Putin’ Asperger’s “diagnosis” ignorant

By admin Feb 17, 2015

Amelia Smith, Columnist


In 2008, a Pentagon think tank generated a recently publically released report theorizing that Russian President Vladimir Putin could have Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger’s was an autism disorder that has since been merged into Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the current DSM V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

Asperger’s was considered a high functioning type of autism, with deficiencies most notably in social interaction and communication, paired with a tendency to repetitive behavior and restricted interests.

The report was authored by Brenda Connors, who works as an expert in “movement pattern analysis.” I put this in quotes because from what I’ve read of the work she does, it seems to be largely mired in pseudo-science. Her degree is in political science, which makes it hard to believe she has a qualification to make any diagnosis of a neurodevelopmental disorder, let alone from a video.

Connors made her diagnosis through watching videos of the Russian President and examining his patterns of behavior and, through them, his state of mind. I guess this kind of analysis can be based in interpretations of basic body language, through which people can, to an extent, determine people’s emotional state, but that is a far cry from making a diagnosis of a neurodevelopmental disorder.

I can’t imagine any professional in a field involving diagnosis would advocate making a diagnosis through a video. Connors’ diagnosis of Putin stinks of the trend of hackneyed pop-psychology and of stigmatization.

Supposedly, Connors’s report was to help the U.S. government in interactions with Putin. But it’s hard to see how making wild claims about Putin’s neurological condition would aid in this function. A wild conjecture about the reasons behind Putin’s behavior could actually do more harm than good.

I find two great offenses in Connors’ report. The first is in the promotion of pop-psychology. Psychology is a field that often suffers from media outside of the field selecting a study and blowing its findings out of proportion or over-simplifying them to the point that the results are not accurate any more.

People tend to believe that, when they hear a significant result was found, it applies to the majority of people. The reality is that most people are average – that’s why most results form that familiar bell-curve. A report like this takes the science out of psychology. It misrepresents what strictly conducted scientific research is.

My second problem with Connors’ report is that it contributes to the stigmatization of autism. What does releasing this report really do aside from causing people to explain Putin’s behavior with the label of “autism spectrum disorder?”

It sounds like this report is attacking Putin’s capabilities, and it does so through language like calling ASD a “profound handicap” associated with a “reptilian stage of development.” How is this not the language of degradation? Frankly, it’s utterly insulting to those who live with the disorder.

This report could have people who are not patient enough to investigate the shaky science behind the headline to believe in incorrect and stigmatizing conceptions of ASD.

For the sake of the integrity of scientific research and for the sake of people living with ASD, please do not believe that Putin has the disorder—at the very least, not based on this report.

By admin

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