Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Lee Grossman, president of the Autism Society of America, a leading advocacy group, recognizes the link between Asperger's Syndome and the "second brain" of the enteric nervous system.  In 2009, he was quoted in The New York Times saying, “Our kids will do much better if medical conditions like gut issues or allergies are treated.”

In recent years, the once obscure diagnosis of Asperger's has become increasingly common.  However, psychologists, physicians, educators, and parents remain largely uneducated and uninformed regarding the syndrome, particularly in girls and women - the diagnosis is given to more than four times as many boys as girls.  One reason why the prevalence in girls and women is so low in comparison to boys and men may be the fundamental lack of awareness of what Asperger's "looks like" in females. Traditional frameworks may indicate that the female with Asperger's is just shy, quiet, perfect at school, tomboyish, moody, overly competitive, aloof, a goth, depressed, anxious, or a perfectionist. 

Children with Asperger’s may be socially awkward and often physically clumsy, but many are verbal prodigies, speaking in complex sentences at early ages, reading newspapers fluently by age 5 or 6 and acquiring expertise in some preferred topic — stegosaurs, clipper ships, Interstate highways — that will astonish adults and bore their playmates to tears.

One practical aspect of all of this is the potential for zazen as a potential treatment for neurological conditions such as Asperger's, Parkinson's disease, and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder.  Researchers at Atlanta's Emory University are investigating the effects of Zen meditation and how the brain functions during meditative states. By determining the brain structures involved in meditation and people whose activity is gradually changed in the course of long-term meditative practice, researchers hope this training could one day become a complementary treatment for various neurological conditions.

"In contrast to the common conceptualization of meditation as a relaxation technique, we think that meditation could be more usefully characterized as training in the skillful deployment of attention and inhibitory control," said Giuseppe Pagnoni, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and lead researcher for the study.  "We chose to investigate Zen meditation because, from an experimental point of view, it is a very simple technique, the quintessence of many other meditative variations. You concentrate on the correct posture and the coming and going of your breathing, and repeatedly come back to these 'attentional supports' every time you find yourself distracted by thoughts, memories, sensations, etc. We believe people who have undergone rigorous training in Zen meditation might display a functional modification of the neural circuits underlying the performance of attentional control and behavioral switching. Therefore, we are looking closely at the brain to understand which areas support the mental processes mustered by meditation and how these relate to the existing literature on neuroimaging of cognitive functions."

Which of course brings up the questions of whether Asperger's in particular actually needs treatment or a "cure."  Asperger's Syndrome has probably been an important and valuable characteristic of our species throughout evolution, and Asperger’s has recently exploded into popular culture through books and films depicting it as the realm of brilliant nerds and savant-like geniuses.  Some famous people who have or likely had Asperger's include the following:

Abraham Lincoln,1809-1865, US Politician
Al Gore, 1948-, former US Vice President and presidential candidate
Alan Turing, 1912-1954, English mathematician, computer scientist and cryptographer
Albert Einstein, 1879-1955, German/American theoretical physicist
Alexander Graham Bell, 1847-1922, Scottish/Canadian/American inventor of the telephone
Alfred Hitchcock, 1899-1980, English/American film director
Andy Kaufman, 1949-1984, US comedian, subject of the film Man on the Moon
Andy Warhol, 1928-1987, US artist.
Bela Bartok, 1881-1945, Hungarian composer
Benjamin Franklin,1706-1790, US polictician/writer
Bertrand Russell, 1872-1970, British logician
Bill Gates, 1955-, Entrepreneur and philanthropist, key player in the personal computer revolution
Bob Dylan, 1941-, US singer-songwriter
Bobby Fischer, 1943-2008, World Chess Champion
Carl Jung, 1875-1961, Swiss psychoanalyst
Charles Schulz, 1922-2000, US cartoonist and creator of Peanuts and Charlie Brown
Crispin Glover, 1964-, US actor
Daryl Hannah, US actress
Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886, US poet
Erik Satie, 1866-1925 - Composer
Franz Kafka, 1883-1924, Czech writer
Friedrich Nietzsche, 1844-1900, German philosopher
Garrison Keillor, 1942-, US writer, humorist and host of Prairie Home Companion
Gary Numan, British singer and songwriter
George Bernard Shaw, 1856-1950, Irish playwright, writer of Pygmalion, critic and Socialist
George Washington, 1732-1799, US Politician, and Socialist
Glenn Gould, 1932-1982, Canadian pianist
Gustav Mahler, 1860-1911, Czech/Austrian composer
Howard Hughes, 1905-1976, US billionaire
H P Lovecraft, 1890-1937, US writer
Henry Ford, 1863-1947, US industrialist
Henry Thoreau, 1817-1862, US writer
Isaac Asimov, 1920-1992, Russian/US writer on science and of science fiction, author of Bicentennial Man
Isaac Newton, 1642-1727, English mathematician and physicist
James Taylor, 1948-, US singer/songwriter
Jane Austen, 1775-1817, English novelist, author of Pride and Prejudice
Jim Henson, 1936-1990, creator of the Muppets, US puppeteer, writer, producer, director, composer
Kaspar Hauser, c1812-1833, German foundling, portrayed in a film by Werner Herzog
Keith Olbermann, 1959-, US sportscaster
Ludwig Wittgenstein, 1889-1951, Viennese/English logician and philosopher
Ludwig van Beethoven, 1770-1827, German/Viennese composer
Marilyn Monroe, 1926-1962, US actress
Mark Twain, 1835-1910, US humorist
Michael Palin, 1943-, English comedian and presenter
Michelangelo, 1475 1564 - Italian Renissance artist
Nikola Tesla, 1856-1943, Serbian/American scientist, engineer, inventor of electric motors
Oliver Sacks, 1933-, UK/US neurologist, author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Awakenings
Robin Williams, 1951-, US Actor
Thomas Edison, 1847-1931, US inventor
Thomas Jefferson, 1743-1826, US politician
Vincent Van Gogh, 1853-1890, Dutch painter
Virginia Woolf, 1882-1941, English Writer
Wasily Kandinsky, 1866-1944, Russian/French painter
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1756-1791, Austrian composer

I don't know if the arts, science, government, and commerce would have been any better off had these people been "cured."  But I wonder if society would have been better off if these people had the technique of zazen to better control their abilities and their contributions to the arts, science, government, and commerce.

No comments: