If Asperger's Is Genetic then So is my Credit Card Debt
Every Generation blames the one before... Mike and the Mechanics
Way back when I first received by diagnosis, the good Doctor Picard (His name was actually the same as another Star Trek captain, but for anonymity's sake and because it's funny I'm going with Picard. He wasn't even French, which makes it funnier.) started telling me why he felt it was the right one. Everyone for that matter, including my caseworker at the high school, all used the same speech, listing the symptoms in order as if they were the ingredients for the miracle drug that could cure all the world's diseases.
Intense, focused interests
Magical thinking (the “good” doctor's words)
Difficulty functioning in social situations
Difficulty with changes in routine
Avoiding eye contact
The occasional nervous tick
Difficulty recognizing sarcasm, literal thinking, difficulty with verbal communication
Talking obsessively about a subject at great length
This was back when the diagnosis was exceedingly rare. The only reason I was slapped with it, apart from the administrative personnel in my school and my mother insisting there was something wrong with me, was because the papers written by Austrian psychiatrist Haans Asperger were only translated a year or so earlier.
Is Asperger's Genetic?
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NIDIS-not to be confused with NCIS) scientists have speculated that there is a genetic component to Asperger's. That is to say that Asperger's is, at least in part, an inherited condition. This theory hinges largely on the presence of the aforementioned symptoms in previous generations.
This is not to say however, that there is one identifying gene or that that there is a current genetic model that one can compare to a person without the diagnosis.
- Asperger Syndrome Fact Sheet: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
You'll notice in the paragraph that explains the link to genetics, that genetics is described a component. Meaning a part of Asperger's and not a whole.
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Points in Favor of the Genetics Argument
A number of people with the diagnosis find the idea of a genetic origin comforting. Those who have sought the diagnosis for themselves, for example, now have what they feel to be concrete evidence of difficulties in their everyday life. Sort of a life raft in choppy waters they would otherwise drown in. Better yet, it is something that previous generations may have experienced the symptoms of and this makes people who would otherwise feel stigmatized by the idea of having a mental “disorder” feel less alone.
Before the diagnosis became widely known, often times the parents were blamed when the child's behavior became disruptive to those who didn't know him. Much like the “refrigerator moms” of the past, parents were accused of being “too serious”, “rigid,” “oppressed” and anything else the professionals general public could come up with.
For many parents Asperger's Syndrome was an official word that summed up their child's behaviors and gave them something to research. With the argument of genetics to back them up, now parents have a scientific argument to show loved ones, friends and officials that their child's behavior is not in fact their fault.
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Points Against the Genetics Argument
Keeping in mind that Asperger's itself is not a single disorder, but a collection of symptoms that form the larger picture. Other factors in a person's environment can have a major effect on a person's mental health. Factors such as:
A child who was raised in an environment under certain circumstances may exhibit behaviors that would seem unusual to others. If his environment was rigid then naturally he would be used to a routine that would be very difficult to break away from.
Certain forms of emotional and psychological abuse that begin very early on could also lead to many symptoms. Difficulty making eye contact, obsessive and ritualistic behaviors, nervous tics, and delays in development are just a few of the symptoms Asperger's that are similar to the behaviors exhibited by children who were victims of these kinds of abuse.
Although the theory behind vaccinations and exposure to high levels of mercury have been arguably proven false, there are still a number of environmental factors that can contribute to a child's mental development.
Exposure to Stachybotrys Chartarum over a period of time can cause neurological damage, among other symptoms. A doctor who isn't aware of the symptoms, or doesn't think to test for this type of exposure might attempt to find a psychological reason for them.
Since Asperger's Syndrome is reported to be the cause of chemical imbalances in the brain, it is easy to see how exposure to certain elements outside the body, no matter how severe, can effect a person's mental health.
- Indoor Mold, Toxigenic Fungi, and Stachybotrys chartarum: Infectious Disease Perspective -- Kuhn and
Although difficult to prove, exposure to mold can have a negative effect on a person's neurological health.
The majority of people who were diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome were either seeking the diagnosis for themselves or a loved one.
Looking to my own experiences, I was a minor and had no say in the matter. I was at the mercy of a school system that couldn't understand my behavior and a mother who was mentally unstable in her own right but never pressured to get tested or evaluated herself.
If the school hadn't been paying for the evaluation I would never have seen Dr. Picard or any other psychiatric professional. (It is important to point out that Dr. Picard was not a psychiatrist, but a psychologist and that I was referred to a psychiatrist for an evaluation to determine if I needed chemical strait jacketing. It was determined that I did not require medication.) It's also important to point out that I had seen many professionals who had come up with any number of theories as to my behavior. Picard was the only one who would put his conclusion down on paper and so it was that I was labeled with the lifelong diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome.
There was no blood test, nor any other test of any kind beyond sitting in a chair and talking for three hours a week.
Doctors are human beings who are often times put under tremendous amounts of pressure by patients and their families, their employers, and society as a whole. It is not unheard of for doctors to incorrectly diagnose a patient. This is especially true if the patient is a minor who will only be shuffled off to another doctor if a diagnosis isn't made.
It is important to add that after an incident in high school about three years later I was sent to see another psychologist to determine if I was a danger to my classmates. The psychologist decided I was not a danger and that he did not understand where the diagnosis of Asperger's came from after just an hour of being with me.
Had I been older and more in a position to ask for such things, I might have requested a second opinion.
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Going back to the NIDIS, it is written that “Scientists have always known that there is a genetic component to Asperger's.”
I italicized the word “always” because just like the differing opinions of two psychologists, it is difficult to believe that every scientists who has studied Asperger's Syndrome and other Autistic Spectrum Disorders has come to the same conclusion. Adding to that, no true scientist will ever say that something is one hundred percent the case.
Scientific viewpoints are always being challenged, disproven, rewritten, and challenged again. New evidence comes to light as the times change and younger scientists realize that what was written before no longer applies.
Genetics in and of itself is not an exact science and is just as subject to same scrutiny as any other scientific theory.
These are just a number of the factors that can be involved with the diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome that have little or nothing to do with how we are wired genetically.
Further Points Against the Argument of Genetics
One of the arguments in favor of genetics as the source of Asperger's Syndrome is ironically, one of the points against it. That is the argument of past generations exhibiting the symptoms. Without knowing my biological father, I can't claim to have not inherited something from him. But one thing I can be certain of is that I did not inherit any of my mother's traits.
Does it make sense for the child of a woman with undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenia, herself the daughter of a woman with diagnosed schizophrenia and an abusive alcoholic, to inherit something completely different? Unless it can be proven that the symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome somehow cancel out those of schizophrenia, the latter tends to have a pretty strong chance of passing onto the next generation.
Furthermore, the argument of pass generations could only be accurately applied to living relatives. If a person who has been dead many years has not been evaluated by the established methods used for determining such a diagnosis, then any symptoms a person claims they exhibited is nothing than a story being told.
My mother once told me that the painter Norman Rockwell gave my father a ride to school. Certainly, my father grew up close enough to Arlington that this was possible but without photographic evidence or some other empirical data, the testimony of my father or even the deceased artist himself, this becomes unverifiable story.
Let's say, however, for the sake of argument that someone can come up with a concrete genetic model that not only shows that I have Asperger's Syndrome, but rules out all of those environmental factors I listed. As in I can compare this model with the DNA sequence of a person who would not have been diagnosed.
What exactly does this prove? That genetics determine my choices? So if I talk obsessively about Highlander, or The Twilight Saga, or Babylon 5 vs. Star Trek, is it because I choose to talk about these things or is it because a tiny little strand of matter says that I am most likely do this? Are my thoughts genetic as well or are they the property of something else entirely? Can it be proven that seeming obsessive thinking, a symptom of Asperger's, is genetic or the result of a deep seated passion?
When it comes right down to it, Asperger's Syndrome is just a word on a piece of paper. It is the summary of a number of traits and “symptoms” that come together to form something bigger. Even if two or three of those symptoms were inherited through DNA, that still leaves a sizable chunk of symptoms that can be explained by outside phenomenon.