It’s got to be their way

What do Albert Einstein, Napoleon Bonaparte, Alexander the Great, William Shakespeare, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Bill Gates, among other famous names have in common? They all suffer from Asperger’s Syndrome.
Kumudini Hettiarachchi discusses this behavioural trait with Prof. Hemamali Perera

I will do it my way and no other………always it is I and no one else. An ego-centric attitude made worse by social awkwardness, seemingly obstinate to the hilt if his routine is changed, obsessed and scoring very high marks in the few subjects he likes and completely ignoring the rest, if your child is attempting to impose his will on his peers all the time, look more closely at his behavioural traits.

Add to all this, living in a world of his own with certain obsessions. He may have been born with a “set of behavioural traits” known as Asperger’s Syndrome, explains Prof. Hemamali Perera, Professor in Psychological Medicine at the Colombo Medical Faculty.

Abraham Lincoln Marilyn Monroe Albert Einstein

Although the prevalence in Sri Lanka is not known, MediScene understands that a recent study on the “whole spectrum of autism” conducted by Cambridge University has found that Asperger’s Syndrome affects six out of 100 people worldwide.

This is very high, stresses Prof. Perera who is a Consultant Child Psychiatrist, adding that more men than women exhibit these behavioural traits. The ratio is nine men to one woman. Even in Sri Lanka, Asperger’s Syndrome is widespread and affects people with normal or high intelligence, says this Psychiatrist, pointing out that many of them can be seen among professional groups such as doctors, lawyers, engineers, composers, scientists and also politicians.

Looking closely at some politicians on TV will immediately indicate who has these traits, MediScene understands, for their facial expression even amidst turmoil will be undisturbed.

The traits can be identified in children as follows:

  • Reluctance to look at the face of the other person when having a conversation.
  • Not discussing what happens in school with the parents.
  • Abhorrence of a change in routine – if it happens, throwing huge tantrums.
  • In-depth study and focus on a subject he likes and speaking avidly on it.
  • Cannot comprehend jokes. If someone jokes with him he will misunderstand it and think ill of the other person and walk off.
  • Acting and talking in a mature manner, not in keeping with his age.
  • Preference for the company of older people than his peers.
  • Unresponsive to others’ feelings.
  • Living in a world of his own.
  • Preference for solitude.
  • Having unusual ideas and views which result in others teasing him. As others don’t agree with his views, huge friction occurs. He will also try to impose his will on others, against the wishes of the majority and fight tooth and nail which will cause rows both in the classroom and the playground.
  • He will lose his temper frequently and be unable to control it along with being intolerant of others’ view.
  • He will be very selective of the food he eats or the clothes he wears, rejecting all else except his preferences.
  • He will be fearful of unusual things.
  • Intolerant of delay, he will want everything done immediately.
  • He has only a chosen few he calls friends.

Stressing that this is not a mental illness but a set of behavioural traits, Prof. Perera says that a child with Asperger’s Syndrome may stand out like a sore thumb. When he gets into his teens, with academic pressure mounting there could be clashes with parents and teachers as he will do only what he wants to do. He will find it difficult to fit into the system where nine subjects have to be studied for the Ordinary Level and three for the Advanced Level.

“This may result in serious consequences such as dropping out of school,” she warns, for though he may be very knowledgeable in abstract and complex topics such as global warming and watching the Discovery channel instead of cartoon s and movies, he may not want to write a simple essay which is a requirement to pass O/L English.

The pressure will also mount because he will be disinterested in what his peers are chatting about such as girls, pop stars, fashion trends which will lead to him being ostracized, it is learnt.

With adulthood will come a different set of issues – he may be very good at his job if it is his passion but his family life will be in disarray because he will impose a rigid routine which will seem as if he is domineering, it is learnt.

The need for those with Asperger’s Syndrome is to be identified early to be advised on behavioural changes. They have a collection of traits which form a unique personality, adds Prof. Perera.

Sri Lanka long way to go

Other countries have made special provisions for children with Asperger’s Syndrome to enhance their abilities so that they become useful contributors to development, points out Prof. Perera, lamenting that Sri Lanka, however, has a long way to go. Their knowledge and skill in sustaining focus and attention have been channelled to the computer field to produce micro-chips and software, she cites as an example.

This autism spectrum disorder is named after the Austrian Paediatrician, Hans Asperger who studied and described way back in 1944, children who could not relate to their peers, did not possess non-verbal communication skills and seemed to be social misfits.

Among the rich and famous who had these traits, an internet search reveals, are physicists Albert Einstein (who provided the theory of relativity) and Isaac Newton; a Founding Father of America, Benjamin Franklin (who was not given the task of writing the Declaration of Independence by his peers because they feared that he would conceal a joke in it); America’s first President George Washington, another American President, Abraham Lincoln; King Louis IV of France, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte; Russian Empress Catherine the Great; Macedonian King Alexander the Great; Greek philosopher Socrates; painters Leonardo da Vinci of ‘Mona Lisa’ fame and Vincent van Gogh; composer Ludwig van Beethoven; dramatist William Shakespeare; author Virginia Woolf; King of Rock, Elvis Presley; actors Robin Williams, Tom Hanks, Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable; and even Bill Gates though he has never admitted it with the list going on.

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