INTPs and Asperger's Syndrome

(The following is an excerpt from The Secret Lives of INTPs.  I release this chapter into the public domain.)

In INTP and INTJ internet communities, the question of a link between Asperger’s and type comes up over and over again. Several responses typically appear, namely:

  • “Suppose that Asperger’s is simply INT taken to an extreme?”
  • “I’m an INT and I have this problem.”
  • “You’re misdiagnosed.”
  • “I’m an INT and I have a sibling/acquaintance/friend who has this problem and there is definitely something wrong there.”
  • “I know someone with Asperger's and I don't think they're an INT.”

The reason that these questions keep coming up over and over is that many of the descriptions of Asperger's Syndrome symptoms read like a checklist for how to identify an INTP.

  • Lack of social skills? - Oh yeah.
  • Lack of empathy? - Depends on how hard the T in INTP is.
  • Flat, formal, advanced speech? - Yes
  • Obsessed with learning about certain interest areas - Absolutely
  • Talk a lot about their favorite subject - If you can find someone who will listen...
  • Above average sensitivity to tastes, noises, lights, etc – Has been found to describe all introverts: a drop of lemon juice placed on the tongue will cause an introvert to salivate more than an extravert. (1)
  • Measurable associations with math and science - No question about it

Yet there are also some symptoms which do seem to be exceptions to the INTP description, particularly a strong emphasis on details, which would seem to indicate Sensing, and a strong liking for an unvarying daily routine, which would seem to indicate Judging.

Duke (2005) used the Murphy-Meisgeier Type Indicator for Children-Revised (a version of the MBTI meant for kids) to obtain the types of children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. The children were of “normal intelligence.” It was Duke's hypothesis that ISTJs might be the type that best matched the ASD symptom profile. But while Duke found that the children were more likely than average to be Introverted and Judging, no specific link to type ISTJ was found.

ASD and the Big Five

Since the Big Five is correlated to the MBTI, we can cautiously use Five Factor studies to probe at the relationship between type and ASD. (I have taken the liberty of translating the Big Five descriptors into familiar MBTI descriptors, though such translation is by no means exact.)

One study found that autistic traits were associated with IT and Neuroticism. (2) Another study found that a group of 64 adults diagnosed with Asperger's had higher ITP scores and Neuroticism compared to a control group. (3)

A third study had 320 university students take both the NEO-PI-R and the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) test. (4) (You can read or take the latter test here.) It was found that ASD traits were correlated with IP and Neuroticism. Interestingly, the AQ test separates ASD traits out into five categories. Each category turned out to be correlated (strongly or weakly) to certain aspects of the Big Five.

  • Social skill (lack thereof): ITP
  • Attention switching (staying absorbed in one thing at length; wanting a plan and routine): ISFP + Neuroticism
  • Attention to details (noticing numbers, dates, small changes, details, patterns): ENJ
  • Communication (lack of conversation skills) : ISP + Neuroticism
  • Imagination (lack thereof): ISTP

Of course, the AQ test has questions asking the respondent whether they would prefer to go to the library or a party, or if they enjoy social chitchat, or if they notice patterns in things. Many of the questions can be seen to have obvious connections to type preferences independent of the existence of any issues. And this opens up another question.

Type and/or Disorder?

Chester (INTJ) (2006) published a descriptive study in which he attempted to ascertain what sort of overlap there might be between ITPs and Asperger’s. He examined 19 Asperger's symptoms to see if there was any resemblance to known type characteristics. Significantly, he not only compared the characteristics of well-developed types, but also of poorly developed types.

The symptoms he assessed were as follows:

For well-developed types:

A preference for being alone; leading a solitary lifestyle; “spacing out (involuntarily);” “shutting out, blocking (deliberately);” having a hyperaroused nervous system; being unaware of the outside world; communicating in an associative manner; thinking in an associative manner; proceeding from specifics to generalities; thinking in pictures; lack of social skills; a limited choice of careers; “relentless reading;” perseveration; and immaturity.

For poorly developed types:

Anger and regret; low self esteem; rigidity; relying too much on logic; confusion of Feeling judgment and emotion; and talking too much.

For most (but not all) of the symptoms listed for well-developed types, Chester found intriguing similarities between common ITP type-based behaviors and “abnormal” characteristics that have been explained as symptoms of Asperger's. In fact, the examples he compared for type and Asperger's were in many cases almost identical. He also found evidence that poor ITP type development could be indicated in some cases.

Chester concluded that “Asperger's Syndrome...seems indistinguishable from certain of the Jungian/Myers-Briggs personality types” and added that “it is sometimes difficult to tell whether a person's behavior represents a type characteristic or a symptom of the disorder.” Significantly, he concluded, “In no case did I find that the type preferences of people diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome were understood or encouraged.”

Chester suggests that Asperger's may in some ways be a Pygmalion project. He examined the reactions and thought processes of four mothers of sons with Asperger's as described in works of literature. Their behaviors seemed to indicate that the mothers had ENFJ or ESFJ preferences. Two of the mothers appeared to be carrying on Pygmalion projects, and there were hints indicating that the other two might also be doing so.

This of course raises an intriguing point. The goal of treatment for children with Asperger's is to change the child's behaviors to match social norms. But what do type practitioners have to say about raising children of any type? Unanimously authors and researchers agree that parents should support and nourish the development of a child's type-based traits rather than attempt to mold them into other types, even the more normal SP/SJ types. If a child is not supported in their type development, say practitioners, it leads to stunted personal growth, low self esteem, and long-lasting neuroses. The treatment for Asperger's and the child-rearing strategy recommended by type practitioners would seem to be at odds with each other.  

Conclusion

There appears to be evidence supporting a relationship between type INTP and Asperger's. Whether this relation is a matter of definition, degree, or actual concurrence remains to be seen.  The question of misdiagnosis should be taken very seriously, since some of the treatments for autism have been determined to be "torture" by civil rights groups, and the victims of "therapy" show symptoms of fullblown PTSD.  Though many of the grossest abuses have been ended (not including electroshock, which continues), many less obvious cruelties continue.  As one person who was questionably diagnosed with Asperger's and sent to a "special school" for the handicapped recalled recently, "To this day, I have nightmares that I am back in that school."  He states, "I never felt like I had symptoms severe enough to warrant a diagnosis of Asperger's."

 

1 Eysenk; Deary, Ramsay, Wilson & Raid in Bayne, 2005

2 Austin in Wakabayashi, Baron-Cohen & Wheelwright, 2006

3 Kanai, Iwanami, Hashimoto, Ota, Tani, Yamada & Kato, 2011

4 Wakabayashi, Baron-Cohen & Wheelwright, 2006