#Autism A failure to recognize!


I have both ADHD and Aspergers.

This is not uncommon.

According to Dr. Russell Barkely

  • Up to 60% of Autistic people have some form of ADHD
  • Up to 20% of people with ADHD have some form of Autism

So last year, I came across a You tube clip of ADHD expert Dr. Russell Barkley (Board Certified Clinical Neuro-psychologist and Scientist) explaining how in his opinion, ADHD had been misnamed.

He stated that: ‘ADHD is a developmental disorder of self-regulation, not inattention’

He then went on to illustrate this point with the following analogy.

‘To refer to ADHD as inattention is to refer to Autism as hand flapping and speaking funny – they are the most obvious symptoms of a failure to develop the ability to relate to others as special objects, as human and that is what Autism really is underneath – the rest of it is just the most superficial set of symptoms’

I was initially quite shocked when I heard this, but at the same time, something resonated within me.

Today I will reveal why.



Before I begin I want to qualify the remainder of this post and indeed the opening paragraph.

This post is not intended to be a generalization of Autistic people or the Autistic experience and none should be inferred.

I intend no value judgement in anything that I write here today and again none should be inferred.

This post is entirely and exclusively an explanation as to why I felt both shock and resonance with the statement above and why I continue to do so.

I have wrestled for some time with this for 2 reasons.

  • I was concerned that this subject might unintentionally cause some to feel offended
    • I hope my introduction makes it clear that is not my intention
  • I was concerned with the judgement that might result from me taking ownership of the statement above
    • I have concluded that this message is more important than my ‘popularity’
    • That I would be delinquent in my responsibility if I remained silent

In the end I decided that I needed to feel the fear, Man up and do it anyway.


Baring my soul

The reason that I felt a resonance with the statement above is that in my case it is true!

After reflecting on this for nearly a year, it has become appallingly clear to me that I have failed to develop the ability to consistently relate to others as special objects, as Humans.

  • I do have the ability to empathize, sympathize and show compassion
  • But much of the time, this is driven by mechanical intellect
  • He or she is doing/saying this or that, so he or she is probably feeling/thinking this or that
  • So the appropriate response is this thing or that thing

You will note that I have qualified the statement made by Dr. Russell Barkley with the word consistently because in my case there are times when I do relate very powerfully, immediately, instinctively and selflessly to others, as special objects, but these are the exceptions.

If I’m tired, I often/usually don’t make the effort to relate to the feelings/situations of others.

  • It’s not a value judgement, it’s just that my fatigue seems like the bigger priority

If I’m ‘busy’ I often/usually don’t make the effort to suspend my thought process to give some quality time to the other person.

  • That’s not a value judgement either
  • It’s just that what I am immersed in at the time seems so much more crucially important that nothing, barring a genuine emergency, is capable of capturing and retaining my attention

and I will freely admit, this saddens me deeply, with not even my family enjoying immunity.


Another aspect of this inability to consistently relate to others is a general lack of interest in others (outside of my family)

I used to think this was entirely a function of being gifted, before learning that I have Aspergers.

  • Characteristics of Intellectual Giftedness overlap considerably with Asperger’s Syndrome
  • Those with both conditions, like me, are known as Twice Exceptional
  • Twice Exceptional characteristics are more or less a perfect match to My psychological profile
  • and will be the subject of an upcoming post


My general disinterest in people is the result of a complex tapestry of psychological abilities and experiences.

However, I do know that Intellectual Giftedness by itself does not necessarily predispose someone general disinterest in people.

As a young man, I took a formal (invigilated) IQ test with a friend of mine.

We got identical scores, but he isn’t Autistic.

Today he presides over a multinational company and whenever we meet I (think I) see a glimpse of what I might have been, if I wasn’t Autistic.

He converses effortlessly with everyone he comes into contact with.

  • from the meekest to the mightiest

His social skills are highly developed.

  • He shows no noticeable craving for intellectual nourishment in social settings
  • and he clearly enjoys socializing
  • But at the same time, he is happy to wax philosophically with me

This doesn’t necessarily mean that intellect doesn’t play a part in my disinterest in socializing and people in general.

  • I seem to have a strong social override, when the conversation has an intellectual element

But it does demonstrate that Intellectual Giftedness in of itself, does not necessarily condemn a person to lifelong social isolation.


The Horror

The reason I felt shock was that it horrified me and it still does because that description of Autism succinctly describes the essence of my autistic experience and far more accurately than the usual sugar coated phrase ‘socially impaired’

Socially impaired?

If only!


This is just my opinion of the nature of my autistic experience.

  • I intend no generalization, at any level
  • I am making no judgement of those prefer the term ‘socially impaired’

But, to paraphrase quote Dr. Barkley:

‘Social impairment’ hardly captures what is going wrong, developmentally, with me.


Dr. Barkley doesn’t seem to attach any moral judgement to autism either.

  • note his words ‘failure to develop the ability’
  • this is not a choice
  • any more than failure to develop the ability to see is a choice for a blind person

Indeed one of his core ADHD advocacy messages is that ADHD should be:

  • ‘removed from the realm of moral judgement and brought into the realm of compassion’



It’s not your fault

I have no idea how widespread this personal struggle is within the Autism community.

I have never heard/read anything like this, before or since hearing it from Dr. Barkley.

But it would be arrogant of me, as well as naive, to think that I am the only one.

That is why I have decided to go public with this.

So if you are someone who can relate to this, has suffered, agonized over your inability to consistently relate to others (perhaps even your family) as special objects, as human, I want you to know 2 things:

  • You are not alone
  • It is NOT your fault


I am going to conclude with the You tube clip which sparked this:

It’s just a couple of minutes long and will put his statement into full and clear context.



9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cassie Zupke
    Jul 01, 2013 @ 14:15:12

    Please don’t think I’m downplaying what you’re saying. But I do want you to know that while people with autism may have a harder time relating to other people (especially when they’re tired/overwhelmed/focused on something else) people without autism do the same thing but to a lesser degree. Exhausted mothers who are packing their kids up in the car after a too-long trip to Disneyland are really focused on getting everyone stuffed into the car so they can go home. They still love their children, but at that moment they view their kids more as fragile, squirming, noisy objects who need to be dealt with so mom can keep her brain from exploding. I don’t know if that’s a good example — what I meant was to show is that brains get overwhelmed and then none of us relate as well to others as we would when our brain isn’t overwhelmed. From what I know about autism, a lot of social processing is done cognitively rather than intuitively. Someone with autism may love someone very much, but often they have to think through their interactions with that person rather than acting intuitively. When their brain is very busy, that interaction is harder. When my teenaged daughter is prickly and emotional, I have to pick and choose my words with her carefully — if I acted intuitively with her, we’d have WW III on our hands. When my brain is tired and I can’t figure out that interaction well, then we end up in a fight.

    So, I’m not disputing anything you’ve said, I’m just hoping that you don’t feel that you’re faulty. From my viewpoint, people with autism may think of other people as objects more often than NTs, but NTs definitely do it, too.

    I hope I didn’t misinterpret what you wrote.


  2. mindretrofit8
    Jul 01, 2013 @ 17:15:57

    This post resonates with me very much. I will ponder more, I believe. It takes me awhile to connect what I am resonating with at times. 🙂


  3. Mados
    Jul 02, 2013 @ 02:00:14

    That is my core social problem too. I have learned it as an adult – what it is to “relate to others as humans” (before I discovered that, I couldn’t see what was missing), to see them as persons. That learning has massively improved my social competency and quality of life – and social situation, since I am now married and know people and can express my thoughts in a way that makes sense to others (at least that’s what I hope;-)

    However, just like you, the change is not consistent – my relationship skills and attention to people fluctuates wildly and goes down with fatigue, overload, and with task focus:-) This very much resonates with me too:

    It’s just that what I am immersed in at the time seems so much more crucially important that nothing, barring a genuine emergency, is capable of capturing and retaining my attention

    and I will freely admit, this saddens me deeply, with not even my family enjoying immunity.

    And I am horrified too. I am horrified when I look at pictures of myself as a young kid because I detect the subtle “missing dimension” in my face expressions and remember how I perceived family members. I understand how I could have perceived them, and what created the difference between my relations with the adults and e.g. my cousins’, and the root of the tension and remarks and attitudes that frustrated me so much at the time and made me feel like a bad kid.


  4. spectrumscribe
    Jul 03, 2013 @ 05:01:08

    I spent some time editing this post since I published it.

    I made changes to emphasize the fact, the reality, that my general disinterest in others outside of my family, is qualitatively different to (or at the very least a gross aberration of) the indifference and disinterest that most people experience, from time to time and which is often a function of their mood.

    My version of this is pervasive and lifelong. The rule rather than the exception.


    thanks for sharing your reaction to seeing pictures of yourself as a child.

    I feel the same way when I see old pictures of me when I was younger – a kid who is so obviously lost, adrift and alone.

    I wrote about this last year in my post: ‘A Small Measure of Peace’

    I see it even more clearly in some of the archived videos of me in my 20s.

    There is the obvious intensity of thought and a clear inability (or at least unwillingness) to ‘fake it’, go along with the group and make the effort to keep the costume party going.

    It is so sad to see this documented visually.

    It validates my memories and is perhaps an indication that my reality was far more harsh than my memories.


  5. Mados
    Jul 04, 2013 @ 02:03:28

    Hi Sam. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Your experience sounds very similar and it is actually quite touching to read.


  6. Mados
    Jul 04, 2013 @ 02:08:23

    Re. your recent edits: I can see your post is longer now but am going to ignore the recent edits for now, because I am almost done with a post in response and don’t want to complicate it for myself. I just need to draw some figures I want to have in the end. Need to go to work now but will prob. fininish it latest by the weekend.


    • Mados
      Jul 21, 2013 @ 20:43:54

      I didn’t stick to my timeline (typical…) but did write several posts inspired by this one, which are located here (primary) and here (after-thoughts) in case you are interested. I am still brewing on more thoughts about the topic and have one more off-spin post in the pipe related to the topic, not sure when it will be posted (and resisting to temptation to make any suggestion).


  7. The Mom
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 00:46:18

    This is interesting. I’m also ADHD/Aspergers. I never considered the consistency aspect of relating to others as special. And now that I do, I’m stewing over this and feeling exceedingly guilty. It’s so true. And explains why it took me so long to be diagnosed. I have the ability to interact appropriately, but I don’t always. Which generates a lot of self-hatred. And now that I’m reading about it, I have a lot of forgiveness to consider. Thank you for posting this. I’ve heard this before, but never thought of it to the extent you’ve discussed here. Thank you for sharing it.


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