Putin and Asperger Syndrome. Why does the world press care about AS so much?

Haven’t a clue.  It sells?

So .. anyways .. now apparently the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, possibly has Asperger Syndrome.  So?  What pulls a pea out of my nose about this is that once again Asperger Syndrome is being linked, however tenuously to people with a bad reputation in the West.  It’s also been linked to some infamous hackers and some high-school shooters in “‘mericuh”*.

What has thrown me over the edge with this, is that as far the press reports the Pentagon thinks that Putin has AS .. because .. wait for it .. he doesn’t smile much and seems uncomfortable in crowds.  srsly?

The 7 year old report which “USA Today” got hold of, merely suggests AS as a possible diagnosis, but seems based solely on how the guy moves.  Diagnostic method has moved on massive amount in that time, so I doubt that what ever conclusions were drawn then could be held as valid and meaningful today.

I guess many in the West would look at what is going on between Russian and Ukraine/Europe and assume that he is, maybe, one sandwich short of a picnic.  But to draw this kind of conclusion not only without never having met the guy, but also through the grimy and badly focussed lens of the media, as well  as a significant culture gap to boot, is just plain stupid and mostly likely dangerous.

Here are some various headlines:

  • Pentagon 2008 study claims Putin has Asperger’s syndrome (USA Today)

  • Vladimir Putin suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, Pentagon report claims (The Telegraph)

  • Vladimir Putin was diagnosed as having Asperger’s syndrome by expert working for Pentagon think-tank, report reveals (Daily Mail)

  • A 2008 Pentagon think-tank study claimed Putin has Asperger’s syndrome (UK Business insider)
  • Putin Has Asperger’s, Pentagon Report Says (Sky News)

    These are just the few that caught my eye.  Only a couple mention that the report was written 7 years ago and the way the headlines are written implies a more-or-less done deal.  Only after reading the full article, might you get to this bit:

The 2008 report cites Dr. Stephen Porges, who is now a University of North Carolina psychiatry professor, as concluding that “Putin carries a form of autism.” However, Porges said Wednesday he had never seen the finished report and “would back off saying he has Asperger’s.”

Instead, Porges said, his analysis was that U.S. officials needed to find quieter settings in which to deal with Putin, whose behavior and facial expressions reveal someone who is defensive in large social settings. Although these features are observed in Asperger’s, they are also observed in individuals who have difficulties staying calm in social settings and have low thresholds to be reactive. “If you need to do things with him, you don’t want to be in a big state affair but more of one-on-one situation someplace somewhere quiet,” he said.

Finally, something sensible.

To able clinically diagnose someone as being on the Autistic Spectrum requires a helluva lot of background observations from childhood to the current moment.  People with first hand experience of trying to get hold of diagnosis for a neurological issue will tell you it’s damn difficult.  If you do in fact act visibly different to the general population, you might be able to get a rubber stamp of one form or another fairly swiftly.  To get the correct and meaningful diagnosis will require many interviews, questionnaires, double-checks, referrals etc.  Point being, lots and lots of face-to-face time with experienced and trained professionals who have no political agenda or feeling about how your own particular brain is wired.

In the harrowing cases where the person with AS has done something dreadful, why is it even an issue that their particular brain-wiring needs to be mentioned?  All it does is make a link in the public’s mind between Autistic Spectrum Disorders and violent “nut-jobs”.

I’ve a good few pieces of anecdotal evidence, or long winded tales if you prefer, of how with folks with an ASD are able to not only play a part of society, but also enrich it.  I heard the phrase once that without Aspies, we’d all still be sat in caves doodling on the walls with our fingers.  I don’t mean this as a slur on neurotypical folks, rather to point out that our brain wiring does bring many positive benefits.

Even if we do have some .. ah .. quirks .. with the right support these can be softened.  Mother Duck will happily tell you that when we met, if I’d planned to go shopping for baked beans on a certain day and was unable to for some odd reason, like a hot date or something, I would get properly bent out of shape.  Now-a-days I just twitch a bit, but that’s taken time and effort on both sides to get to that point.

The same holds true if those quirks are more pronounced and more anti-social in nature, although the support will possibly need to be more intensive.

For each lone-wolf gunman or overly driven hacker, there are hundereds thousands more quirky parents, engineers, doctors, musicians, scientists .. the list goes on.

Having a brain that can be placed on the autistic spectrum makes one no more likely to be an axe-wielding manic than the person next to you.  The converse is also true.  Having a brain which can be placed on the autistic spectrum makes one no more likely to be some kind of savant or aloof rocket scientist, although admittedly it does help a little.

Feel free to flame me in the comments regarding any hypocritical use of stereotypical labels.  I’ll probably advise you to read the bigger picture of what I am trying to say, rather than split hairs of how I say it.

At the end of the day, what really gets my goat is the media lumping myself, and many others, in the same basket as misguided hackers or with socially awkward gunmen.

Thanks guys.  Thanks a bunch.

* ‘mericuh – From the “Team America – World Police” theme song.  Trying to convey my annoyance at a sensationalised and ill informed media message.  I was going to link to the video, but it’s a lot ruder than I remembered.  I’m sure you can find it if you want. 😉

What thoughts came to you after reading this?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.