I have a friend in Germany — an ex-girlfriend actually; one of the very few with whom I have remained on good terms — who is a therapist for people with Asperger’s Syndrome. To my shame I didn’t really know what Asperger’s was, so I asked her to explain. She referred me to the website of the acknowledged expert, an Englishman now working in Australia I think. There I found what might be called a list of diagnostic criteria, which I read with interest. Very great interest, because I found myself ticking nearly all the boxes. Not just ‘Well, yes, I suppose I am a bit like that’ but a feeling that I was reading a very accurate description of my personality.
I sent my completed list, with comments, to my friend in Germany, and she said ‘Well I don’t really like to offer diagnoses like this, but since you ask, yes, I have no doubt in saying you are a clear case of Asperger’s.’ I was intrigued, even amused: I certainly didn’t clap my hand to my forehead saying ‘Oh my God, I’ve got the dreaded lurgy’, nor did I think ‘Ah, that explains it all.’ Because actually it explains nothing at all. To be sure, had Asperger’s been a recognized condition when I was a child, and had my parents noticed enough, or cared enough, to take me to an expert for diagnosis, I might have derived some comfort from the (secret) knowledge that I had this special condition. It might have made my social difficulties, that other children didn’t seem to have, and the persistent bullying by both teachers and pupils at school, easier to bear.
Asperger’s is only a ‘Syndrome’. Not an illness, with a recognized aetiology and/or cure. A syndrome is, etymologically, just a ‘coming together of roads’. (I say, it might be rather fun to start calling road junctions ‘Syndromes’.) It has been found that certain personal characteristics, some of which can cause their possessors problems, and others of which are positive advantages, often come together in the same person. ‘Asperger’s’ is a useful shorthand label for the collection of traits. It has, in itself, no explanatory value. To say that someone has such-and-such problems ‘because’ he has Asperger’s is to say almost nothing at all; a bit like saying that this person has blue eyes ‘because’ he belongs to the group of blue-eyed persons.
So yes, I now know I ‘Have Asperger’s’. Wow. Big Deal.