Hans Asperger, much like Adam Lanza – the Newtown, Connecticut mass murderer – achieved notoriety posthumously. Ironically, Dr. Asperger reportedly exhibited some of the defining characteristics of the condition that would come to bear his name. Beyond irony, perhaps it was pursuit of a deeper understanding of his own condition that led Asperger to focus his career interests on identifying children with traits similar to those he reportedly possessed. Interestingly there has been much controversy in the Autism Community as to whether the folding of Asperger’s into the broader category of Autism Spectrum Disorder is welcome news or cause for concern.
Here’s the front page of the Personal Journal of today’s Wall Street Journal, touting ten ways patients get treated better. The first one listed is that doctors are adopting a better bedside manner. That doesn’t seem to be so revelatory until one stops to consider the need for such a step to be taken. Years ago the role of the patient’s mental state in physical illness was trivialized if not dismissed. The very notion of psyche impacting the soma was considered a weak association, perhaps a diversion to consideration of “real” disease. Real patients with real diseases don’t need new age quiche to get better any more than real doctors need to put on a happy face.
I’ve long wondered about Asperger’s, and though it has been frequently associated with so-called geeks and scientists, the more generalized theory of Baron-Cohen about empathy and systemizing quotients is intriguing. Gifted diagnosticians often recognize when signs and symptoms cluster into systems, and might the Wall Street Journal piece be hinting that bedside manner relates to empathy?
The complexities of Asperger’s are profound, and the road between high functioning and dysfunctioning is laden with accidents, detours and construction. It is overly simplistic to suggest that we have any better understanding of Adam Lanza’s actions because he was labelled as having Asperger’s Syndrome, but it is putting the condition into the public limelight. As vexing as mental health issues are, we seem no closer to be able to predicting acts like Lanza’s in advance as we were in Asperger’s day. Were Aspegrer alive he might be surprised by the variegated nature that the condition named after him has taken on in the media.