Asperger’s Syndrome is a neurological disorder

Discussion in 'Et Cetera, Et Cetera' started by Principessa, Dec 4, 2007.

  1. Principessa

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    Asperger’s Syndrome Gets a Very Public Face
    By TARA PARKER-POPE
    December 4, 2007

    Heather Kuzmich has the neurological disorder known as Asperger’s syndrome. She is socially awkward, has trouble making eye contact and is sometimes the target of her roommates’ jokes.

    But what makes the 21-year-old Ms. Kuzmich different from others with Asperger’s is that for the past 11 weeks, her struggle to cope with her disability has played out on national television.

    She is one of 13 young women selected by the supermodel Tyra Banks to compete on the popular reality television show “America’s Next Top Model.” The addition of Heather Kuzmich to an otherwise superficial show has given millions of viewers an unusual and compelling glimpse into the little-understood world of Asperger’s.

    The disorder, considered a form of autism, is characterized by unusual social interaction and communication skills. Aspies, as people with the condition like to call themselves, often have normal or above-average intelligence, but they have trouble making friends and lack the intuitive ability to gauge social situations. They fail to make eye contact and often exhibit a single-minded fixation that can be both bizarre and brilliant.

    By definition, people with Asperger’s are outside the mainstream. Even so, in recent months the syndrome has been cast into the limelight. “Look Me in the Eye,” a memoir about living with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison, who once created special effects for the rock band Kiss, has been a best-seller. In August, the Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic Tim Page wrote a poignant article for The New Yorker about life with undiagnosed Asperger’s.

    Mr. Robison says the popular appeal of these stories may be due, in part, to the tendency of people with Asperger’s to be painfully direct — they lack the social filter that prevents other people from speaking their minds.

    “It’s important because the world needs to know that there are tremendous differences in human behavior,” said Mr. Robison, whose brother is the writer Augusten Burroughs. “People are all too willing to throw away someone because they don’t respond the way they want. I think books like mine tell the world that there is more to us than that.”

    But while Mr. Robison and Mr. Page tell the story of coping with Asperger’s from the perspective of men in their 50s, Heather Kuzmich is just beginning her life as an adult with the disorder. And it is often painful to watch her transition from socially awkward adolescent to socially awkward adult.

    A gifted art student from Valparaiso, Ind., she has a lean and angular look well suited to the fashion industry. But her beauty doesn’t mask the challenges of Asperger’s. The show requires her to live in a house with 12 other would-be models, and cattiness and backbiting ensue. Early in the show, she appears socially isolated, the girls whisper about her within earshot, and viewers see her crying on the phone to her mother.

    One girl is frustrated when Heather, concentrating on packing a bag, doesn’t hear a request to move out of the way. At one point, the others laugh when they stake out their beds and Heather has no place to sleep.

    “I wish I could get the joke,” Heather laments.

    “You. You’re the joke,” retorts another model, Bianca, an 18-year-old college student who is from Queens.

    But while Heather’s odd mannerisms separate her from her roommates, those same traits translate as on-the-edge high fashion in her modeling sessions. In interviews on camera, she often glances to the side, unable to hold eye contact. But Ms. Banks, the ’60s-era model Twiggy and the fashion photographer Nigel Barker, who all appear on the show, marvel at Heather’s ability to connect with the camera. The pop star Enrique Iglesias is so taken by her haunting looks that he chooses her for a featured role in a music video.

    In an interview last week, Ms. Kuzmich played down the conflict with the other contestants, saying many more “civilized” exchanges weren’t broadcast. “They didn’t make fun of me that much,” she said.

    She tried out for the show, she explained, partly to test her own limits. “It was a point in my life where I was thinking either Asperger’s was going to define me or I was going to be able to work around it,” she said.

    To her surprise, she was voted the viewer favorite eight weeks in a row, making her one of the most popular contestants in the show’s four-and-a-half-year history. “I’m used to people kind of ignoring me,” she said in the interview. “At first I was really worried people would laugh at me because I was so very awkward. I got the exact opposite.”

    Heather made it to the top five, but flubbed her lines while filming a commercial. Later, she got hopelessly lost in Beijing, managing to meet with only one out of five fashion designers. She was eliminated last week, but has since made appearances on “Good Morning America” and “Access Hollywood.” She says she hopes to continue modeling and eventually become a national spokeswoman for Asperger’s.

    “I had no idea it would be this big,” she said. “My mom is beside herself. She watched me when I was a kid not have any friends, and she saw me struggle. She’s glad people are starting to understand this.”
     
  2. B_Mademoiselle Rouge

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    Thank you so much for posting this. As a mother of a child with Asperger's Autism, I relish seeing the word get out about this disorder and how functional some stricken with autism can be!
     
  3. Guy-jin

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    I'm a little astounded.

    I guess as a neurogeneticist, I was under the impression people knew that Asperger's is a neurological disorder.

    It's good that it's getting some exposure.
     
  4. D_Tintagel_Demondong

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    I'm in the IT field and there are plenty of "Aspies" around me. I seem to understand them -- to the point where I've often wondered if I have Asperger's myself.

    At the risk of generalizing, most of my friends with Asperger's are interested in adventure games (video and otherwise), fantasy worlds, arcane facts and details. Fashion and social protocols seems to confuse them. I have found them to be reliable workers when they can work alone. I work best when I'm alone, so I can relate. I wouldn't pick one for my hockey team, but I'd love to have more on my IT projects.
     
  5. IntoxicatingToxin

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    Call me ignorant, but I didn't even know what Asperger's was. I've heard the word before, and knew it was a disorder, but that was the extent of my knowledge.
     
  6. B_Mademoiselle Rouge

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    I had no idea what Asperger's was until I was told by my daughters psych. specialist to look it up and i sat there at the computer and cried realizing that other kids were just like mine. And most importantly, other parents were just like me!

    Our daughter was diagnosed at 27 months old, now she is almost 6 and is very mainstreamed in a general education kindergarten class, after many years of intense physical, speech and occupational therapy.

    People don't even notice it now.
     
  7. Guy-jin

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    Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to imply that someone's ignorant for not knowing what it is.

    It's just common knowledge in the crowd of people I tend to socialize with, so it never occurred to me that the general public doesn't know what it is.

    I wonder if a lot of people don't know what autism in general is. It seems like it's been getting a lot of positive exposure lately, fortunately. :smile:
     
  8. viking1

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    This is fascinating. I wonder if I have Asperger's. The description fits me almost perfectly...
     
  9. juice

    juice New Member

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    I've coached kids with Aspergers.

    I've never had any problems, but then again I was the shy quiet kid so I can kind of grasp what they're dealing with.
     
  10. B_Think_Kink

    B_Think_Kink New Member

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    I know a few people with Aspies. Sometimes I wonder if I am one myself. I knew it was neurological as well from the first time I looked it up. Very interesting article though.
     
  11. IntoxicatingToxin

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    You should find out!!! Do you have any idea how much better you'd feel about yourself? I say go for it.
     
  12. Jovial

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    I think people use Asperger's to often to describe people that are just socially awkward. I doubt many people truly have Asperger's.
     
  13. str82fcuk

    str82fcuk Member

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    I was officially diagnosed with Aspergers four years ago, but it wasn't any surprise to me and the diagnosis hasn't helped any. Anyway sure I have a tendency to speak my mind (why wouldn't I?) and arcane facts are my forte and I guess people find me confusing but I find you all confusing lol
    seriously though I think this makes the chances of me finding anyone compatible doubly neglible ...
     
  14. jason_els

    jason_els <img border="0" src="/images/badges/gold_member.gi

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    I don't wonder if Asperger's is like homosexuality?

    It's considered a disorder now.

    Is it really?

    One of my friends has Asperger's and I've never considered him disordered, just different. That I am his friend is something I hold in great esteem. They have a fascinating and unique view of the world perfectly suited for the digital/genetic age. They have enormous capacity to specialize, a mind suited to details, and don't let minor thoughts or emotions intrude on their focus. Altogether very high-value people to society.

    I bristle when I hear that Aspies are somehow defective; that they suffer from a disorder. The more I get to know about Asperberger's the more I believe that we non-Aspies should celebrate their unique personalities and tremendous contributions they give to our society.
     
  15. snoozan

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    I know plenty of adults with Asperger's Syndrome who have partners, children, the whole deal. It doesn't make it impossible.

    QFT.

    Lovely post, Jason (as usual). Thank you. There's a movement among autistic and asperger's people to not be considered defective or needing a cure, and I think it's a positive, wonderful movement that I support 100%.
     
  16. submit452

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    thanks OP for posting this My therapist just diagnosed me with Aspergers a month ago at 36 years of age. I would love to date her and am ecstatic to know she's from Indiana too. Where do you think I could e-mail her?
     
  17. str82fcuk

    str82fcuk Member

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    Dude! I doubt that OP knows anything more about her than what we just read ... why don't you try googling her name if you're that interested !?
     
  18. Principessa

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  19. playainda336

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    Actually earlier this year, I started the test process for Asperger's at a local TEACCH center. I knew nothing about it until Autism Awareness month and I read about it and the description scared me. In the initial evaluation they told me that it was highly possible that I did indeed have it, but I'd have to fill out some paper work to be sure.

    After filling it out and thinking about it at home, researching things that are done to help people with asperger's, it seemed that whether or not I have it, the things that they do to help need to be done in childhood. They even told me that all they could do really was help me get a job or something. Job counseling, I believe. I don't need that. I've developed my own coping strategies to deal with my social flaws. It's like teaching an old dog a new trick.

    The sad thing to me, is that they only really started testing people for Asperger's in like 1994...and I was born in '84. In fact, talking with my mother about it, she remembers my 4th grade teacher suggesting that I get tested for it then, but because it was something new my mother disregarded it.

    -shrugs-

    Oh well...it's not the labels that define you anyway. You define yourself and just have to live with it. Maybe I do have it, maybe I don't. But knowing why I may have the problems I have definitely helps me deal with things a lot better at 23.
     
  20. snoozan

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    The thing that worries me about this is that it seems that a lot of people and doctors are jumping onto this Asperger's Syndrome thing the same way they jumped onto the ADHD thing in the 90s. Not every socially awkward child is Asperger's-- in fact, most are not. Asperger's Syndrome goes far beyond social functioning and into sensory, cognitive, and all other executive brain functions. I was an extremely socially awkward kid, but there's no way I'm Asperger's (which isn't a bad thing, to me). I've even got some of the sensory issues that are common on the autistic spectrum, but neither of those things make me Asperger's. Even though social awkwardness is the easiest symptom to see in kids and adults with AS, there's so much more going on.

    Sometimes I think it's easier when things like this come up for parents to deal with the areas of functioning where the kids need help over labeling them as this or that. In the case of AS, you're not going to cure it, and many people with AS would argue that it's not something that needs to be cured. The best thing for these kids is to simply give them the tools they need to function well in society and teach them to embrace who they are so they can lead a happy, fulfilling life.
     
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