ロマンチスト・エゴイスト ~Romantist Egoist~

いつもよりも向かい風が強く、ペダルを踏む足も疲れてきた。 少しだけ遠回りになるけれど、風を凌げる細い小道通っていこう。

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自閉症 ~L and Autism~

L and Autism
[article from drworm.net]


When I begin mentally 'diagnosing' a character, I always wonder whether it's the correct thing to be thinking about. Is it productive to recognize a fictional character as having characteristics or traits reminiscent of autism and/or Asperger's Syndrome? How does this change my own perception of the character as well as how I view the basis of their actions and decision-making? Is this a worthwhile way to think?

Part of my hesitation comes from the extreme knee-jerk reaction many people have to autism, and to highly functioning autistics in particular. There are a number of people and professionals ready and willing to claim that Asperger's Syndrome is something that is able to be 'cured' or 'treated' with behavioral modification, suggesting that the differences are only mental and emotional and can be changed to become 'normal' through sufficient force of will. There are people who will even claim that Asperger's is not real, that those who claim to be affected are weak, lazy, or stupid.

While I fully support skepticism in diagnosing people with any such syndrome or disorder, these particular mentalities are unfounded, illogical, and offensive. Many people with autism are caught between the conflicting signals from their own brain and the social and personal expectations of a homogeneous society; this constant battle can breed self-loathing, depression, severe personality disorder, and more. It is difficult to harmoniously reconcile the two opposing viewpoints. It is made more difficult by propaganda that alleges we are liars.

In any case, I am often afraid to drag a fictional character into the fray, especially since, most often, a diagnosis is not required, i.e. the character does not experience any significant difficulty or displeasure with education, work, social situations, etc. (as this is generally the reasoning behind seeking a diagnosis). But, like any other group of humans who have been categorized, autistics tend to seek out autistics: for friends, for lovers, and even for favorite fictional characters. It seems to happen fairly naturally, and in the end I always give in.


Defining autism -

Autism is a disorder with a neurological basis. Beginning in early childhood, a person may experience sensitivity to a number of different sensual stimuli, including lights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, et al. This hypersensitivity may manifest itself in extreme avoidance of certain environmental aspects or stubborn clothing and food preferences. People with autism may also engage in self-stimulatory behavior by repetitively touching certain things, listening to specific sounds, and engaging in self-harm, among many behaviors.

If overstimulated, the person may become extremely agitated or angry for no reason that is discernable to others. Other specifically neurological signs include difficulty with fine and/or gross motor control, prosopagnosia (or "face blindness"), difficulty understanding verbal instructions or speech (e.g. Central Auditory Processing Disorder), and extreme visual or auditory skill or memory (a "photographic" or "tape recorder" memory).

The social effects are generally more recognizable and insistent; people who are autistic are profoundly socially awkward. Most dislike large groups and parties, and many are not overly concerned with other people at all. Distinguishing the emotions of others is a constant challenge, as people with autism are not generally able to 'read' complex emotional body language in other people.

Many avoid eye contact all together, or express an uncomfortable and excessive amount of eye contact (staring blankly). Objects and animals are frequently more immediately interesting and important than other people. People with severe cases of autism are most often mute or have substantial difficulties with language. They may not acknowledge other people, including family members, to any great degree, and often seem 'trapped' in 'their own little world.'

In short: "Autism is a life-long developmental disability that prevents individuals from properly understanding what they see, hear, and otherwise sense. This results in severe problems of social relationships, communication, and behavior." Try this site for many simple answers to frequently asked questions.

Defining Asperger's Syndrome -

Some professionals equate AS with high-functioning autism while others see it as a separate disorder. In any case, AS is characterized by no significant delay in language skills, average to high level of intelligence, insistence on sameness, and extremely intense interest in 'odd' things or showing a level of interest incongruent with the topic. See OASIS for a more comprehensive description. Or try here for a list of frequently experienced traits.

Re-defining Asperger's -

There are some people and organizations which campaign to change the connotation of Asperger's from a horrible disease that prevents people from ever being happy or productive to a set of personality traits. Personally, I think they have a point, though I still think of it in terms of a neurological disorder. Actually, the word 'disorder' is in and of itself particularly loathsome to me; I much prefer 'syndrome.'

Though I suppose it may be hard for people who are neurotypical to understand, people on the Autistic Spectrum widely regard themselves as perfectly normal. I'm sorry, but to me it is the rest of you who are clearly nuts. Yes, I am fairly restricted in my mental world, but what others often fail to grasp is that I cannot comprehend the 'real' world as the majority of people do; therefore I cannot feel a sense of loss for what I'm apparently missing unless someone else impresses it upon me that I should feel a certain way.

The point is that autism is not a mental disorder like schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder. It cannot be 'fixed' with medication or therapy. It is a difference in the way the brain processes information. And it is fretting parents and ignorant doctors who seem to be the most affected by autism; the patient himself is most likely to be content so long as sensory needs are met, things are orderly, and he has a few books or tools relating to his interests.

Common fallacies and/or misconceptions:

Autism and AS are listed in the DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Illnesses - Fourth Edition) which means they are mental illnesses, like depression or bipolar disorder.

Autism is a neurological disorder; it is listed in the DSM IV because its indicators are most frequently behaviorally based.

Autistic people don't have feelings.

Yes, we do. Perhaps we are more limited in range, but we certainly have feelings and we are certainly able to care about other people. We may communicate our own feelings 'differently' and be unable to always distinguish how other people feel, but people who are autistic or have AS are not robots or emotionless automatons.

People with AS and autism act irrationally or illogically and are deliberately try to avoid conforming to the rest of the world.

No, no, no. Or, at least, no more than people who are neurotypical. Actions that seem 'irrational' or 'illogical' are most likely perfectly reasonable to the person performing them, and may stem from sensory hyper or hypo-stimulation or a miscommunication. And while people with AS are often very stubborn or resistant to change, they are not acting in such a way just to annoy others or be difficult; there is a genuine non-understanding occurring, and it is often just as frustrating for them as it is for you.

People with AS are completely unable to 'learn' or memorize social behavior in a rote fashion, and they cannot make meaningful analysis of emotions and actions in films, novels, etc.

Just the opposite, generally. Many people with AS are adept at mimicking social behavior to a certain extent, particularly by scripting common verbal exchanges; it is when situations or conventions change and demand different reactions that people with AS will become confused and bewildered and will thus be unable to 'perform' sufficiently.

Additionally, they can sometimes offer a great degree of depth to analysis of various media (often by watching or rereading things over and over), in part because movies and books tend to be much more clear-cut than other people. It is spontaneous, unscripted social situations that are most difficult and trying.

My brother/sister/cousin/best friend has AS and doesn't act anything like this! What are you talking about?
Thank you for illustrating the "No true Scotsman" logical fallacy. Autism is commonly viewed as a "spectrum" disorder, meaning that the degree of disability, function, and visibility of symptoms varies extremely widely. Also, people with AS and autism are as individual and different as people who are neurotypical.

Aren't you just faking this for attention? And isn't it sad that we seem to want to diagnose every eccentricity?

Most people with AS would, in fact, much prefer not to have any such thing; the world is not made for autistics, after all, and it can be scary and overwhelming. 'Eccentricity' and 'giftedness' are very different from autism, though they are frequently mistaken for one another. Remember, autism has a neurological deficit at its core, which often manifests itself in subtle physical ways as well as behavioral.

Autism is curable.

Nope, not yet. In fact, try asking people with autism about "behaviorism." The vehement reaction you are bound to get should tell you something about how this 'cure' is generally received.


Why L? Well, to start, here's my list of behaviors I've noticed in the manga:

- sitting, standing, and walking oddly
- not wearing shoes or socks
- wearing the same thing regardless of activity (e.g. playing tennis)
- continually chewing on his thumb (stimming?)
- wide blank eyes and blank expression
- holding normal objects (a phone, a pen) awkwardly
- 'rudeness'
- bluntness
- paranoia
- extreme food preferences
- high logical intelligence
- highly competitive
- aversion to touch (?)
- attention to small and seemingly insignificant details
- perseveration
- constant analysis of meanings behind behavior and displayed emotions in others
- seemingly oblivious to the internal emotional concerns and states of others
- use of precise percentages in relation to imprecise and immeasurable feelings


Visual evidence from the manga:

This is, to me, a beautifully illustrated 'autistic moment,' and one that is pathetically familiar to me. Particularly the moment L takes to think about the situation before reaching a conclusion... classic. And consistent with someone who is highly logical and has a limited capacity for empathy.

People with AS often notice tiny, seemingly insignificant details others do not. Personally, I like car license plates, which means I'm often pointing out clever or indecipherable vanity plates to the people I'm with.

This is an example of both L's inadvertent rudeness and the odd way he holds the phone.

<--- Two examples of how L holds a pen. Clearly, he is still able to write comfortably and legibly. --->

An example of how L holds a sheet of paper. (He holds a number of things oddly, almost as if they are rather loathsome to him; maybe because of tactile oversensitivity.) Also, he doesn't seem entirely comfortable with the idea of footwear of any kind.

Raito changes his clothes for the tennis game, but L elects not to do so, despite the awkwardness they inevitably present.

Just an example of L and his infamous thumb. He appears not only to be pressing it against his lips, but also to be chewing and sucking it against his front teeth.

Given the circumstances of this scene, this is highly debatable, but I thought it interesting anyway... L tenses considerably after being touched unexpectedly.

Not only does L make an interesting confession here (friendship can be a very difficult thing for people with AS to grasp fully; often most people fall into the category of 'acquaintance' and calling someone a friend can be a big step) but he does it in a very open, matter-of-fact, nearly emotionless sort of way.


Inconclusive elements:

- Vocal range and expression. People with AS frequently have overly stilted, formal, pedantic, or monotone ways of speaking, or they are excessive mimics with odd or indiscernible accents; some males have abnormally high voices because they never allowed their voices to change (because they did not like the new sound). L's dialogue is somewhat formal and pedantic, not that that means much (he is Japanese, after all).

- Childhood onset. We don't have a lot of information about his life before he took the Kira case.

- L's paranoia is easily justified within context.

- As is his perseveration. Other characters are also clearly thinking about Kira (or, in Raito's case, the Death Note) to excess, and for good reason.

- And his constant emotional analysis. He is trying to use these tactics to deduce Kira's identity.

- Aaaaand I mentioned the sensitivity to unexpected touch and the insubstantiality of that above.


My own conclusion:

I do not actually think his character is meant to be autistic... I just find it interesting how, when writers endeavor to create 'odd' characters, they often hammer it home with a number of stereotypically autistic traits. I also find it interesting that these fictional 'odd' characters are often much beloved by fans, while their real-life counterparts... aren't.

But it does please me to think of him as having so many AS traits; it allows me to identify and sympathize with his character. I'm not drawn to what is unfamiliar about him, but to what is so comfortingly similar. Being a real-life 'L' isn't easy, and it's nice to find the odd fictional character to love unconditionally.

Other fictional characters with recognizable AS or autistic traits:

Napoleon, Pedro, Deb, and Kip from the movie Napoleon Dynamite; Elliott from the movie Flight of the Phoenix (2004); Agent Milton Dammers from the movie The Frighteners; Bartleby from the movie Bartleby (2000); Rubin from the movie Rubin and Ed; Data from the series Star Trek: The Next Generation (He's an android, yes, but his quest to learn human emotion has made him a near mascot of those with AS).


... by drworm [2004]. Images from the scanlation of DN by orangetangerine.

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