Autism, or early isolation?
I’ve often heard LWers describe themselves as having autism, or Asperger’s Syndrome (which is no longer considered a valid construct, and was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders two years ago.) This is given as an explanation for various forms of social dysfunction. The suggestion is that such people have a genetic disorder.
I’ve come to think that the issues are seldom genetic in origin. There’s a simpler explanation. LWers are often intellectually gifted. This is conducive to early isolation. In The Outsiders Grady Towers writes:
The single greatest adjustment problem faced by the intellectually gifted, however, is their tendency to become isolated from the rest of humanity. Hollingworth points out that the exceptionally gifted do not deliberately choose isolation, but are forced into it against their wills. These children are not unfriendly or ungregarious by nature. Typically they strive to play with others but their efforts are defeated by the difficulties of the case… Other children do not share their interests, their vocabulary, or their desire to organize activities. [...] Forms of solitary play develop, and these, becoming fixed as habits, may explain the fact that many highly intellectual adults are shy, ungregarious, and unmindful of human relationships, or even misanthropic and uncomfortable in ordinary social intercourse.
Most people pick up a huge amount of tacit social knowledge as children and adolescents, through very frequent interaction with many peers. This is often not true of intellectually gifted people, who usually grew up in relative isolation on account of lack of peers who shared their interests.
They often have the chance to meet others similar to themselves later on in life. One might think that this would resolve the issue. But in many cases intellectually gifted people simply never learn how beneficial it can be to interact with others. For example, the great mathematician Robert Langlands wrote:
Bochner pointed out my existence to Selberg and he invited me over to speak with him at the Institute. I have known Selberg for more than 40 years. We are on cordial terms and our offices have been essentially adjacent for more than 20 years.This is nevertheless the only mathematical conversation I ever had with him. It was a revelation.
At first blush, this seems very strange: much of Langlands’ work involves generalizations of Selberg’s trace formula. It seems obvious that it would be fruitful for Langlands to have spoken with Selberg about math more than once, especially given that the one conversation that he had was very fruitful! But if one thinks about what their early life experiences must have been like, as a couple of the most brilliant people in the world, it sort of makes sense: they plausibly had essentially nobody to talk to about their interests for many years, and if you go for many years without having substantive conversations with people, you might never get into the habit.
When intellectually gifted people do interact, one often sees cultural clashes, because such people created their own cultures as a substitute for usual cultural acclimation, and share no common background culture. From the inside, one sees other intellectually gifted people, recognizes that they’re very odd by mainstream standards, and thinks “these people are freaks!” But at the same time, the people who one sees as freaks see one in the same light, and one is often blind to how unusual one’s own behavior is, only in different ways. Thus, one gets trainwreck scenarios, as when I inadvertently offended dozens of people when I made strong criticisms of MIRI and Eliezer back in 2010, just after I joined the LW community.
Grady Towers concludes the essay by writing:
The tragedy is that none of the super high IQ societies created thus far have been able to meet those needs, and the reason for this is simple. None of these groups is willing to acknowledge or come to terms with the fact that much of their membership belong to the psychological walking wounded. This alone is enough to explain the constant schisms that develop, the frequent vendettas, and the mediocre level of their publications. But those are not immutable facts; they can be changed. And the first step in doing so is to see ourselves as we are.
- 27 Jun 2015 1:33 UTC; 3 points)'s comment on Beyond Statistics 101 by (
- 26 Jun 2015 18:36 UTC; 0 points)'s comment on Beyond Statistics 101 by (
Classic autism begins early, way earlier than a child becomes interested in social interactions (except for parents) or demonstrates being intellectually precocious. The frequent first symptom is loss of speech after starting to acquire it—the child starts to use words but then stops. There are often associated issues like shifted sensory perception, repetitive movements, etc. Avoiding eye contact is standard. All this happens when the child is 2-3 years old.
And, of course, autistic kids usually have delayed mental development.
Instead, you are talking about nerds/geeks/otaku/etc. They might be on the spectrum in which case their symptoms feed into social isolation scenario—but the causality is reversed from what you are proposing. Or they might not be autistic at all in which case what you are talking about is a possible explanation, but calling them autistic is pattern-botching.
ETA: I’ve updated my position since writing this comment and no longer endorse it; see this comment.
I agree with Lumifer and shminux’s comments. More generally, this does not seem like the sort of thing that you should be making conclusions about without taking a look at actual data when actual data is easily available. I recommend Neihart (1999). At best, the picture is a lot more nuanced than you’re making it out to be, and at worst, you’re regurgitating a cached thought: “Gifted children are poorly adjusted compared to their peers.” The closest thing to this in the literature is the correlation between highly creative adults and psychopathology, particularly mood disorders, psychosis, and suicidality; not more general giftedness and social competence. There isn’t enough evidence to conclude that this generalizes, in terms of populations, to highly intelligent individuals of all ages or to highly creative, or more generally, highly intelligent, children; or that this generalizes, in terms of individual characteristics, to social competence.
As for giftedness and measurements of psychological adjustment besides social competence, most studies have found little correlation between depression, anxiety, or suicidality and giftedness, and what correlation there is errs on the side of gifted children being better-adjusted than their average peers. Gifted children are also far less likely to engage in deviant behavior.
As for social competence, it’s diverse among gifted persons. We can’t conclude that either intelligence or personality factors are the primary causal factor in any purported correlation between the two and social competence. That is, your model is “Gifted children are highly intelligent. Gifted children are dissimilar from their peers because they are highly intelligent. Their peers ostracize them because they are dissimilar. Ostracized children engage in less social interaction. Gifted children have poor social skills because they have less experience with social interaction.” A similarly plausible model is: “Some gifted children feel dissimilar from their peers. Gifted children who feel dissimilar from their peers are less likely to interact with their peers. Gifted children who interact less have poor social skills.” And it can be both, and/or something else. There’s also some evidence that verbally precocious children are less socially competent, or at least perceive themselves so, than mathematically precocious children. Finally, a big confounder in this entire field of inquiry is the correlation between high socioeconomic class and giftedness; it’s hard to get a large control group that isn’t also more socioeconomically heterogeneous than the experimental group.
If we’re going to armchair psychologize, then I much prefer Paul Graham’s model. High-IQ societies suffer from the same deficiency as public schools and prisons: their selection criteria are neither the motives of their members nor individual characteristics highly correlated with particular motives, groups composed of individuals with diffuse motives are directionless, and directionless groups that are prevented from decomposing into smaller more purposeful groups degenerate into unadulterated status games.
This community has a tendency to speculate wildly, especially about psychology and sociology. This can be useful. Sometimes there’s no data to look at. But when there’s data to look at, you should look at it. Jonah, do you disagree that this article has unnecessarily low epistemic standards? Usually when this criticism is made, you point out that you are still explaining and not yet defending, but there are clear misunderstandings of psychopathology, as detailed below by Lumifer, and direct contradictions with empirical evidence, as I have detailed above, so I don’t see how that response would be applicable in this context.
Honestly, I think that is the worst model. I remember how we, the 3-4 nerds in the class, how bitter we were about the popular kids and how we have gladly sacrificed our intelligence or books or anything to be like them, be boys who are respected by boys and loved by girls. Our lives were characterized of bitter envy of the popular kids, with the occasional desperate sour-graping.
Paul Graham is used to productive nerds, teenagers who at 16 are already writing useful software or learning science and really ignore what others do. Perhaps this model is useful for them.
But it is not useful at all for the larger number of less productive, more escapist nerds in the local D&D or MtG club. (And the difference is not intelligence but personality type, interests and so on, there are people in the Mensa who are like this.)
Yeah, I do consider it armchair psychology. He seems to be generalizing too much about the psychological characteristics of the empirical cluster to which he refers as nerds. I found the interesting part of the essay to be the hypotheses about perverse incentives explaining the similarities between the milieux of American prisons and American public schools, and that’s really why I brought it up here.
I was under the impression that US schools have far more surveillance. I mean my school experience was like that, but it was a poor school at the ass end of Europe, no campus police no security guards no cameras no staff nothing, just teachers and kids, and teachers usually spending the breaks in their lounge, drinking coffee, so nothing kids did to each other was noticed and punished, pretty much free reign. I sort of expected US schools to be under far more surveillance. Prisons, too. There are no privacy rights in prison, none at all. If a country can afford it, there is supposed to be camera in every corner?
That depends. US schools are run by local (not even state) governments, usually towns, and there is huge diversity in what a school might look like.
Public schools in big cities (NYC, Philly, etc.) basically are prisons with wire fences, metal detectors, cameras everywhere, etc. I’ve seen a school with no windows—it was designed this way so that there were no windows to break. But schools in e.g. rich suburbs are nice places, similar to college campuses.
I don’t quite understand your point. At any rate, in my experience, I only encountered two surveillance cameras that were privately owned by tech-savvy teachers, there was usually one (sometimes two) ‘SRO’ (school resource officer), a police officer assigned to the campus, and we were almost always supervised by adults. Graham’s hypothesis is plausible even given poor supervision. The only requirements are 1) adults and children not being invested in the ostensible purpose of the educational system and 2a) the presence of obstacles to refusing to participate in or 2b) reforming the educational system.
There quite possibly is. Not that it stops prison gangs from dominating prisons.
I’ve withdrawn my downvote and updated towards the hypothesis that the sort of gifted children to which you are referring tend to have lower social competence than their peers. I didn’t follow the link to Towers’s The Outsiders because it is not a social norm for readers to follow all of the links in the articles here, and I assumed (rightfully, I think) that you were quoting everything relevant to your article.
When Jonah is talking about giftedness, he is not talking about the usual measure of IQ >=130 (some studies use IQ >=125). He is talking about IQ >= 155, 1 in 10,000; or at least those are the studies that he’s implicitly citing. On this interpretation of Jonah’s claim, there is evidence.
You have to indicate this! I feel like this is going to bring up the explaining vs. defending distinction again, but that is a huge, easily mentionable difference! And instead of or in addition to quoting Towers’s essay, which looks like pure conjecture out of context, you could have cited some of those numbers from Terman or Hollingworth.
Dauber & Benbow (1990) has a good bibliography if you know where to look. Austin & Draper (1981) looks like it’s probably a good review of this kind of research, if a bit dated, but I can’t find a non-paywalled link. Each of the studies that I’ve seen seem to have weaknesses, but there are quite a few and it seems that their individual weaknesses are different.
Considering all of that, I would ask how relevant that research is to you or the community. In earlier articles you talked about being amazed by children with that 1 in 10,000 sort of ability, which makes me think that you aren’t in that sort of range, and the LW average is 138 last time I checked. If social competence is really relevant to you and your audience, then we should be looking at the research I linked before for explanations.
The review I linked in my other comment talks about educational fit as a much greater factor in adjustment problems than giftedness in and of itself, and you even personally experienced this:
That in tandem with personality factors seems like an equally plausible explanation for many people.
Thanks for the detailed comment. I omitted details in order to keep my post short, and get the main point across.
I believe that the IQ tests that Terman and Hollingworth were using were effectively scaled differently from modern IQ tests. They may have corresponded to “mental age” as opposed to “standard deviations. In particular, they discuss IQ scores of 180, and there definitely aren’t enough people who are 5+ SD above the mean to get reliable scores in that range.
Putting that aside, there are genetic factors other than IQ alone that play a role in intellectual and emotional development See my discussion of aesthetic discernment here: it hasn’t been established as a valid psychometric construct, but I have very high confidence that that’s simply because psychology researchers haven’t investigated it carefully. If one is 2.5+ SD above the mean in each of IQ and aesthetic discernment, one is going to be extremely isolated. I think that that’s what one is seeing with someone like Scott Alexander.
Relatedly, Benbow and collaborators also found that children who scored high on verbal and not math have greater social maladjustment than those who score high on math and not verbal (don’t have the references immediately on hand, can dig them up later if you want.)
Thanks for pointing this out. Also, I think the important thing about the numbers was not that the modern and historical IQ scores be comparable, but that IQ correlated with maladjustment in Terman and Hollingworth.
Maybe I’m misinterpreting, but do you mean ”...that that’s simply because psychology researchers haven’t investigated it carefully.”?
There’s a link to that study in my comment that you just replied to.
Yes, thanks, fixed.
If lack of social skills were the only part of autism this might be onto something. But autism tends to be a cluster of symptoms, which aren’t explainable by a lack of social interactions. For example, autistic people tend to have different sensory perception. I would not expect that symptom to appear from early isolation.
Note that JonahSinick is referring to intellectually gifted individuals who refer to themselves as having autism or Aspergers. Most nerdy people I know who refer to themselves so have never had any sort of formal diagnosis.
My guess is that, if the hypothesis of the post is true, many intellectually gifted people may tend to refer to themselves as autistic when they are not.
In other words, the fact that real autism involves other symptoms does not necessarily disprove the hypothesis of this post.
Seems like we need a better word for “self-diagnosed Asperger” (because it seems to refer to a real cluster in thingspace, just not the one that medicine calls Asperger).
Then we should replace all instances of “autism” in the article with this new word.
I don’t think medicalizing the issue is a good idea.
Besides, I am not sure this cluster is so well-defined. For example, I would tend to distinguish between people who are asocial because they don’t really care about that aspect of their lives; and people who are socially incompetent, but desperately want to be.
But without medicalizing, how can we generate significant-sounding labels for every aspect of our personalities?
How will we write lists of things “you should know” about dealing with (Insert familiar DSM-adjacent descriptor)?
Without a constant stream of important-sounding labels, how will I know what tiny ingroups I belong to? My whole identity might fall apart at the seams!
“Making shit up” is a universal, time-honored, and a fairly effective solution :-D
There’s always divination. It’s totally random, of course, but throw enough parameters and different methods at the problem and eventually most people will hit something they’re happy with.
I’m a Cancer with Aries rising. What’s your sign?
But that doesn’t work for signaling that one cares about science. Using sciency words feels much better.
In that case, I’m an ENTJ.
Negative, but it may be because of rollover?
A few people who will self diagnose with Aspergers actually have Aspergers. Others won’t. Among those who don’t have real Asperger different people will self-diagnose for different reasons.
Introvert seems to be a good word with clear meaning.
Alternative hypothesis 2
(At this point I should point out that I like your hypothesis, I just think it is not necessarily single-cause)
Satoshi Kanazawa’s charmingly simple theory that general intelligence tends to suppress and displace most of your instincts. This means being smart pretty much automatically means being bad at a lot of things. The way I interpret it is that attention is a finite resource and you either pay attention to your analytical engine or your instincts or share it, but you cannot give full 100% attention to both. So if the analytical engine demands your attention the insticts shut up/down.
I have observed intelligent people being bad at the following instinctive things (not all of them, not in all of these):
motoric skills, hand-eye coordination like basketball
3D geometry i.e. toolmanship, fixing the plumbing or the lawn mower at home, being a handyman
This may be a case of ignoring people who are bad in both intellectual and physical things. Those people are just not salient, the same way as people think smart people are ugly and beautiful people are dumb. It may simply be that the ugly and dumb people go unnoticed. This is Berkson’s paradox: Even if A and B are independent, they are dependent conditioned on (A or B).
Absolutely. The stereotype of the smart geek/nerd comes from the fact that when people are ugly/socially awkward/weird, other people get positively surprised that they are smart and really notice that. It is like, they would pretty much “written them off” as low-status unimportant people to be ignored, and thus they get surprised that they actually have useful virtues, and should not be so easily ignored because while how they say things is not popular, what they say is often true and insightful.
While the dumb nerd/geek just gets ignored forever.
There are smart people with bad social skills and there are dumb people with bad social skills.
Intelligence helps http://cogsci.stackexchange.com/a/9807/625
It also helps with all the other things you listed.
Why these things? They largely involve plenty of “analytical engine” skill. I think I’m a pretty good singer, I was varsity basketball, had good enough balance and coordination to climb V6 before injuries, won the district-wide art show in high school three years in a row, fix all my own plumbing and fixed my lawn mower engine. My wife literally rebuilt her car’s circuit board, which is maybe more up the typical geek alley, but if you can do that, or build a gaming platform from parts, you can rebuild a lawn mower engine. You got me on social skills, but I don’t think that’s universal for smart people so much as universal for people who use most of their socializing resources on the Internet. General intelligence doesn’t have to mean “super focused on one thing.” You might have to give 100% attention if you ever want to be Kobe Bryant or something, but you can be really good at a lot of things without being among the top two or three in the world at any of them.
Anecdata, but just as reference to get away from bragging, the guy who got the second highest SAT score at my high school is now a pro rugby player. My best friend from college, who scored pretty close to us, just won an Emmy for writing comedy television.
I’ve observed lots of people being bad at those things, intelligent or not. I’m at least average at all of them. Granted, I have face blindness, but that has, thus far, been entirely insignificant, and I didn’t even notice until I encountered the term researching something else—and that is likely to be related to the fact that I didn’t start wearing glasses until -far- too late in my childhood, and so have insufficiently trained my brain to recognize faces in the first place. I’ve gotten gradually better at recognizing faces as I’ve expanded my social circle.
This kind of theory is appealing because it seems “fair”. I’m attractive, intelligent, tall, charismatic, good at everything (except welding) I have ever tried. My observation is this: There is no fairness, at all.
You have a few videogames and you really play them a lot, you became an expert of every detail of them: indication of autism / Asperger (narrow obsessions). (Starcraft 2 seems to be optimized for this.)
You have a lot of videogames and don’t really care about getting good at them, you mostly just use them to “discover”, to daydream about living in a fantasy world, you find it important that your character should fit into a role in the world without breaking character, such as not wear mismatching armor that would make him look funny: indication of schizoid personality (withdrawing from the world, rich internal life). (Elder Scrolls games seem to be optimized for this.)
Are you claiming that genetics isn’t the main cause of high-IQ autism, or that autism isn’t a significant cause of LW people often having non-standard social skills? If it’s just the second then you have to account for the fact that LW-like thinking is consistent with the natural thinking patterns of high IQ autistics, and so LW will naturally tend to attract them. If you are making the first claim, you have to account for the fact that children are frequently diagnosed with autism before they turn three.
Being uncomfortable with physical touch is typical for autism. The big LW community events I attended have a lot of physical touching. From what I heard about CFAR that’s true as well.
We don’t act according to standard social scripts and a few people do show signs of autism but I don’t think autists are a majority.
Given the low autism base rate, you’re right they are probably not a majority. A self-improvement group with lots of autistics probably should practice physical touching.
Touch sensitivity can vary. Having a sense of control and an amenable mental state can make significant difference. Being touched unexpectedly, especially when one is already overstimulated, can be horrendous. But while the intense blow-ups over innocuous unwanted sensations are most memorable, autists can have as many strong positive preferences as negative. If you’re curious about touch at all, a lw meetup seems like a good place to explore on your own terms: it’s got a norm of asking for touch verbally instead of by mysterious social cues (a chance to say no most casual touch doesn’t give), explicit consensus on its purpose and meaning (because touch itself might be pleasant, no accidentally starting a mating ritual), and a built-in excuse for why you might find it uncomfortable and off-putting (it IS weird, by other social standards).
People who want to be asked for physical touch likely won’t opt for the “free hugs” sticker which a majority did at LWCW-EU. It means opting in to being touched unexpectedly.
Picking that sticker is not an act that I would expect from a person with real autism.
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/spectrum-solutions/201111/touch-and-the-autism-spectrum contains the paragraph:
Behavior like that happens with autism.
I used to have a roommate with autism and I don’t think he would have picked a free-hugs sticker.
There are many different purposes for touch besides mating and I don’t think it’s always communicated explicitly. In a debugging session I might use touch to direct attention, gather information or affect an emotional process. If it’s informal sitting on the couch the purpose can also be bonding or pleasure in the moment.
Right.. Verbally was too narrow a term. The free hugs sticker seems perfectly in line, actually. If there’s an explicit option to opt-in, then there’s an implicit option to opt OUT. Just having the option to opt out that makes it feel a whole lot safer to let people into your personal space.
Some autistic conventions have gone with a system of colored badges: a green badge means that the person is actively seeking communication; they have trouble initiating, but want to be approached by people. A yellow badge means they might approach strangers to talk, but unless you have already met the person face-to-face, you should not approach them to talk. A red badge means that the person probably does not want to talk to anyone, or only wants to talk to a few people.
The quote about the hug is an exceedingly typical narrative, in the sense that it’s a narrative written in a very typical way. There’s no context for her boyfriend’s mental state, what he was doing or what kind of day he’s had so far. How do I describe how huge an oversight that is? The only comparison I can think of is to sex, because people acknowledge the way abusing such an intense experience can wreak havoc on your mind.
What if people around you thought it was normal and okay to force sex on you at any moment, and more so that you were being difficult or uncaring if you rejected a bit of harmless surprise sex? If every meeting might escalate too-much-too-fast, if you were left breathless and raw multiple times a day with no time to recuperate or make sense of it? It would be easy to decide that you point-blank hated sex. You know that your reactions are completely out of proportion by any normal standard, but the confusion and terror just keep building until you want nothing to do with sex. You make excuses where you can and think of England when you can’t. You try to keep iron control over which people have sex with you and when. You find sexual variations to propose that you like better, or that at least trigger you less. You leave behind many sad, bewildered loved ones as you stumble your way through life.
You find others who seem unusually deliberate about sex also. When they talk about its many beneficial and underrated effects, it resonates with your subjective experience that sex is a powerful, intense thing. It occurs to you that you do share mostly the same brain chemistry as the rest of the human race, and there’s a good chance that you will like and benefit from sex if you can break down your averse reaction to it. Might as well try it, eh?
Having stickers about whether one is open to be approached is a quite different level to having stickers about hugging.
If a person had a bad day, hugging them to comfort them is a normal social action. If I have a good relationship with a person than I don’t have a problem with them touching me regardless of my current emotional state.
Hugging isn’t unrelated to the mental state, in a way that involving a grieving person in sex would be. On the other hand it can break a walls that shield the grieving person from his grief. There’s more vulnerability.
In general I expect that the resulting reaction of an autists person when hugged gives out information about him being generally uncomfortable with getting hugged.
It might be that I’m badly calibrated because I didn’t interact with enough people who I know to be diagnosed with autism, but I wouldn’t expect the kind of physical interaction I had with many people at LWCW to happen if those people are autistic.
I’m pretty sure that the effect you are describing exists, but it’s not Autism OR early isolation, it’s AND. Plenty of gifted people are well adjusted. And what starts out as a moderate interpersonal communication deficiency may spiral downward into isolation because of the positive feedback loop you describe. Just like mathematically gifted people spend comparatively more time doing math, physically gifted people spend more time exercising and musically gifted people playing music, there is a mirror vicious circle corresponding to each virtuous circle.
Re Asperger’s reclassification: it is called SCD (Social Communication Disorder) in DSM-V, see e.g. https://www.autismspeaks.org/dsm-5/faq and http://www.asha.org/Practice-Portal/Clinical-Topics/Social-Communication-Disorders-in-School-Age-Children/
I am not sure this is correct. The FAQ you link to says
My understanding of Asperger’s is that language is perfectly fine, but there are (still quoting the FAQ) “deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, and deficits in developing maintaining and understanding relationships.”
Notably, social-emotional deficits still fall under the ASD in DSM-5, but SCD is now a separate disorder.
Asperger’s syndrome is no longer given as a category in the DSM-5 because it is assimilated into the ASD rating scale. Asperger’s syndrome would fall into the “Autism Spectrum Disorder—Level 1” category. You can see why most people continue to use the term Asperger’s :-) The DMS-5 states:
“Individuals with a well-established DSM-IV diagnoses of autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, or pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified should be given the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder”. (Not Social Communication Disorder).
Alternative hypothesis: schizoid personality.
I find https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schizoid_personality_disorder#Guntrip_criteria matches me well, but what is ever more important that it sounds like a description of “nerd culture”:
Narcissism—um, here it is important to point out that low self-confidence, social awkwardness can also be a form of it (“everybody is looking at me and I am ugly!”). Or: the classic “naked at school” nightmares. But this is debatable.
Sense of superiority—heh heh heh
Loss of affect—understood as cynicism mainly
Depersonalization - ?
Regression—inward, as in: fantasy, D&D etc.
Regression—backward, as in: enjoying childhood things like simple console games
I don’t know how well it describes the LW community, it does describe me, and it generally does a good job of describing the Reddit type nerd-neckbeard community who are IMHO at the very least could be seen as the less intelligent “cousin” of the LW community in general (well, closer to to LW than a fantasy football community is close to LW)
This is just a hypothesis but may worth considering. Are you often described as emotionally cold and withdrawn?
Oh, dear. Let’s not go into the pop-psy favourite pastime of diagnosing oneself with a variety of psychiatric disorders. Or, even better, diagnosing various people on the ’net.
(Three men in a boat)
While I share the sentiment, recognizing that their are multiple psychological issues that lead to lower social skills is an improvement over simply thinking of everything as autism.
a.k.a. Medical student syndrome
Fair point, but actually I think these are disorders only in the extreme case, and simply personality types in more moderate cases. I think e.g. most poets had to be a bit schizoid.
My knee-jerk reaction to this was, “Yes, nobody understands me!” But on deeper reflection, that’s not fair at all. I had many opportunities for mingling with people with the same interests as I did but I did not take many of those opportunities because my status-seeking brain was not satisfied with that. Also, I had many opportunities for mingling with people with far greater intellectual ability than myself, but was intimidated by the task.
I think that social isolation of the intellectually gifted is a harsh problem and I have encountered it several times before coming to LW. There are two different talks I’ve had to have with very intelligent people that I’ve met in the past.
The first is the “You aren’t very good at social interactions so lets find some ways to improve that” talk which is often triggered by failures in communication that significantly upset people and require a mediator to explain the perspectives and motivations back to both parties. Social interaction is complex and full of pitfalls for those who simply aren’t in the know. The explanation of controversial ideas to those who are reluctant to change their minds on an issue requires social nuance and great care.
The second talk is the “I haven’t ever had an intelligent conversation like this before” talk which other intelligent people occasionally bring up to me in the middle of a different conversation. The worry and concern I feel in this case is not because the individual is incapable or has difficulty interacting with intelligent conversation but because they are capable of it and have either abstained or not been exposed to it for a long time.
Social interaction is important to anyone who is intelligent to increase the exposure of their ideas, improve their ideas by testing and growing them around others, and for their basic everyday rationality. One of the primary methods of determining whether your sensory inputs are working properly is by creating reference points through other people. “Does it feel cold in here to you?” “Does anyone else smell that?” Or one that happened to me this weekend while searching for a LW meetup location: “Does this coffee taste sour to you or is there something wrong with me?” (This was the second time I had tasted inappropriately sour coffee in the same day and I was starting to become concerned about the proper functioning of my taste buds/personal health.)
What’s the base rate on lackluster social skills? Based on the popularity of self-help books and seminars aimed at improving social skills, I’m led to believe that social butterflies aren’t all that common among the general population either.
Curious use of the singular “interest”. Somehow I don’t think intelligence is the real issue here. Rather, it strikes me as a consequence of diverging interests. Let’s take youth/high school sports teams. There are the so-called dumb jocks and then there are athletic geniuses (for example, Alan Turing was an extremely good runner). You could easily end up with a skilled team featuring a large gap in IQ scores. The endpoints of this gap would have overlapping interests despite the intelligence difference. It’s the people who focus their attention on a narrow range of topics outside the mainstream who are likely to have the most trouble.
When I was in high school, I was a skinny nerd that could barely bench-press the bar. But I spent most of my senior year eating my lunches with some guys from the football and track teams, including a lineman who went on to the NFL.
These guys weren’t dumb. They generally weren’t academic stars—they did well enough in school not to embarrass themselves in college applications, but they spent their time on the field instead of studying and it showed in grades. But they were quick and clever and could enjoy an intelligent conversation—often a more intelligent one than the nerdy clique, once you’d exhausted the possibilities of Warhammer and Counterstrike.
(A couple years later, I discovered fencing.)
One aspect of the isolation is the construction of concepts, structures thereof and whole private languages that are tuned and specialized to the mind and interests highly gifted. Now private languages don’t really exist but that doesn’t mean that they don’t hinder interaction with other people—esp. the exchange of ideas interesting to them.
Languages are implemented in individual brains and so private languages are perfectly conceptually possible, Wittgenstein notwithstanding.
That was meant humorously. Obviously such things exist. But one could argue that these do not match some strict definitions of what a language is.
Sorry about that, then. I’ve just heard too many philosophers say such things non-humorously.
I’m curious what replaced it, if anything. It certainly seems to describe a real cluster in personspace. Was it just promoted to an unfortunate but non-disordered personality trait?
I came across this same essay some years ago, though I think it was on a different site. The phrase “Psychological walking wounded” has stuck with me ever since. It’s just too poignantly accurate a description of my sociomental life to forget.
(it is interesting that this post shows up at a time when I’m trying to arrange psychological appointments to work on this and related issues...)
Basically, the two large sub-categories of autism are (1) when speech is impaired; and (2) when speech is not impaired.
Asperger’s is the old name for the unimpaired-speech version. Note that, generally speaking, impairment of speech is associated with delays in general mental development.
I think you have (1) and (2) reversed. Also, verbal communication is impaired on all three levels.
This is an interesting debate. I found this article as I was able to experience a relationship followed by great difficulties with a girl who had a highly autistic brother. What caused difficulties and huge problems was the mother of this girl’s efforts to isolate her child. Of course the mother was not intentionally abusive but would isolate her daughter from relationships with others and the world under the guise of protecting her. I once watched a documentary with the mother of an autistic child telling the child not to play with toilets in the bathroom. Of course she made logical sense, wanting her child not to play in room which could be dirty but her protection of her child, in fact isolated her child from the world around them. I saw the mother of the girl create perceived threats which then led her daughter to isolate herself. This was usually people.
So I question whether or not these children are really intelligent or have they been forced by their parents not to play as their parents have directed them to focus on other ‘higher’ things which leads the child to become isolated. Rather than engage with and interact with the world the parent tries to be the childs guide, forcing the child to resist what the parent may see as fickle. The child enters their own world.
This is the conclusion I’ve recently drawn about my own social skills—I used to think I didn’t have the native architecture for some things, but more recently I’ve noticed that it’s pretty easy to internalize some social skills once I decide it’s interesting to learn. Related is the kitten vertical vision experiment, where cats that from birth saw only through vertical slits couldn’t track horizontal motion once the filters were taken off. (They recovered.)
I have yet another possible reason for these social difficulties one tends to experience: If you are smart, you have to hide it. It sounds plain, but you may be able to remember someone making fun of you in your childhood for using “fancy words”, excelling at math or literature or something like that. I am not sure if I can fully identify the cause of this behaviour on others (maybe a defense mechanism) but I find it to be empirically true. Personally, I went most of my very early life complying with the constant need of feigning modesty, which made me reluctant to participate in quite a lot of conversations, and I thus believe it to have been an obstacle for my social interactions.
I notice that you often wrote “intelectually gifted”, but never “intelligent” nor “smart”. Is it just eloquence, or might that be a way of modesty that -such as myself- you have got used to?
I suspect there is a communication barrier between high-IQ and average-IQ people. Also, people tend to connect with each other through shared interests, and many with high-IQ also have high openness, lending oneself to have unconventional interests. With fewer people like you, it can lead to literal social isolation, and a feeling of disconnectedness with others. I don’t think this is autism per se, but I can see why many people with high IQs may think they have autism.
At around three years old one of the staff at preschool suggested that I had Aspergers or ADHD after I had gotten into trouble for playing with the fire extinguisher. I was formally diagnosed on the autistic spectrum at age four/five. I took two separate verbal ability tests at age 4y7m as part of the assessment process to receive a diagnosis and scored respectively in the 4th and 96th percentiles. Wildly discrepant, but not in the gifted range.
In my case social isolation was due more to a lack of interest in socialising than to a lack of innate ability. I was comparatively sociable during my primary school years, though I had a few periods of selective mutism, and in earlier childhood I’d play with more boisterous older children but refused to interact with other children my own age. When I got older my peers were no longer interested in playing running-around games and switched to spending all their time chatting about topics that I had no interest in. So I became a loner and developed social anxiety issues.
Some symptoms didn’t apply to me; I never had difficulty with understanding pragmatics or sarcasm or with theory of mind and I never had enough difficulties with abstract thought to prevent me from studying philosophy or category theory.
However I was/am hyperactive, hypersensitive to sound, lined up toys, would scream at any attempt to have my hair brushed, refused to wear shoes and socks until I was given seamless socks and rocked or stimmed when stressed. I have atrocious handwriting, can’t really catch a ball and once accumulated so many bruises that a teacher called social services. I frequently space out, which could be interpreted either as a sign of autism or of the ability to think about something more interesting than my immediate surroundings. Additionally, I have narrow obsessive interests in life, the universe and everything in the complement of the set of things that non-nerds are interested in.
NB I deviate from the nerd stereotype insofar as I am blonde, like being outdoors and run ten miles a day.
I suspect that the clumsiness is a sign of cerebellar problems, and the sensory differences are down to ‘weak central coherence’ - being more conscious of the lower levels of sensory processing.
And have you found a way to overcome this social isolation? I have trouble finding interest in meeting people myself, although I do not have it as hard as yourself, as it seems.
PS: I did not know non-blondeness was a necessary condition for being nerd.