redtabby's autism blog

A blog considering how psychology, psychiatry, social life and personal life do and don't interact with the autistic spectrum, sometimes obviously, sometimes not.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

AS or TS?

In Tony Attwood's 'Asperger syndrome: a guide for parents and professionals', chapter 2 ('Social behaviour'), p. 44, he says,
'Examine the biographies of famous scientists and artists for indicators of whether they had the same attributes as members of the group. This could be a homework or library exercise. The biographies of Einstein or Mozart would make a good starting point.'
This is in the context of social-skills groups for teenagers and things that could be done in them. I assume it's to help the people feel good about themselves.
It might, I suppose, unless it gives licence for bad behaviour ('Prince John did x, so I can too').
It might work too well if you have a big ego ('You can't tell me what to do; you know nothing about nuclear physics').
It might leave you feeling crushed if you're a depressive ('I'm not coping as it is and now they expect me to be Einstein').
It would be just as well to be as sure as possible the famous role models really did have AS. It's too easy to be casual about it. Anthony Storr in 'The dynamics of creation' put both Einstein and Newton in the schizoid mentality category, which includes autism but is bigger than that, and doesn't specify that you have to have the triad of impairments. Someone somewhere thinks Einstein couldn't have had autism because he had a sense of humour (The Times, 8.4.04). Well there's nice, as my Welsh relatives would say. You can grow a sense of humour later on if you work at it.
But where did Tony A. get Mozart from? Has he never sat down and really listened to the operas, especially the socially complex ones like 'Cosi fan tutte', 'Le nozze di Figaro' and 'Don Giovanni'? They're not just the formulaic setting of text to nice tunes. He understood what the characters were doing and thinking.
Being rude and crude and twitchy and funny and distractible, and being driven to play (in both senses) and driven to compose, and communicating all of this in a lively and voluble correspondence, doesn't sound like an over-formal young man struggling to communicate. It sounds like someone with OCD and ADHD, which, as James McConnel showed in his Channel 4 documentary (18th October) is a useful way of conceptualizing Gilles de la Tourette syndrome, which James McConnel (also a composer) has as well. He described how Mozart's music is self-medicating (serene and balanced) as well as innovative (Touretty twitchiness pushes you to go that bit further).
But the most important point in the role-models-with-AS context is that TS allows you to have perfectly good theory-of-mind, an immediate appreciation of what others might well be thinking and planning. In the opera ensembles the characters might sing together, but they can at the same time express conflicting thoughts. That takes social understanding, doesn't it?
It took me about a dozen listens over several years, plus seeing it in an intelligent production by Jonathan Miller, to begin to 'get' Cosi. Oh the effort! Mozart wrote the operas (and everything else) when he was young, but it's when you're young, before you've had a chance to develop some intellectual workarounds, that the theory-of-mind difficulties of AS are most obvious. It doesn't make sense, in the operas context, to say Mozart had AS when TS is more likely. Don Giovanni must be opera's most compulsive hero. The point of the opera seems to be very personal to the composer: everyone misunderstands his social motives. They want to damn him, but he just needs to play. If Mozart had AS, then I'm a dog.

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