It's sometimes called the "Geek Syndrome." Medically, Asperger's is one of several autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) characterized by difficulties in social interaction and by restricted, stereotyped interests and activities, and obsessive or repetitive routines.
Because those with Asperger's tend to gravitate toward things rather than people, there seems to be a greater number of IT people with Asperger's than in the general population.
A Computerworld article this week quotes Temple Grandin, Asperger's author (Thinking in Pictures, Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships) and speaker, as saying:
"Is there a connection between Asperger's and IT? We wouldn't even have any computers if we didn't have Asperger's. All these labels - 'geek' and 'nerd' and 'mild Asperger's' — are all getting at the same thing. ... The Asperger's brain is interested in things rather than people, and people who are interested in things have given us the computer you're working on right now."
Many experts have suggested that Microsoft founder Bill Gates suffers from the disorder; others assert that if that were the case, he would never have been able to cope with the social interactions necessary to run a business.
Although Asperger's Syndrome is a lifelong condition, it tends to stabilize over time. Many adults are able to compensate for the symptoms and become quite successful, particularly in scientific careers. Here are some of the childhood behaviors (from WebMD) that characterize Asperger's Syndrome:
- Doesn't pick up on social cues and lack inborn social skills, such as being able to read others' body language, start or maintain a conversation, and take turns talking
- Dislikes any changes in routine
- Appears to lack empathy
- Is unable to recognize subtle differences in speech tone, pitch, and accent that alter the meaning of others' speech
- Avoids eye contact
- Is preoccupied with only one or few interests, which he or she may be very knowledgeable about
In fact, I've seen several questions raised in our discussion area from TechRepublic members who suspect a prevalence of the syndrome among IT people. Do you think there is a prevalence, or is this just another medical term for a different type of personality?
Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.