Synopses & Reviews
A Closer Look at the "Little Professor Syndrome"...
Thomas Jefferson may have had it. The pianist Glenn Gould almost certainly had it. There are even those who insist Bill Gates has it. Whether it is called "geek syndrome," "high-functioning autism," or simply "Asperger's," it is not just one of the most poorly understood of all psychiatric diagnoses, but amazingly one of the fastest-growing in America today. Some support groups even claim that one in five hundred suffer from some aspect of the disease.
Basing his report on memoirs, clinical histories, poems and stories, and visits with dozens of afflicted individuals, journalist and essayist Lawrence Osborne shows us what life with Asperger's is really like. Often brilliant at math and able to perform savant-like feats of memory and calculation, those who have Asperger's some 80 percent are boys or men are also wracked with bizarre obsessions. And characteristically, most of them are unable to understand even the most simple expressions of the human face. They may know everything there is to know about vacuum cleaners, the New York City subway system, industrial deep-fat fryers, or J. S. Bach, but they are unable to hold a normal conversation about their own feelings, or anyone else's. They are, in their own words, the "mind blind" strange solitaires in a world dominated by "neurotypicals."
Osborne doesn't shy away from hard questions: Just how different from the "normal" are those with Asperger's, and is it possible that all of us have a little of the syndrome in ourselves? Setting aside the pieties of medicine and rehabilitation, he embarks on his search for answers with a skeptical and witty view of American psychiatric culture and its tendency to over-diagnose, then over-medicate. And even more, he ventures into the elusive but essential realm where one has to ask, What is the difference between tolerating eccentricity with all its creative potential and medically enforcing normality, with its undertones of blandness, uniformity...and worse?
"Lawrence Osborne has written a book that strikes at the heart of our contemporary obsession with pathological labels for eccentric behaviors. He describes cases in a way that is entertaining, perceptive, and thought-provoking, challenging us to explore the gray areas at the border between variation and deviation. What he has to tell us can and should have a major impact on the ways in which we think about mental health." Mel Levine, author of A Mind at a Time
"This collection of portraits has that admirable goal of seeking to illuminate what it's like to live with Asperger Syndrome...but it falters on many counts....By sometimes trivializing the experience of the people featured, this book will not help those looking to assist someone with AS." Library Journal
Asperger's has never been clearly defined, bordering autism on one side and high intelligence and verbal eccentricity on the other. The disease is a kind of cultural lightning rod. First, it's a condition onto which we project the very real and well-founded fears of social isolation inherent in mental illness. But also attached to it is a kind of admiration and envy and (among those who suffer from Asperger's) a kind of elitism, a sense of being one of the elect, in a world mainly peopled by neurotypicals.
Asperger's Syndrome, often characterized as a form of "high-functioning autism," is a poorly defined and little-understood neurological disorder. The people who suffer from the condition are usually highly intelligent, and as often as not capable of extraordinary feats of memory, calculation, and musicianship. In this wide-ranging report on Asperger's, Lawrence Osborne introduces us to those who suffer from the syndrome and to those who care for them as patients and as family. And, more importantly, he speculates on how, with our need to medicate and categorize every conceivable mental state, we are perhaps adding to their isolation, their sense of alienation from the "normal." -This is a book about the condition, and the culture surrounding Asperger's Syndrome as opposed to a guide about how to care for your child with Aspergers. -Examines American culture and the positive and negative perspectives on the condition. Some parents hope their child will be the next Glenn Gould or Bill Gates, others worry that their child is abnormal and overreact.
About the Author
Lawrence Osborne is the author of three previous books, Ania Malina, a novel; the travel book Paris Dreambook; and The Poisoned Embrace, an essay on sexual attitudes in Catholicism. A widely published journalist, he is a frequent contributor to The New York Times Magazine and Salon. He lives in New York.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Asperger and I
Chapter 2: Little Professors
Chapter 3: The Last Puritan
Chapter 4: Rain Men
Chapter 5: Diagnosing Jefferson
Chapter 6: Autibiographies
Chapter 7: The Poetics of Medicine
Notes and Further Reading