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Geniuses and Bumble Bees: An Exploration of Asperger’s Syndrome and Hive Mind

 By: Celeste Stratton

Anthony is almost twenty years old. He is a college student with Asperger’s syndrome. He goes to school just like any other person but there are certain aspects of life he does not understand like most people do. At the end of class the teacher tells the students to turn in their homework. Everyone pulls folders and notebooks out of their backpacks and begin shuffling towards the front of the room to stack their papers on the teacher’s desk, everyone except Anthony. He packs up his things and begins to walk towards the door. The teacher, who is used to this, intercepts Anthony before he leaves the class. She looks him in the eyes and instructs him to take his homework out of his backpack and put it on her desk. Understanding this perfectly Anthony gets out his homework and puts it on the teacher’s desk just like all the other students. Everyone then heads out of class and continues on with their day.

            Anthony is not unlike most people with Asperger’s syndrome. He understands what he is directly told but does not recognize general instruction as applying to him. For the most part he functions like a normal person, but he does lack certain social abilities. He does not react to certain common situations in the same way as most people, such as a lack of eye contact during conversation. Is this lack of social skills similar to these people lacking hive mind? Hive mind is the concept that some organisms function as a unit to accomplish tasks that are beneficial to the whole group. Could the actions of people with Asperger’s be seen as a lack of innate hive mind? Due to the different mental development of people with this disorder it is possible to conceive that people with Asperger’s syndrome do not have the innate ability to adopt the basic aspects of hive mind. Their lack of this innate ability could possibly help us figure out whether Asperger’s syndrome should be classified as an Autism Spectrum Disorder or an Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Defining mental disorders can been a controversial topic. Identifying the characteristics that define disorders that present with similar symptoms can be critical in properly treating the individual with the disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) was created as a way for many psychologists to use the same criteria to diagnose people with mental disorders. It has been revised periodically as the scientific understanding of the way people work has changed. The most recent edition of the manual, the DSM- 5, was published in 2013 (American Psychological Association 2013).

Autism Spectrum Disorders are various types of autism that can be defined with some general characteristics. People who are diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder will have impairment in social interactions expressed as the failure to use non-verbal behaviors (i.e. Eye contact, facial expressions, body postures, or gestures that regulate social interactions) (American Psychological Association 2000; Faras, Ateeqi and Tidmarsh 2005; Lord et. al. 2000; Wing 1996). They will not display spontaneous urges to share excitement, interests or achievements with others and will display repetitive or idiosyncratic use of language (American Psychological Association 2000; Faras, Ateeqi and Tidmarsh 2005; Lord et. al. 2000; Wing 1996). Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder will have a lack of interest in imaginative play usually appropriate to their developmental level and they will partake in repetitive patterns of behavior in an abnormal manner. These repetitive behaviors will often present in an abnormal intensity or focus (American Psychological Association 2000; Faras, Ateeqi and Tidmarsh 2005; Lord et. al. 2000; Wing 1996). They will also often have repetitive and persistent physical movements (American Psychological Association 2000; Faras, Ateeqi and Tidmarsh 2005; Lord et. al. 2000; Wing 1996).

Asperger’s Syndrome is an Autism Spectrum Disorder (American Psychological Association 2000; Attwood 2003). It is characterized by the criteria stated previously along with some criteria that set it apart from other Autism Spectrum Disorders. People with Asperger’s syndrome will have significant difficulty in social, occupational, and other important areas of functioning (American Psychological Association 2000; Attwood 2003). Contrary to other Autism Spectrum Disorders they will not have any significant general delay in language development, as well as no significant delay in cognitive development or other areas of development (i.e. self- help or adaptive behavior) and they will display a typical developmental curiosity for their environment during childhood (American Psychological Association 2000; Attwood 2003).

In the most recent revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM- 5, Asperger’s syndrome was removed from being an Autism Spectrum Disorder and is now classified as an Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (American Psychological Association 2013). This change in classification has caused disruption and dissent in the Asperger’s syndrome research community (Parry 2013;”Asperger’s, Autism & the New DSM.” 2013; Gelfand 2013; Jabr 2012). The change from an Autism Spectrum Disorder to an Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder has an impact on the money available to scientists doing studies on Asperger’s syndrome (Parry 2013;”Asperger’s, Autism & the New DSM.” 2013; Gelfand 2013; Jabr 2012). Having its classification moved has decreased the appearance of severity of Asperger’s syndrome and this is a set back for those who are working to find better ways to help people with the condition (Parry 2013;”Asperger’s, Autism & the New DSM.” 2013; Gelfand 2013; Jabr 2012). There is not a lot known about the cause of Asperger’s syndrome. Current research points to structural and functional differences in specific areas of the brain (“Asperger Syndrome Fact Sheet.” 2012). Some scientists believe that these brain abnormalities are due to genetic mutations because the disorder tends to run in families and twins (“Asperger Syndrome Fact Sheet.” 2012). Due to the different mental development of people with Asperger’s it is possible to conceive that people with Asperger’s syndrome do not have the innate ability to adopt the basic aspects of hive mind. Their lack of the innate ability to adopt the basic aspects of hive mind could possibly help us discern whether Asperger’s syndrome should be classified as an Autism Spectrum Disorder or an Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

The ways in which insect colonies and human brains make decisions and accomplish tasks are very similar (Castro 2012; Seeley et. al. 2012). The human brain does not simply come up with an answer. Instead it goes through a series of ideas and scenarios until the brain decides on a conclusion. Similarly, colonies of insects work as one large organism, each performing individual tasks and doing work to accomplish a greater goal (Hölldobler and Wilson 2009; Castro 2012). The concepts of the way insects work together and the basic process of the brain are called hive mind. This concept of hive mind can be defined as multiple organisms coming together to form one large conscience (Frank 2014; Hölldobler and Wilson 2009; Castro 2012). Or as the way the human brain uses many processes to reach a decision (Seeley et. al. 2012; Castro 2012). At a more basic level, the concept of hive mind is defined as a collective mind, ideas that are shared among many entities. This can also be referred to as a unified conscious or collective conscience (“hive mind.”; “Hive Mind.” Oxford).

Here in the United States we promote individualism. Women are encouraged to create a life for themselves that does not leave them depending on men. Men are told to strive for the highest job ranking they can get. The road to success is a lonely one. When one is racing to get to the top of your career they do not depend on anyone to work with him or her to get there. Yet, if one looks at the people of America one can find many examples of learned hive mind. These are things that everyone knows and respects without question. We stand in line to get certain services. When at the airport we wait in line to check our baggage. We wait in line to go through security. We wait in line to get on the plane. No one ever questions why we do this, we just do. Technology also promotes hive mind. Everyone is constantly plugged into their phones, computers, tablets and various electronic devices. Through the Internet we see the news, keep up with our friends, update statuses and keep up with the massive brain of the Internet. Two people on opposite sides of the continent can learn of an event in the middle of the country at the same time because of technology. With one click of a mouse thousands of people are made aware of events that without technology we could be oblivious to. This is the modern hive mind. We may not function like bees in a hive all working together to reach a goal but we have developed our own version of the hive mind.

This concept of America having a hive mind makes people with Asperger’s like the heroes of our modern world. They don’t have a default understanding of things like laundry mats only taking quarters, or looking people in the eye when you talk. They do not have to innate abilities to understand these simple things that we all know by default. They see the world in a different way than we do. People with Asperger’s are on the outskirts of the hive mind and have the chance to see the world differently than we do. They are the innovators of the world. They can think of things we have lost the ability to conceptualize because of our developed hive mind.

Examples of hive mind can commonly be found in science fiction. A lot of the time, the concept of hive mind is portrayed in science fiction as a negative thing. Aliens come down to earth and take over the human population. The surviving humans are all independent individuals and they discover that these invading aliens function under a hive mind. The individual minded hero defeats the invaders and saves the humans. This basic science fiction story line can be seen in literature such as Orson Scoot Card’s “Ender’s Game” and R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy or in movies and television shows such as Doctor Who, Star Wars, or Star Trek. Is this rather American idea that being independent is what makes us strong really such a true fact? Is the concept of hive mind really such a horrible thing? Perhaps we are mistaken in our perception of a collective mind working together to accomplish a task or reach a goal. Often times people with personality disorders such as Asperger’s will receive counseling in how to interact with people and synthesize empathy. In a sense they are being taught the basics of hive mind in a society that values the independent mind.

Through the eyes of science fiction people with disabilities like Asperger’s are the ones who have the advantage. Perhaps they are not the bad people, but the ones who will discover ways to improve our world. Through studying people with Asperger’s we have the ability to create a new way of thinking that does not follow the parameters of common thinking. Of course, despite all their advantageous thinking abilities people with Asperger’s have a disadvantage in a hive mind world. They do not have a brain that can naturally process in a hive mind sense. Due to developmentally different frontal cortexes they process emotions, social interaction and everyday processes differently. For example, when children in school are told to turn in their homework, we all know that that means take out your homework assignment and turn it in to the teacher. A child with Asperger’s might need to be directly told to take their homework out of their backpack and to give it to the teacher. If they are not directly told this simple task they won’t turn in their homework even if the rest of the class is doing it.

There is a lack of research in general about this topic. Not much is known about people with Asperger’s syndrome. This is well represented in the debate surrounding the DSM classification of Asperger’s and whether the disorder should be classified as an Autism Spectrum Disorder or an Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. More research needs to be conducted to gain more in-depth understanding about the brain development of people with Asperger’s. As science advances, the exploration of the human brain and the way it functions can be applied to the brains of people with Asperger’s syndrome and this can contribute to our understanding of their differences. Further research about why the changes in brain structure and function result in Asperger’s type behaviors needs to be conducted. This further research can help us understand the parts of the brain responsible for the operation of hive mind and thus help us understand the different way in which people with Asperger’s function.

Although little is known about the root cause of Asperger’s syndrome it is believed that the changes in the brain development of these people is caused by genetic differences. These differences have led to people with Asperger’s not adopting the actions of the American hive mind and this results in them having difficulties fitting into our modern society. The ideas portrayed in science fiction has led to many Americans believing hive mind is a bad thing but many do not realize that we have our own learned hive mind. While they are sometimes looked down on, people with Asperger’s are an example of our glorified science fiction hero. Despite our apparent need to alienate hive mind, people with Asperger’s are encouraged to learn to synthesize empathy and social interactions to fit in with our hive mind like social constructs. The lack of many social understandings found in people with Asperger’s and their different brain development demonstrates a lack of hive mind. They don’t perceive the world the same way most people do and while we see that as a bad thing it can actually be beneficial to our society. If we have a better idea about how hive mind works in the brain, and can understand it on a neurological level we may have the ability to better the lives of people with Asperger’s. We will be better equipped to understand how their brain patterns differ and thus develop better ways for them to improve their social interactions in society without pushing them too far out of their comfort zone.

 

Works Cited

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