Do medical conditions prevent a politician from discharging his or her duties to the public? Being unable to walk didn’t hamper FDR, nor Addison’s Disease JFK. Deafness didn’t stop Jack Ashley, and cerebral palsy certainly isn’t stopping Rob Halfon. But what about conditions on the Autism Spectrum Disorder? The question may be pertinent if the latest rumour circulating in Westminster politics circles is confirmed.
Yes, it is rumoured that a well-known politician has Asperger Syndrome (AS). But this is, at present, only a rumour: no individual will be named, and indeed, no political party will be identified. Moreover, anyone commenting on this post who names, or even suggests, one particular individual or party, will not have that comment published.
Moving right along, though, the Wikipedia entry on AS makes for fascinating reading. Here’s some of what it has to tell us: “Intense preoccupation with a narrow subject, one-sided verbosity, restricted prosody, and physical clumsiness are typical of the condition … A lack of demonstrated empathy affects aspects of communal living for persons with Asperger syndrome”. There is more. Rather a lot more.
“Individuals with AS experience difficulties in basic elements of social interaction, which may include a failure to develop friendships … a lack of social or emotional reciprocity … a person with AS may engage in a one-sided, long-winded speech about a favourite topic, while misunderstanding or not recognising the listener's feelings or reactions, such as a wish to change the topic of talk or end the interaction”. Do go on.
“This social awkwardness has been called ‘active but odd’ [one characteristic is illustrated by telling “People with Asperger syndrome often display restricted or specialised interests, such as this boy’s interest in stacking cans”] … Such failures to react appropriately to social interaction may appear as disregard for other people's feelings and may come across as insensitive … Some may choose only to talk to people they like”.
The section on speech is interesting: “Abnormalities include verbosity; abrupt transitions; literal interpretations and miscomprehension of nuance; use of metaphor meaningful only to the speaker; auditory perception deficits; unusually pedantic, formal, or idiosyncratic speech; and oddities in loudness, pitch, intonation, prosody and rhythm”.
The entry also notes “Speech may convey a sense of incoherence; the conversational style often includes monologues about topics that bore the listener, fails to provide context for comments, or fails to suppress internal thoughts. Individuals with AS may fail to detect whether the listener is interested or engaged in the conversation. The speaker's conclusion or point may never be made, and attempts by the listener to elaborate on the speech's content or logic, or to shift to related topics, are often unsuccessful”.
Yet more interesting is this observation on the causes of AS: “Hans Asperger described common symptoms among his patients' family members, especially fathers, and research supports this observation and suggests a genetic contribution to Asperger syndrome”. We might see similar traits in the male parent. Something to bear in mind.
Would that prevent someone with AS being an effective politician? Another of those $64,000 questions. There may be more on this subject in the near future.
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