, it has never been standardized in any way and just an informal test. It is also not something meant for a legitimate clinical diagnosis which even Baron-Cohen himself has acknowledged. Professor Vernon Smith who neurodiversity proponents (and perhaps Robison) give as an example of an accomplished ASD'er just decided at age 78, based on this self-administered test that he was on the spectrum without bothering to get any kind of diagnosis.

Richard Borcherds is another example mentioned, here is what Baron-Cohen stated in his book The essential difference on the alleged AS:

One might question whether Richard Borcherds really merits a diagnosis at all, given how well adapted he is. Certainly he is not currently severe enough in his symptoms to warrant a diagnosis in adulthood, as his symptoms are not interfering with his daily functioning. In the jargon of the diagnostic criteria, he is not "suffering any impairment in his daily life"........

Of course, perhaps Robison and his friends (like Alex Plank) in the ND movement can actually find a legitimate geek success who is on the spectrum. All we have to do is isolate that person and find out what makes them so successful, then we can find out what went wrong in the non-geek who is on social security disability and not making a six or seven figure income as a computer scientist or college professor. This can be done in intellectually impaired autistics who can't speak as well. After all, they have more in common with Bill Gates, Vernon Smith and Richard Borcherds and perhaps some geek who legitimately has an ASD than they realize. Wow, what a major breakthrough that will be. Instead of being handicapped all autistic people will have this potential to be successful because of these traits.

I can't wait for Robison's next brilliant suggestion.


Autism Mom Rising said...

Great post. Yeah, that AQ test - I think it can also pick up people who different conditions that are not Autism. I score a 34, which puts me in the general Aspergers range. I don't have Aspergers, I have Non Verbal Learning Disorder. Similar but not the same thing.

Would that test also pick up someone with a dx of social anxiety...and what about people with Borderline Personality Disorder?

Socrates said...

Where to begin?

The professor rather understates the DSM cut-off - it is:

"The essential features of Asperger’s Disorder are severe and sustained impairment in social interaction... The impairment in reciprocal social interaction is gross and sustained... The disturbance must cause clinically significant impairment in social adaptation" and so on.

Would all others now please leave the debate?

Robison's contribution to the Autistic Talents discussion is typically crass and ill-informed and has already been thrashed over by Baron-Cohen and his chums for years.

I've made a series of videos demonstrating the reality of high functioning autism in the wild. The subject of these films a graduate of special schooling, has a forty-year history of clinical involvement, a diagnosis from the aforementioned professor and a IQ of 144 (That is a real Binet IQ from a clinical psychologist, not the inflated Mensa self-test for narcissists {*snark* combine that with an AQ test downloaded from the internet and you've most of ASAN to a T}).

I think these films show clearly the necessity of shutting these wankers up for good.

Socrates said...

Where did my comment go you Californian Scoundrel?

Walt said...


You complain in your article about being called all manner of nasty names.

But the above comment you somehow consider an acceptable level of social discourse?


jonathan said...

Walt: Actually, yes, I do. Socrates likes to get drunk due to being so unhappy about his autism and then he starts being obnoxious on people's blogs and putting him in his place with a little levity never hurts.

Kent A. said...

Could he want this study to help his son's self esteem? Seems a bit self serving to me and along the same motivations of his getting money to have his son do interviews, which should have been philanthropic. I do videos all the time, travel to NYC and Boston and I don't ask Autism Speaks or anyone else to pay me. I do it because I believe in something. I'm not motivated by money.

jonathan said...

It is a possibility, don't know. Maybe he believes that geek success is something that merits studying because it would enable someone at the functioning level of your son to become another Bill Gates or Albert Einstein.

I can't believe that anyone at autism speaks would take him seriously. Of course you never know with an organization that would donate to his son and Alex Plank and give someone like Laurent Mottron a half million dollar grant.

BatShitCrazy Socrates (Sober) said...

Robison's fellow board members are here..

It wouldn't be too unkind to suggest that he's seriously out of his league scientifically - I suppose he could offer some moral insight...?

Kent, would you want your son to be 'higher functioning' to the point he was like me? Flowers for Algernon is a must read...

Baron-Cohen and chums have already thrashed over the talent thing - it seems largely to come down to a little autism is fine and indeed often very good - a lot is bad...

And don't forget Asperger's (and others) idea that there is at least two autisms - a genetic and one that results from neo-natal trauma...

Kent A. said...

@Jonathan I'm not sure how this would motivate my son as if that is all he needs, a little motivation. It won't help my son overcome his inability to process language, his anxiety or his severe OCD. It also won't turn his cognitive disabilities into a super genius level nor give him adequate executive functioning.

@Socrates It would be nice if I could give my son your gift for writing and your self-deprecating humor.