June 14, 2004

reading between the lines

Yesterdayís LA Times Magazine section had a profile of Craig Newmark, founder of the infinitely useful Craigslist(an online swap meet and more; I used it to buy my current computer). The reporter picked up on various personal idiosyncracies: Newmark doesnít get interpersonal cues; he misses flirtatious gestures, doesnít know what to say in social situations, has trouble dating. His hairdresser says heís more comfortable with machines than people. He pays little attention to appearance. His desk faces the wall rather than a window. People donít always get his jokes.

He seems like a nice guy and certainly heís done extremely well for himself. Iím leaving out the descriptions of his philanthropy, his interests, and whatís clearly a big heart. My point is a bit more specific. The reporter clearly loved the irony that this man who has brought together so many people has trouble dealing with those same people, at least in the flesh. She also uses the opportunity to comment on the fact that the internet has been a boon for shy people like Newmark.

But hereís the thing: what she describes in this article sounds absolutely classic to me. Newmark sounds like heís got Aspergerís Syndrome (a form of high-functioning autism). God knows Iíve read enough descriptions. He fits the bill. Does he really have it? I can't say for sure. All I have to go on is a single article. She could be distorting some things, leaving out others that contradict the picture she paints. Iíd know better if I met the man in person and maybe not even then. There are so many shades of autism, and itís not clear when you step off the spectrum and into a shadow of it, a nerdy or quirky edge of normal. But it sure looked like AS to me. So the question then is: do I see it because I know the signs better than your average journalist? Or do I simply see everything through that filter now? And even if itís the latter, does that make me wrong?

I'm so steeped in this stuff and it seemed so obvious to me that I was shocked that the reporter never mentioned it. Then again, maybe she did see what I saw and intended us to catch her subtext. I wonder if he knows. He must. he lives in the Bay Area, where that Wired article on AS was the talk of the town. But why then is it unspoken in this article? Am I reading in or reading what's really there?

Posted by Tamar at June 14, 2004 10:57 PM

It's true -- with adult spectrum disorder being more widely discussed than ever (*big* article in the NY Times last month), the Wired reporter could be doing a real service by raising it explicitly. But it's quite possible that the reporter shares some of those same qualities, and therefore didn't see it the same way.

-- Chris, who took till she was 30 to know how to end a conversation and still wonders where she is on the spectrum

Posted by: Chris at June 15, 2004 05:24 AM

Is it also possible that he's an INTP on the Meyer-Briggs scale? INTx's are notorious for such behavior and excel at computer programming and the like. Or perhaps the two are related?

I'm an INTx and a Star Trek geek. I had heard of AS but did not think it aplied to me. But after reading the Wired article, I took their little Autism-Spectrum Quotient test. Didn't think I would score as high as I did...hmmm.

Posted by: Brad at June 15, 2004 09:24 AM

I read the article and wondered the same thing myself.

Posted by: Cait at June 15, 2004 06:34 PM

I constantly "diagnose" people with possible AS now that I see through the filter too, children and adults (my son has had a dx of AS for two years now).

It's a good thing for awareness to be raised, that there are a lot of people out there with these issues, even if a journalist doesn't mention AS specifically. I hope over time the "average" person won't be so quick to look at a kid who can't handle sensory overload and think "what's wrong with that kid's parents?" or look at an adult who doesn't know how make eye contact during a conversation and think "what's wrong with this person?"

Posted by: Paula at June 16, 2004 06:35 AM

Paula, I devoutly hope the same. It could happen. Young kids are going to have a whole lot more peers on the spectrum than we ever did. Of course, that brings up the whole do-you-reveal-the-diagnosis issue...

Brad, Chris, I'm fairly certain neither of you are on the spectrum. I think I'd have picked up on it. But I see some traits in myself too (mostly sensory issues). I think there's probably no human being who qualifies as completely neurotypical.

Oh, and the INTx? I suspect a lot of people with AS would test that way, but that they're a subset of INTs. When is a nerd not just a nerd?

Posted by: Tamar at June 16, 2004 10:34 PM