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Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Politicians And Asperger Syndrome

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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Unknown said...

While not wishing to make light of the condition and those who genuinely struggle in ordinary life, the Tory party do seem to have taken on a form of collective Aspergers .

Dan Whitehead said...

You're better than this. People with ASD have enough misinformation and bullshit to cope with. Copying and pasting chunks of a Wikipedia summary while raising eyebrows and adding winking interjections that suggest such people are unfit for public office is not just unhelpful, it's lazy. It's abundantly clear who is being discussed, and slyly hinting that "maybe they're like that because of aspergers hmmm?" is tabloid nastiness that I thought this blog would avoid.

Starbuck said...


you might be interested by this :


also, it'd seem that various form of autism is not such a rare occurrence among politicians, past and present.

Unknown said...

Ok, I'll try again. I'm not sure what offence my previous comment caused to not pass moderation but as an Asperger's sufferer I can assure you that you are dead wrong on this. Please don't continue the ridiculous myths about Asperger's and the autistic spectrum, I really enjoy your blog but you're dead wrong on this one.

Anonymous said...

What's next, Tim? You're wrong on this. VERY wrong.

Mark said...

Two words: Greta Thunberg.

OK, she's not a politician but she is a political activist and she is on record saying how her condition is a positive to her activism not a negative. If you ask me, we need more like her.

Having worked with people on the spectrum in the past I'll say that it does not really matter. Unless of course they are a dick. Anyone can be a dick of course and being on the spectrum doesn't excuse them for being a dick.

Like you say Tim, many disabilities or impairments haven't stopped others having a political career, so why should this? You may as well ask should all politicians be over 6ft, have blue eyes or be arthritis free? I normally agree with all your posts, but find this one to be problematic, and I don't even know about this rumour.

Anonymous said...

Not one of your best contributions, Tim.

You can't have it both ways.

Unknown said...

I'm not sure about AS preventing someone from being an effective politician but as one of world's greatest philosopher's (Bron from Games of Thrones) once said "There's No Cure For Being a Cunt"

rob said...

I would have thought narcissism is the more virulent disease currently?

Anonymous said...

Tim, leave it! You are bang out of order on this one.

First Post
"While not wishing to make light of the condition and those who genuinely struggle in ordinary life..."

Then don't, because you then tried to and showed your ignorance!

Phil E said...

If this post is implying things about the politicians that I suspect it is, this is seriously wrong. People on the autistic spectrum have difficulty *expressing* empathy in ways that people not on the spectrum recognise. They are not devoid of empathy or uncaring about other people, and suggesting that they are is insulting and promotes dangerous misconceptions.

Anonymous said...

I have been happily married to a lady with Asperger's for more than thirty years. It took us a while to work out what was going on, although her ability to remember the weather for any given day for the last twenty year might have been a clue. The last thing she needs is to be compared to a politician. She has a responsible job, lots of friends, and we managed to raise a couple of kids who are happily working in interesting jobs abroad. I don't believe Asperger's or any other form of autism would make a person a bad politician; greed, vanity, and megalomania are quite sufficient. It is also important to remember that people with autism are as individual as people who do not have autism. You can be a grade A cunt with or without being autistic!

Unknown said...

I'm not sure what you're getting at here Tim but this whole piece makes me very uncomfortable.

Dan Whitehead said...

As this very same blog would say whenever someone uses phrases like "bonkers" to describe a politician - "Mental health smear - check!"

Some kind of response or explanation is needed.

Anonymous said...

Sorry. This post is very wrong. I have family and friends on the spectrum and my partner is also. There are huge misconceptions about Autism. Talk to those on the spectrum, don't use wikipedia as a guide.

-TC- said...

I'm sorry, Tim - I agree with you 99% of the time, but this is one of those 1% jobs.

As other commenters have stated, being on the spectrum is a very varied thing - and while it has been known (though it is far from common) for those on the spectrum to have problems *expressing* empathy - along with other aspects of social interaction that some might take for granted - that is a *very* different kettle of fish versus not feeling it. In fact, I'd go so far as to claim that the vast majority of people on the spectrum feel empathy *deeply*, and are in fact more likely than not to beat themselves up internally when they struggle to make that clear.

If you're talking about whom I think you're talking about, I'd recommend looking into Narcissistic Personality Disorder, if anything.

Jeff Pickthall said...

A certain prominent prime minister from the eighties ticks the asperger boxes I reckon.