Autism is not psychopathy, and autistic people are not psychopaths [Mental Health Monday]

The word “psychopath” has come up in connection with the Asperger’s/autism spectrum.  In my filtered world, the “filter” referring to the fact that much of my knowledge of current events is pre-sorted, biased toward points of view with which I tend to agree, via the tool that is social media, the connection of the two terms is usually used in the context of rebuttal of some dastardly news headline of some violent crime or research paper that persistently tries to link the two.

And they really do keep trying to make this imaginary link.  Hoping it will stick someday.  Hoping to sway public opinion for This reason or That one.

It gets old and tiring.  And it also gets devastating, to those of us unfairly and inaccurately associated with such horrifics.  No matter how many times the pathology-based scientists or the sensationalist mainstream media try to create these ideas out of thin air, the air really is thin, because their continued promotion of the idea doesn’t make it any more true.
But it’s still damaging, because these efforts have the power to sway public opinions, court systems and jury verdicts, law enforcement policies and procedures, psychiatric ward criteria, and so on.

The latest I’ve found, a research paper in which the free full-text is available, leads off with a topic sentence that establishes the mindset:

“Individuals with psychopathy or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can behave in ways that suggest lack of empathy towards others.”

Ugh.  Must we?

At least the sentences that follow are somewhat more clarifying:

“However, many different cognitive and affective processes may lead to unempathic behavior and the social processing profiles of individuals with high psychopathic vs. ASD traits are likely different.”

Well, at least that’s more comforting, even if only marginally.  Not necessarily about myself–I already know that the autistic brain is light-years apart from that of a psychopath–but semi-comforting in the sense that finally, the rest of the world is starting to wake up to that fact, too. 

Some observers may believe they’re witnessing similarities between the two, primarily involving the (incorrectly assumed) so-called “lack of empathy”.  And thus, every time there’s a violent crime, such as a massacre, especially at a school, the public starts to wonder, increasingly out loud, whether or not the suspect was on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum.

Please allow me to state for the cheap seats: autism is not psychopathy.  Hell, autism is not even a mental illness; the diagnostic criteria themselves do not even touch on an inability to separate reality from fantasy or any kind of violent streak, and unless there’s something else going on, the general autistic mind is a sound one.

As usual, I’ll drive the point further home.

Psychopaths display several very non-autistic traits, such as those listed in a Discover Magazine article (which I found to be a fascinating read):

  • glibness/superficial charm
  • grandiose sense of self-worth
  • pathological lying
  • conning/manipulation
  • lack of remorse/guilt, shallow affect
  • promiscuous sexual behavior
  • impulsivity

None of these fit the autism spectrum picture, as per the diagnostic criteria and my experience with several hundred blogs written by people on the spectrum, not to mention my interactions with a couple thousand autistic people.

Concerning the first point, glibness and superficial charm–if anything, the opposite is true for Asperger’s/autism.  I can’t count how many times I’ve written or read personal accounts of the social awkwardness that lends itself to the diagnostic criteria known as the “Triad of Impairments” as they relate to social settings.  If anything, I’ve found that the “plain Jane” autistic person wishes they had more charm and charisma.

What about a grandiose sense of self-worth?

A quick Googler of “self-esteem autistic” suggests that my experience of a lack of self-esteem is widely shared.  (This blog post is a prime example, and it showed up on my first page of search results, and Wrong Planet discussions reveal that the sentiment expressed in the blog post is echoed by many.)

And the points about pathological lying and manipulation?

It’s not that an autistic person is incapable of these behaviors, but they’re far less common.  How can a population so often accused of being “too straightforward”, “blunt”, and honest “to a fault” (to the point where accusations of hurting feelings and aloofness fly frequently) also be known for a sly, smooth, sneaky, lying nature? The truth is: it isn’t.

Moving down the list…  A quick search for “autism intense feelings” yields the obvious fact that the emotions of Asperger’s/autistic people run deeper than anyone might realize, even oneself.  (Another Wrong Planet discussion turned up at the top of my search, with some excellent insight.)

Moving further down the list only reveals similar differences.

I’m hard-pressed to find any reason for the incessant link between the Asperger’s/autism spectrum and psychopathy, other than a combination of careless third-party observation and a sensationalist desire for higher media ratings.  

But while journalists and researchers might be trying to score 15 minutes of fame by making outlandish statements and drawing imaginary connections, the truth is that long after the spotlight has moved onto the next attention-grabbing headline, real and lasting damage has already been done, and it isn’t they who have to live with the effects.  It’s real people, without violent tendencies, who pose no threat to anyone.  People with sound minds, with enough challenge in life.  And likely their families, too.

It’s not cool, and it’s not funny.

My suggestion to these researchers and journalists is that they actually reach out and start talking with autistic people en masse.  Hell, a quick Google search for blogs, online discussions, and official criteria can be had with a couple of keystrokes.  They need to make names for themselves in more constructive ways.

The first plans for bridges between the neurotypes have been drawn, and construction has begun.  I’m hopeful that enlightenment will eventually be widespread–the norm, rather than the exception.

For fun, I took the psychopathy test.  Here are my results:


Signing off for now; I’m 10-8.  ๐Ÿ™‚

โค

โค

โค

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25 Comments

  1. I can’t believe this is a real thing. I mean I can believe it but, seriously? WTF? Obvious click bait BS!
    An autistic person (just like any other human) is capable of committing horrific crimes but autism won’t be the underlying cause or reason for the event.
    The way autistic people are misunderstood and bullied growing up could cause mental health problems but that isn’t the fault of the autistic person.
    This isn’t just damaging to autistic people. The anti-vaxxers could use this as another excuse in their horrible campaign. Sigh…
    ๐Ÿ˜˜๐Ÿ˜˜๐Ÿ’Œ๐Ÿ’Œ๐Ÿ’Œ๐Ÿ’

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Yep! You’re so right, Coz Sis ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ

      I particularly like this article, which calls out the “Autistic shooter” myth and those who fall for it. (Ergo, the article is on our side ๐Ÿ˜) And it’s a great read!

      https://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/10/12/opinion/the-myth-of-the-autistic-shooter.html

      โ˜„โ˜„๐Ÿ™Œ๐Ÿผ๐ŸŒŸ๐Ÿค˜๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ๐Ÿ‘Š๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ’–๐Ÿ’Ÿ๐ŸŒˆ๐Ÿ€๐ŸŒฒ๐Ÿ‰๐Ÿš๐ŸŒป๐ŸŒด๐ŸŒตโœจโ˜ฎ๐Ÿ’˜๐Ÿ’™

      Liked by 1 person

        1. You’re so welcome, DCSD!! ๐Ÿ’—โ™“๏ธโ™๏ธโ™จ๏ธ๐Ÿ”†๐ŸŒ€๐ŸŽตโœ…๐Ÿ“ฐ๐Ÿ—ž๐ŸŽ€๐ŸŒŒ๐ŸŒƒ๐Ÿž๐Ÿพโ˜„โœจ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒบ๐Ÿฑ๐Ÿ’ช๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ–๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I read the article, and I felt the article pointed out that autism and psychopathy are polar opposites. And autistic person feels too much; a psychopath does not feel enough. An autistic person may get too overwhelmed to use their emotions into practical ways. This is not lack of empathy. Here is the comment I sent to the researchers.

    Hi. I am an autistic person, and I really like that you point out that autistic people are not psychopaths. We Autists feel both our own feelings and the feelings of others too much, and then can’t figure out what to do with our feelings. A psychopath is the opposite; they don’t feel what other people feel, but understand what they think, and then abuse this ability to be mean. Alexithemia in autism is likely due to being too overwhelmed for words. A psychopath may not tell what they are thinking or feeling, possibly because they are plotting something mean. That is not true alexithymia.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Nice letter! I really like what you had to say ๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ

      Yes, the “lack of empathy” claim made against autism is dying – both more slowly and also more quickly than I thought it would, if that makes sense ๐Ÿ˜‰๐Ÿ’“

      Like

  3. Glad you wrote this, having had experience of these con-artists personally and the incredible damage they deliberately cause. They really get a thrill out of causing such harm. To me, psychopaths and sociopaths are pretty much the same thing, and I recall you writing about sociopathy a few months back because you were worried some of your behaviour could be construed as sociopathic, which it isn’t. I’m not sure, but I think the only difference between a sociopath and a psychopath is that psychopaths also kill people, but I don’t know. Either way, they are now both lumped together under the ‘Anti social personality disorder’ label.

    As some doctors (medical, psychiatric, and psychological) wrote on a website I was reading last year (I can find the link if you like) the easiest way to tell the difference between these psycho’s and people on the autistic spectrum is that whilst we are clueless about people, they are very socially aware. It follows therefore that it is impossible to have both conditions at the same time.

    Prof Simon Baron-Cohen hasn’t done a lot to clear this misunderstandings like this up, actively appearing to encourage it at times. You might want to read these articles:

    https://emmashopebook.com/2012/06/12/an-empathic-debunking-of-the-theory-of-mind/

    https://autismandempathyblog.wordpress.com/a-critique-of-the-extreme-male-brain-theory-of-autism/

    https://autismandempathyblog.wordpress.com/unwarranted-conclusions-and-the-potential-for-harm-my-reply-to-simon-baron-cohen/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Tim! ๐Ÿ˜Šโค๏ธโค๏ธ. I really appreciate your warm words! And omg yes, I love these posts! I remember reading them a while back, but it’s been a while, so I really appreciate your posting the links here. These are definitely must-reads! Yeah, if anything, Baren-Cohen has actually perpetuated this myth in some of his books. I don’t appreciate his doing that; hopefully he atones for that at some point, correcting himself publicly, if he hasn’t already done so ๐Ÿ’Ÿ๐Ÿ–๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ’“โœจ๐Ÿ’ช๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ’ž

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I wouldn’t bank on Baron-Cohen doing that. A few months back he was in court trying to get someone off a murder charge by claiming he had Asperger’s Syndrome.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh geez. ๐Ÿ’š๐Ÿ’™. Ugh. And the crap continues! Anything but Asperger’s/autism! We’re *not* violent unless there’s something besides Asperger’s/autism going on! ๐Ÿ˜ก๐Ÿ˜ก. Thank you for this info! ๐Ÿ’ž๐Ÿ’ž

          Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s rather hard to be a successful ***social predator*** if you have a poor understanding of your ***prey***.

    The converse is at least as true: if your understanding of those around you is poor, then it makes you an especially easy-to-secure ***prey-item*** – and if you are ‘socially blind’ then every person with at least ***one*** functioning eye is effectively your superior (your king…) in social matters.

    That kind of power differential is ***very*** hard to ignore. Most Norms don’t.

    Since many of those ‘blessed with psychopathy’ – which is the true import of these scurrilous articles about autists being ‘the manifested evil in nature’ – seem to have a sadistic bent, it is therefore plausible that what this so-called ‘lack of empathy’ present in ***psychopaths*** really means…

    (No! Psychopaths have the full quota of empathy, both cognitive and affective: the former is needed to succeed in social predation, and the latter is mandated so as to properly enjoy the ‘taste of destruction’.)

    Aw, you Normies! You’re just ***jealous*** that you’re not as good as ***Patrick Bateman/Bernard Madoff/Al Dunlap/etc***! So you got to find someone who’s ***easy*** so you can prop up your faulty image of ***badness*** – got to find an ***easy*** target to ***bully*** to repair your ‘rank-and-reputation’

    Not, not psychopaths. You worship those รœbermenschen. You want to **be** those people, so as to usurp their place(s) at the top of the dominance hierarchy, and devour them in the process.

    Instead, you go after us. We don’t mean nothing to you.

    We’re easy.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I like how you put it here:

      “if you are โ€˜socially blindโ€™ then every person with at least ***one*** functioning eye is effectively your superior (your kingโ€ฆ) in social matters.”

      Liked by 1 person

  5. So many thoughts so little time.ok lots of time but don’t want to take up too much space here. I knew, personally knew a boy who had Aspergers and he used that as a defense to get out of prison for being a part of bombing a car dealership. And you know it worked! And it just made me feel awful to think that it was used as an excuse and that now others will think that everyone like this is capable of this and will do this. Whole frustrating scenario.
    Gosh I hope that made sense. I’ve been in a seizure stupor and not coming across quite correctly.
    I also have lyme disease and so i am in this lyme disease group and someone posted that a man threw his kid off of a bridge and he should be checked for lyme disease because lyme can make you …what? Throw someone off a bridge? And everyone agreed with her that he should be checked. So now lyme disease means we are killers? I just…i had to leave that group.
    And tourette syndrome, which I have is not a mental illness it is a neurological syndrome but YET anxiety does fall under mental illness. When I wrote my blog the other day I got wind of gossip that my father said to disregard my blog as I had a mental illness. Umm mental illness means that what I am saying is not worth reading? Mental illness used as a stigma or a hurtful word. I am not mentally ill. I con’t care what the books say. I have some things wrong with me that are a challenge.PTSD, check. Tourette’s, check. Anxiety, check. Lyme disease, check. But I would never use those things to be a jerk infact I am in therapy trying to better myself and evolve and grow and learn how to deal with my syndromes!
    See. Too much to say. Hope it made sense. This topic is just a big deal to me because people think because you have one diagnosis that means…blank….and it doesn’t.
    Thank you for your great article!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh yeah, it made sense! I hear you ๐Ÿ˜˜๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ. It’s absolutely awful that Asperger’s was used as an excuse to get away with a violent crime like that! (Or any other crime, for that matter.). That definitely doesn’t help the rest of the people who are only Asperger’s/autistic and not violent at all. It only adds more stigma to a condition that actually needs destigmatizing ๐Ÿ’š๐Ÿ’™. Very frustrating indeed!

      Good on you for leaving that Lyme group. I have a very dear longtime friend with Lyme. She has had it 3/4 of her life, and she had it by the time we met over 25 years ago (she’s had it for 28 years). But we didn’t know she had it for sure until not quite 2 years ago. The symptoms didn’t even really become noticeable until about 3 years ago. She was finally able to come visit me and she spent a week undergoing evaluation at my clinic and I was finally able to diagnose her. Since she lives far away, she sought support from a local Lyme group–actually a couple. They vary a lot. Some are really constructive and others are very inaccurate/non-constructive. I agree, it definitely wouldn’t make someone throw someone off a bridge, unless the infection reached a *very* specific part of the brain and did a significant amount of damage. And even then, I would think that that person would also have to have something else going on besides Lyme. Most people with Lyme are very very nonviolent and sweet. So glad you left that group! ๐Ÿ’–๐Ÿ’–

      I find it very odd how anxiety is considered a mental illness. The way I see it, we live in an unnatural world, with artificial lights and other stimuli, much different than what the nervous system was designed to handle. I see anxiety as a normal variant and a natural response to an unnatural environment – not a mental illness! ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ’Ÿ

      I’m so sorry that your father feels that way toward you. I believe everyone’s perspective is worth something, and on top of that, I don’t think you’re mentally ill, either ๐Ÿ’™๐Ÿ’œ. People can be so judgmental! And so ignorant. It’s really sad.

      I’m with you – fellow PTSD here. I’m so relieved for you that you’re in therapy trying to better yourself and your quality of life! You just reminded me – I’ve got to start therapy myself ๐Ÿ˜Š

      Thank *you* for your kind words and for sharing your thoughts and your story! I cherish your comments ๐Ÿ’ž๐Ÿ’ž

      Like

      1. My heart goes out to your friend with Lyme disease. It has affected my brain in that I am having seizures so I do know that neurolyme does affect the brain. My case is pretty severe. I was in a study with Kerry Clark and they found the spirochete (lyme bacteria) live in my bloodstream. It was difficult for me to get a diagnosis. I know I contracted it when I was 18 but didn’t get a diagnosis until 3 years ago. I had mild symptoms along the way but nothing like 3 years ago. They herbs I take are ridiculously expensive but it is all that has helped so far.
        I agree on the anxiety. I actually looked it up after what my dad said , I don’t speak to my dad btw, so it was just gossip about me. And anxiety was listed under mental illness catergory. It is absurd. I completely agree with you. With the dyes in the food, the artificial lights, the pesticides, the artificial fragrances that are loaded down on everyone, it is not shocking that I am bombarded in my nervous system and get anxiety.
        I sometimes feel I was not meant for this world. That I just do not have a place to fit in. My heart feels too tender and fragile and my body reacts to everything in fight or flight and in chemical sensitivities with all of the colognes and fabric softeners. I would have fit in much better with the native americans living a natural life than now.
        I’m sorry to hear you also have PTSD. It is a bear of a things to deal with.
        Wishing you the best! Thankyou for accepting my long comment ๐Ÿ™‚

        Like

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