About this blog.

My son was diagnosed with PDD-NOS at 24 months. I created this blog to bring meaning to the often-confusing label. Sometimes I have answers. Other times, just more questions.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Are we pathologizing personality?

So asks commenter Polly. It's a compelling question.

Polly hypothesizes that conditions like autism and ADD are not disorders, but rather the manifestation of certain personality types under the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. She writes:

What I've found is that in places like Wrong Planet, people are aware of MBTI and that many of them type INTJ or INTP, which are among your typical engineers, and tiny percentage of the overall population. Incidentally, Einstein is often anecdotally typed as INTP....

The people making the rules, who decide what acceptable behavior is, are usually SJ [ed. Sensing, Judging] types (most elementary school teachers are ESFJ, I read that
in People Types & Tiger Stripes), so SJ kids (who are wired to be cooperative and follow the rules, and generally are the kind of kids unimaginative teachers like to have in classrooms) get to have standard language disorders. There aren't all that many NF [ed. Intuition, Feeling] types, but I'd say they land in with the ADD or the ASD depending on their total personality mix.

As for ADD, and I know I'm just spouting on this, I've been known to joke that the introverted SP [ed. Sensing, Perception] types get that label (extroverted ones get ADHD), the NT [ed. Intuition, Thinking] ... types get ASD. [Editorial notes and links added.]

Indeed, the blurring of the line is seeping into pop culture, as evidenced by this "Wired Wiki" entitled "How To Deal With Your Mild Autism." The Wiki reads:
Einstein likely had it. Mozart, too. Even BitTorrent creator Bram Cohen. No wonder Asperger's — a mild form of autism — is known as the geek syndrome. If you feel awkward in social situations, have obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and are overly sensitive, you may have it as well.
The problem with this theory, in this blogger's opinion, is that it in effect reduces autism to just a social impairment and does not take into account communication impairment or other neurological symptoms, such as impairment of executive function, hypotonia, dyspraxia or ataxia, not to mention the host of other physical symptoms that correlate to autism, such as seizure disorder and gastro-intestinal problems. Personality doesn't tell the whole story. Plus, engineers and other math types often have the personality without the litany of neurological symptoms. In my opinion, it is more likely that autism impairs the subject's ability to intuit verbal and/or nonverbal social cues which, in turn, causes social impairment and results in social introversion and the other traits which characterize INTJ and INTP.

Added: Polly clarifies: "When I listed those personality types as corresponding to pathologies, I intended to tie the idea of an underlying brain glitch as manifesting in different ways depending on the underlying temperment, not to claim that there was no glitch."


~AspieMom~ said...

Hi there! I just came across your blog (I was directed by Quirky Mom). Anyway, I love this idea.

I wanted to also comment on your decision not to do biomedical or ABA. We do not do these either. My son goes to OT once per week to work on his sensory stuff as well as speech therapy for pragmatics and social skills. Beyond that, we're just trying to give him the tools he needs to make a good life in this neurotypical world.

Patience said...

I think part of the rise in labeling is the change in society. We just don't have room for kids who don't fit in and there is a panic to fix them fast rather than letting nature take it's course. (not that some kids don't need help)
Smaller families and less neighbourhood play mean fewer typical role models.
Schools are noisy student centred affairs rather than quiet teacher directed style. Group work dominates and rote learning is unheard of. (which is precisely what many kids need to excel)
In the past; there were always kids who didn't fit in but now the borderline ones who managed are getting outed as well.

Laura said...

aspiemom, hi! Sounds like a good plan, and glad to connect with some one with similar values.

patience - I agree. Especially with the criticism of schools. I mean, I remember the pressure to conform. I shudder at the thought of what Brad will face. As for the label, consider the following three options:

1) Our children are pathologically different from neurotypical children. We should therefore try to cure them and make them as neurotypical as possible.

2) Our children are pathologically the same or similar to neurotypical children. Therefore, we should not treat or cure them.

3) Our children are pathologically different from neurotypical children. However, we should accept the neurological differences that are not disabling, and value the neurological differences that are positive traits.

Me? I like (3). My sense is that, from a neurological perspective, our children are pathologically different. The question is what do we do with the pathological difference. I want to say: let's own the label, and dispel the myths associated with the label.

But I understand the personality argument, and it is compelling, especially with something like asperger's which is more or less defined as a social impairment.

~AspieMom~ said...

I'll take option 3 as well!

polly said...

When I listed those personality types as corresponding to pathologies, I intended to tie the idea of an underlying brain glitch as manifesting in different ways depending on the underlying temperment, not to claim that there was no glitch.

I guess I also left out the part where certain personality types are sometimes associated with corresponding physical characteristics (not too different than endomorph, mesomorph, and ectomorph but more refined).

Laura said...

polly - okay, I'll update post to clarify that you believe in a brain glitch. Your other point goes right over my head...sorry!