autism (stereo)types


Someone posted on LiveJournal about supposed “subtypes” of autism, based on various celebrities, some of whom are autistic. [Edit: I was responding apparently to a work-in-progress posted illegally. What I say below was in response to what I saw, as written, not to all the things I didn’t see and didn’t know. It would still be my response if this were the finished product, and is still my response to the many finished products that look very similar to it. See comments for details.]

This reminds me of when someone asked me a question several years back, “Are you a Temple Grandin type or a Donna Williams type?”

I’m an Amanda Baggs type. As in, I’m myself. Not Temple Grandin, not Donna Williams, and certainly not a point on a line between the two of them as if they’re another “spectrum” unto themselves. There are more than two kinds of autistic people in the world, and even if there were truth in this stuff, I doubt that the first two major autiebiographies would be written by perfect representatives of each.

I wonder how many newly-identified auties sit there trying to force-fit themselves: “Am I autistic? Or am I AS? How high-functioning am I exactly? And am I more like Temple Grandin or Donna Williams? Or more like Andy Warhol or Albert Einstein? Can I really be autistic if I don’t fit the standard descriptions of any of these?” And how many auties end up totally alienated by this stuff.

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods. Crochet or otherwise create constantly and compulsively. Write poetry and paint when I can. Physically and cognitively disabled. Anything you hear in the media or gossip is likely to be oversimplified at best and wildly inaccurate at worst, the only way to get to know me is to actually know me. I'm not really part of any online faction or another, even ones that claim me as a member. The thing in the world most important to me is having love and compassion for other people, although I don't always measure up to my own standards there by a longshot. And individual specific actions and situations and contexts matter a lot more to me than broadly-spoken abstract words and ideas about a topic. My father died a couple years ago and that has changed my life a lot in ways that are still evolving, but I wear a lot of his clothes and hats every day since he died and have shown no sign of stopping soon.

38 responses »

  1. I followed a link from Joel’s blog to Neral’s website. It was nice, he said that where he is, Belgium, I think, the doctors have thrown out the Asperger’s/Autism distinction and though at one time Neral was given an AS diagnosis, apparently now it’ sort of passé or unused where he is.

    We may get there eventually with the next DSM version, but who knows. I think autistics are inclined to try to put things in categories (that was a Simon Baron-Cohen systemizing type comment), so I guess it’s not unusual for autistics to try to get a “handle” on the autistics they are associating with online by trying to put them in bins. Even so, who knows what an “Andy Warhol” type autistic is, even if a person knew Andy Warhol… no one really knows what’s going on in another person’s head, no one really knew Andy Warhol… In some ways, to me, you have some things in common with Susan Rubin, but in many ways, diametrically opposite of her. I can’t imagine anyone else but Sue Rubin being a “Sue Rubin autistic” or anyone else being a “Larry Arnold autistic.” I bet he’d be offended if anyone said there was someone else like him.

    Who could be a Glenn Gould or Moe Norman type? There’s only one Antonio Hernandez. :-)

  2. Totally agree. I played around with this concept and came to the conclusion that one can’t merely pick “types” out of thin air. There would have to be a genetic or neurological basis for such distinctions. So far, psychology has created a loose arbitrary line almost as it is. No use in trying to subdivide a boat with dividers that is coming apart at the seams as it is. I think people will figure it out or they won’t. There might be a few who fake along for the ride, there might be a few hypochondriacs. I see no harm in the hypochondriac though being “themselves” or the fakers “being themsevles” as well as long as they aren’t harming anyone. It’s impossible to say if they should or should not speak on the topic or have an opinion of autism based on how exact their diagnosis or type is….so I agree with Joel regard the whole Thomas MacKean affair. (btw, he(Thomas) and I both use teethers I found out and I think he might use eye masks too). I also had a glance at Thomas’s book…quite strange coming from him to be that “cure” tolerant imho but oh well. Anyhow, this hearkens of that whole thing. Back to topic at hand though, I think it is a kind of fallacy (and a good example of the fallacy) Appeal to Authority. An arguement holds water or not independant of who says it. It could be a flaming “neurotypical”/”non-autie” narcissist psychopath saying something and as long as it’s “true”. I’m ok. If they can get along….I’d just assume they can handle the issues of accurately or inaccurately adopting a label they want to live by. Who knows. Maybe for the rare psychopath, trying to become autistic would be a kind of therapy well-suited to them…almost a kind of “cognitive therapy” if you know what I mean. So, I don’t like to jump to conclusions. I find it more productive to actually understand the condition scientifically first and then make those conclusions later if at all. It may still not be of much use even after all we know now….ie: it’s a total brain condition according to some. This means…the potentiality for “types” now has gone down some….if my logic is correct in assuming that a huge variety of parts of the brain and patterns of brain operation would be hugely variant so that there would be possibly unlimited subtypes. That wouldn’t have any feasible use. There are “comorbidities” and that’s fine. They are just more “overlapping patterns” IMHO. Its really hard to tell too where things like “hyperlexia” starts and “autistic condition” starts in terms of their overlaps. *shrug*. Anyone’s got me on this one. I don’t pretend to know much any more. I’ve also dropped a lot of my ideas about “severity”. When I think of severity, I think of what is “severe” to them and it is usually specific like a “severely” broken leg. Up to them. If they want to treat it, I’ll simply stand by and watch/support them if they ask for it. If not, same difference.

  3. “I wonder how many newly-identified auties sit there trying to force-fit themselves: “Am I autistic? Or am I AS? How high-functioning am I exactly? And am I more like Temple Grandin or Donna Williams? Or more like Andy Warhol or Albert Einstein? Can I really be autistic if I don’t fit the standard descriptions of any of these?” And how many auties end up totally alienated by this stuff.”

    Lots. I can vouch for that.

    Thankfully, some of us find you and feel empowered to be ourselves. Thank you.

  4. Being recently diagnosed with Aspergers, I am busy finding my own ‘autism identity’ now. Your posts says things I think. It seems people tend to put each autist judge according to some stereotypical opinions about how someone with autism should be. Makes me think the outside world wants to have some ‘appreciated autist’ images in order to be able to deal better with autism. I keep searching for the way I deal with this, I find it hard.
    I like your weblog!

  5. Excellent post, Amanda.

    I’ve been asked a few times some pretty similar (and, therefore, pretty stupid) questions… the reply they get their askers usually happens to be less civil than the reply you have in your post.

    “And am I more like Temple Grandin or Donna Williams?”

    And who goes a shit?

    “Or more like Andy Warhol or Albert Einstein?”

    And why should they give a shit….?

    “Can I really be autistic if I don’t fit the standard descriptions of any of these?”

    I’d say so….

    “And how many auties end up totally alienated by this stuff.”

    Me, for one.

    There are basically as many subtypes of being autistic as there are people to be it. People are individuals. In the course of my work, I could (not very often, I admit) end up encountering two people of the same sex (and sharing a whole shitload of other physical characteristics), who – when tested with my comprehensive test battery – have exactly similar WASI, DTVP-A, NEO-FFI, MPD, K-BIT and K-FAST profiles. I can bet that, even with those overwhelming similarities in profile, they’d be completely different *as people*. I mention this just to drive home the point you make above, that we on the spectrum are all unique individuals with our own developmental trajectories (which, incidentally, do not usually predict our future development all that well… my dx would have been ‘classic’ autism when I was 3 but, by the age of 13 I was already more like AS, which is the dx I got as a 34½yr-old).

    There are no ‘types’ in being autistic. There’s just being autistic.

  6. Well it is easy enough to say that I am not like either of the examples, or you either because I am a bloke, but thats not the point is it.

    I don’t think conversely that Temple G or Donna W would relish being compared to me either,

    I am not like Andy Warhol or Albert Einstein cos I am not a hairstyle autistic, and both of them were :)

  7. There would have to be a genetic or neurological basis for such distinctions.

    Even that probably doesn’t work. Genotypes and neurological configurations won’t likely map nicely and cleanly to phenotypes. People with a given gene will be as diverse as any other group.

  8. Kristina, I saw that post.

    I don’t like that the so-called “spectrum” of autism is analogized to a “spectrum” of opinions — because that’s already so much how people think about our opinions.

    They think that, for instance, curebies either are “low-functioning” or have “low-functioning” kids, and non-curebies are either “high-functioning” or have “high-functioning” kids. Even if I were to believe that an LF/HF divide was possible or useful (and I don’t), I would not like the way that a “spectrum from low-functioning to high-functioning” is so often compared side-by-side with a “spectrum of political opinions about autism”.

    Nor do I like the implications, for that matter, that because “all autistic people are still autistic regardless of perceived subtype,” that this analogizes easily to “all parents of autistic kids really have something important in common and this should be focused on”.

    So, I actually despise that kind of comparison. It may be… I don’t know the word… very writerly to make that kind of comparison, but as far as I’m concerned it’s an easy way to create a false analogy in people’s minds, and reinforce some deeply-held stereotypes.

  9. I sometimes feel like “Can I really be autistic if I don’t have a piece of paper saying I am?” I mean, if autistic people who *do* have a piece of paper and their paperwork is questioned, what about those who don’t even have that? I can’t come out to the entire world and tell them who/what I am because I don’t have any *proof.*

    So, society’s demand for psychological authenticity is something I find alienating. There are parts of my childhood that seemed “more autistic” than I am now, and there are parts of me now that seem “more autistic” than I was as a child. So how can that ball of string be unraveled? It’s not just, are you really autistic? and what kind of autistic are you? But are you more or less overtly autistic over different parts of your lifespan or across different situations?

    The only one who can know for sure is the individual. Yes, there are objective measures of autism, but even many of those measures are so deeply flawed that one can still end up feeling…alienated.

  10. I didn’t mind the stereotypes this time, they are vague enough. I choose #4 and #7 which only tells that I’m a daydreamer, often misunderstood, passive and introverted, rarely bond with people, etc.

    An sich there is nothing wrong with such description, it tells a bit of who I am. What bothered me the most was that there are “celebs” connected to these descriptions. I don’t mind having a discription of myself, it can help me, but I don’t want to be connected to other people as being alike.

    Mr.Clark : It is right that people are diagnosed only with ASD in Belgium. I received an ASD diagnose in 2002, but I never received a diagnose of AS. (I received an unofficial diagnosis of autism a year earlier – not a valid one for the state)

    In Flanders, where 6 milion people live, there are seven centers where autism assessments are done by people who specializes in Autism, it’s not done by private psychiatrists who don’t necessarily know that much about autism.

  11. This is something where I can see the benefit of providing examples of people with autism so that someone can get a better picture of how it translates from the diagnostic criteria to people. For example – OCD looks like one thing on paper but there are many subtle nuances that can be seen by descriptions of people whether famous or not.

    However, the idea that a person is not an individual but an either/or type of autistic is not at all accurate. It disregards that each person brings their own individuality – such as their personality and temperment to autism. However, when I was trying to make this point on an online parent group before one person who was very active in the community actually said that they thought that children with autism did not have a personality. It was therefore the responsibility of parents and therapists to help them develop one. I was really amazed about that comment and it made me at the time reconsider anyone’s opinion regardless of how much they seemed to be experts.

  12. we had a discussion of this on AFF also, and at first i voted “no” to typing because i do agree with your whole idea in this post, that there shouldn’t be more divisions other than “any one autistic person is necessarily different from all other autistic persons”.

    On the other hand, i do think it’s useful to know that someone can be totally opposite to me in some things, and we can be equally autistic. or maybe that’s the wrong phrase, but, we can both be quite identifiably autistic.

    The same situation can trigger nonstop talking in me, and something like nonverbal shutdown in my husband. This was really freaking me out until i figured out that we were having opposite reactions but were both upset.

    For another example, i work happily if i’m surrounded by a collage of busy, bright colors, while this would give many autistic people a sensory overload.

    I think it’s useful to know that not all autistics need the same environment, that some are even opposite, for anything from classroom design to people planning relationships or community living and wanting to figure out if they can live together.

    Do there have to be types? No. Do I think we should use personality tests and take the results seriously? (Even though I came out the same personality type as my surreal lyrics hero Bob Dylan), NO. (i mean, even though i liked my result, i don’t trust personality tests.)

    I think I ended up voting “types are ok, only if we don’t take it seriously.”
    Another poster thought it was too likely to be taken seriously, which might be true.

  13. “Types.” One of my main reasons for leaving this “plural activism group” was the excess of emphasis on “types” and what exact qualities differentiate them from each other.

    Saying we didn’t fit a model or “type” amounted to claiming we were special.

    It doesn’t help when the Famous Autistics on whom the “type” classifications are being based have themselves endorsed categorizations.

  14. What exactly is a personality structure? I’ve heard of a type, but not a structure. I am a walking contradiction. Does that mean I have no structure? Doesn’t a structure imply a fixed scaffolding of some sort, so that if you pulled out a bar the whole thing would come tumbling down? Does structure imply predictable verbal/emotional responses to specific stimuli? What?

  15. Saying we didn’t fit a model or “type” amounted to claiming we were special.

    Yeah. I’ve noticed that. If people present you with a bunch of categories, none of which fit, and you say they don’t fit, you get the “What, do you think you’re something special?” response.

    People used to claim that I would never admit that anyone was like me. No, I just hadn’t met a lot of people who had much in common with me yet. I didn’t think that made me special or unique or better than anyone, I just hadn’t really met many people like me yet, and eventually concluded I never would. (Thankfully I was wrong. Not that the people I know “like me” are exactly like me, but that there’s at least broad ballpark similarities in areas where I’d found nobody before. And there are of course some areas of eerie too-close WTF-is-going-on is-anything-about-me-really-individual? sorts of similarities in some people.)

    But at any rate I’ve heard that thing about, if you don’t fit their categories then you’re trying to be special, and trying to be special is to be stamped out at all costs because you’re not that special and you’re just creating a fantasy for yourself and blah blah blah. Or something.

    Then of course if you do find a category that more or less fits, and it’s not an officially-sanctioned one, then the reason you’re saying you fit it is again to “try to be special”. Like plural, or autistic, or whatever — those are only supposed to happen if you’re diagnosed with them at the moment in a very medicalistic sense, you’re not supposed to say “Hey, that sounds just like my life.”

    I do have an aversion to knee-jerk pigeonholes but it’s probably a healthy aversion. I could of course create a “Baggs-type autistic” description and reinforce that all over the place, but I wouldn’t really want to inflict that on anyone.

  16. Thanks for this post, Amanda.

    This kind of stereotyping is all over the place–but I really notice it in organizations for genetic conditions that can cause “autistic features.” People will say, “Our fragile X kids aren’t autistic, because they’re interested in people and have more abnormal social skills with strangers than with family members.” Or: “Rett girls aren’t autistic because they’re more interested in people than in things.” While they’re quick to point out that the genetic condition presents in different ways in different people, they still oversimplify autism and autistic people.

  17. “I sometimes feel like “Can I really be autistic if I don’t have a piece of paper saying I am?” I mean, if autistic people who *do* have a piece of paper and their paperwork is questioned, what about those who don’t even have that? I can’t come out to the entire world and tell them who/what I am because I don’t have any *proof.*”

    Yeah this is the thing with me, too. When I want to tell people about autism, I am sometimes afraid that I cannot speak from authority, because I might not be “a real autistic”. Then I think, if not this, THEN WHAT?! and that is what gives me a little confidence that this (as opposed to some other neurodifference) is how I was made.

  18. As a Rett girl I can pretty solidly say yes, I am autistic. I meet criteria for forme fruste/preserved speech variant Rett. Solidly. But I am still autistic-processing differences, stimming, the anxiety and insomnia package that’s often along for the ride, rigidly routinized, piss poor natural social skills.

    This doesn’t mean I am not interested in people. I think lots of autistics NOT on the Rett spectrum are interested in people. I am just very bad at dealing with most of them. Since autism is a social & processing difference, yeah, Rett counts.

    Or maybe I have Kassiane Syndrome caused by a mecp2 mutation. Who knows?

    Thanks for bringing this up, it’s something I’d been trying to put words to for a while.

  19. as far as i have read (people describing their own social proclivities), there are a very few autistics who actually don’t desire hardly any social contact with other humans. people with that preference do exist, but they are rare… or at least they show up rarely, online even.

  20. I think there is a danger of dividing autistics up by traits that would show up regardless of autism such as desire for social intercourse (or sexual intercourse for that matter)

    Some human beings are just more gregarios than others or have a higher sex drive, you could divide the world into car drivers and non drivers and discover that you could subdivide both categories in equal number into cat lover and dog lovers for all I know (this has not been scientifically tested and posted to a peer reviewed journal Autism Diva please note)

  21. I’m one of those who don’t desire any social contact. When I lived alone, I did seek company. I am married now, and I have no need for company beyond my wife and kids, so I have no desire for social contact outside of that.

  22. The company of wife and kids *is* social contact, just more limited than other people tend to want and need. I happen to believe that the desire to have zero contact with anyone, whether online or offline, has to be almost nonexistent. First, everyone needs to interact with someone, even if it’s just to survive (eat, pay bills, live in a house or apartment in a neighborhood). Second, even some of the most reclusive autistics I have come across on the internet are still reaching out to other people on the internet, even when their attempts sometimes fall flat and they feel rejected even on the internet. I’ve seen a tendency to want to repair that and keep seeking out internet interactions. Or maybe it’s just putting their stuff out there on the internet for other people to look at, so that they don’t feel invisible, even if they don’t respond to comments made about those things they have shared.

    I believe “too social to be autistic” is such a damaging myth, but one that I have heard IRL very recently and something that really bugged the crap out of me.

    Even the most, by *society’s* view, “severely low-functioning, non-verbal, severely mentally retarded autistic person who has no ‘personality structure,’ doesn’t know what pain feels like, and is oblivious to other people” needs people and doesn’t want to be ignored and treated worse than dirt.

    The thing I find so interesting in all of this talk about “what kind of autistic are you” is that the tendency to want to categorize and subcategorize people seems to be almost universal, shared by autistics and nonautistics alike, but only autistics are supposed to be the world’s “systematizers.” It could be that NTs are just one kind of systematizers (but they don’t know it) and autistics are another kind of systematizer (maybe the kind that is more obvious), but a lot of autistics have incorporated the NT kind of systematizing into themselves and keep using that model on themselves even when that model doesn’t fit and they know it. NT systematizing is something like subcategorizing based on arbitrary generalizations and “othering.”

  23. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing!
    I assume that you would not like it Amanda, if someone stole something you posted on this site, then distorted it, posted it out of context on livejournal, and then autism bloggers began decrying how terrible it was that you even mentioned .

    I thought you were about finding the truth behind what people say, certainly regarding autism.

    Something that I wrote and displayed privately, which I expressly asked NOT to be put anywhere else, as it was not in any way finished and was still being debated with members of the autistic community, was taken and bandied about on livejournal, and you have immediately found 1% of the information, formed an opinion, and dismissed it! Hey presto!

    The names were given as well as numbers for people to remember, they in no way whatsoever are supposed to be LIKE the name. Does anyone even know who Enoch Powell was here???

    I am really disappointed that you have done this from having so little info and forming huge conclusions on it. The other irony is that we do so many other things that get completely ignored, do 100 good things be ignored, do 1 thing someone doesn’t like – be villified.

    It’s like the treatment the media give out.

    You will no doubt be very unhappy about this, after the last post where you said I was hugely bothered or some such thing I gave you the benefit of a doubt that you had heard something and reacted, but now it seems that you will go on hearsay/gossip/graffiti-on-the-fly posts without checking any of it out.

  24. All I did was respond with my thoughts about what was posted, exactly as it was posted. I had no indication that it was in violation of copyright (I’m not even sure I knew who the author was) until the author of the illegal post deleted the illegal part and wrote a very snarky comment to the effect of “Someone just doesn’t like to SHARE…”. At which point I responded to the snarky comment, as it was posted, and defended your right to invoke copyright without being accused of “being unwilling to share”. I think if I were simply “believing gossip” without critical thinking I’d have also believed that you just didn’t like to share.

    If you end up doing something with it that I like, and I notice it, I’m sure I’ll say so. If you end up doing something with it that I don’t like, and I notice it, I’m also sure I’ll say so. That’s how I tend to operate. I’ve seen dozens of classification systems that look like this before, I had no indication until now that this one was any different (I still won’t know for sure that it’s different until I see what you’re doing with it, but I had no indication whatsoever before), and I’m fairly confident that the amount of mind-reading you’re expecting is way outside my capacity.

    You talk about inferring things that weren’t there — I wasn’t inferring anything that wasn’t there. I was reading exactly what was there, and failing to infer that there was anything more to it, because there was no indication until now that there was.

    I’m not “very unhappy,” just very baffled at the things you take offense at.

    When GRASP violated my copyright on a work-in-progress (as well as several finished works), I was pissed off at them, but not at anyone who’d happened to read it, assumed that it was legit, and responded to it.

    When someone posted pictures of me on the net without my permission, I was mad at him, not the people who read his questions about my current life and whereabouts and responded as if he did have my permission.

    And if I were going to tell people how disappointed I was in them for believing someone else’s illegal reposting of something I wrote, I think I’d tell all of them, not just one of them. (I’ve never done that though, I’ve just told whichever ones I noticed — and the ones linked to the post itself in this case would’ve probably been the first I noticed — that it wasn’t legit and/or wasn’t completed yet and shouldn’t be taken as written. I’ve never inferred anything about their character, even if some of them had sometimes done things I didn’t like, and even if some of them responded negatively to what I’d written or to what they thought I’d written.)

    For that matter, I’ve had the media distort things I said, and it’s the media I had the problem with, not the people who read and believed what the media had to say and responded to it.

    …and this is why I can’t predict what offends you. At all.

  25. I’m rereading the other post you’re talking about. You do know that was an effort to clarify that neither I nor Joel Smith was trying to attack you (and I’d seen the posts in question, I just hadn’t properly worded about two words of my post) or your efforts, not an effort to attack you, right? And that it was an effort to promote one of your projects?

    So one attempt to show you I wasn’t attacking you and to promote a project of yours (despite not knowing a lot about it, but figuring from the title that it was a good thing — and later writing ANOTHER post promoting it), and one somewhat negative response to something I didn’t know you’d written and didn’t know was unfinished (and that was more musing on overall trend than just that specific thing I’d just read), and you’re viewing this as a negative pattern on my part?

  26. Okay.

    It still looks about the same to me, except now it has an extensive disclaimer.

    I’m still not sure what it is that I wasn’t seeing about it when I responded to it.

    About half my post was a response to something I’d been asked by someone at an offline gathering of autistic people several years ago, too.

    And then a lot of the general sentiment was just a response to a trend I see (I have no idea if it’s what was going on on AFF or not, since I’m not there) where newly-diagnosed auties freak out about where they “fit” in a categorization scheme. Which was not saying that this will necessarily induce people to do that.

    A lot of my posts follow that pattern. I write about something, and then about something that makes me think of, then something that makes me think of. It doesn’t mean that I’m implying a causal chain between the things I’m thinking about. Like, all the stuff above about not fitting categories within other communities and the way people who refuse to be categorized are then categorized. That wasn’t saying “AFF is doing that,” or even “ANI is doing that” (it was at an ANI gathering that I met that guy, but ANI has nothing to do with that guy’s opinions) it was just saying it happens sometimes around categorization systems.

    Sort of like the next thread has veered into territory that the original article didn’t cover.

    (I actually think there are probably “subtypes” of autistic people, but I’d rather look to other ways of determining them.)

  27. Well the disclaimer was on the original too, but the person who took it and put it on livejournal removed it, and also removed the part about not posting it on other sites (which was right at the top and clearly visible).

    You have no idea what offends me, and I have no idea what offends you, so that’s equal.

  28. That makes sense. I never saw the original, just the non-disclaimed version. :-(

    I didn’t find the categories offensive, or terrible, or vile, just in case you were wondering.  Don’t necessarily agree with them as written, but reasonable people can disagree.

  29. I find most “personality type” schemes in general to be mostly useless, as they tend to assume that certain things, like “thinking versus feeling,” don’t change from situation to situation for one person, that one person couldn’t have several ways of perceiving that they could consciously choose to bring to bear on a situation, etc.

    This gets frustrating, as I’ve run into several people who apparently treat the Myers-Briggs personality classification system with some kind of near-religious venereation (some of whom start trying to rationalize everybody’s reactions to everything in terms of their ‘type’: “You only say that because you’re an INTP!” Etc).

  30. Berke^Amorpha says … “…find most “personality type” schemes in general to be mostly useless, as they tend to assume that certain things, like “thinking versus feeling,” don’t change from situation to situation for one person, …”

    I’m no expert on Myers-Briggs or any other personality test, but the good tests DO recognize that people fall on a continuum (where two people could test as, say, “INTP” but maybe one person is very strongly introverted (I) and the other only moderately so). I’m not sure how well they do in teasing out the nuances in terms of in WHICH situations and contexts a person will respond in a more “thinking” way or a more “feeling” way or whatever. But the good ones DO allow for a certain range of complexity, including the fact that people don’t respond in one rigid way in all situations. In fact, this is exactly why personality tests tend to be long and tend to have several questions that are similar but not quite identical–this is their attempt to cover a wider range of possible situations to get a broader picture. A bad personality test would just have four questions (so, do you decide things by thinking or feeling? check. So, do you tend ot be introverted or extroverted? check …)

    Of course, no personality test will be perfect. But personally, I do see them as useful — as long as the person trying to use them UNDERSTAND THEIR LIMITATIONS. One of the things this means is to sharply avoid that “near-religious veneration” of the classifications that Berke^Amorpha talks about. Even two people who both test out as very far up the “thinking” side of the “thinking/feeling” continuum (or whatever continuum you choose) will still have certain things to which they respond more as a more strongly “feeling” person would — but the situations in which they respond this way would still differ from person to person. And someone who understands the limitations of personality tests would recognize that and be perpared for some individual variation. BUT, if two people both are that close to each other on the continuum, then in SOME situations they will still respond in ROUGHLY similar ways — more similar to each other than two other people with an entirely different personality “score”.

    Someone who goes around accusing, “You just say that because you’re ____ personality type”, or who assumes that two INTPs are always going to be exactly the same (or completely different for that matter) is someone who doesn’t really understand what personality tests can and can’t do.

    To make an analogy: suppose we were talking about cookies. Every two cookies in the world are different. Even if they’re both chocolate chip cookies, one might have more chips than the other, or one might have nuts and the other doesn’t, or one is made with the traditional mix of brown and white sugar and the other is made with maple sugar instead. Does that make a Myers-Brigg classfication system of cookies completely useless? No. Someone who really loves chocolate chip cookies but who hates raisins, will still find it useful to have a labeling system that distginuishes chocolate chip cookies from oatmeal raisin cookies. (I know I do!) If I also specifically perfer maple sugar in my cookies then I just have to be able to recognize the fact that the traditional cookie classification system doesn’t deal with distinctions at that level of nuance and find some other way to identify the cookies I want–even if it’s more inconvient. (In the case of cookies: taste them or read the ingredient label. In the case of people: get to know them.)

    Any classification system — IF it is any good at all — I think could still serve usefully as a ROUGH GUIDE. The strong caveat is that people do have to recognize that that’s ALL they are — a ROUGH GUIDE. Assuming the classification system is even any good to begin with. No human being (and no cookie :-) ) is going to be a perfect match to the “classic” definition of any given classification, and nor should they expect to be. Even when the classification systems are useful, they’re only going to be useful UP TO A POINT and maybe only for certain specific purposes. Only when people RECOGNIZE THE LIMITATIONS can any classification system be useful even for the limited purposes to which they could legitimately be used (e.g., as a STARTING POINT for understanding another person–NOT, of course, as a substitute for actually getting to know them).

    I know even less about the various approaches to classifying austics, but I agree it sounds like the ones that exist seem even less useful and more misleading than any of the personality tests. Some of this is because of the usual limitations of ANY classification system. Some of this is might be because the autistic community is still relatively new, so people are only beginning to compare their own internal landscapes to identify where they share things in common–and where they don’t. Or maybe autism just doesn’t lend itself to “classification” as easily as some people want it to.

    And of course, people are not cookies. It’s not always desirable to classify people EVEN ASSUMING A GOOD QUALITY CLASSIFICATION SYSTEM. If people in a given context are going to respond in negative ways or harmful ways, to themselves or each other, then that’s probably not one of the contexts where you would want to use any kind of classification system at all.

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