The Concept of 'Asperger's Syndrome in the Reich and Lowen Continuum

The concept of Asperger's Syndrome has recently become very popular, because it helps organize the experience of many people who are trying to understand a pattern of interactional difficulty. In a sense, Asperger's Syndrome is a popular attempt at defining a character. Remember that syndrome, as a medical term, is reserved for groups of signs, the real relationship to each other is not understood.

In the diagnostic arena of mainstream psychiatry, Asperger's Syndrome has a difficult time finding a settled place. This is often a problem with the purely descriptive approach--it often seems that just a part of human functioning is being labeled, or that several different things are being group together solely according to their disruptive commonalities. In the psychiatric literature, the construct of Asperger's does seem to be a mix of some aspects of autism, some aspects of the schizoid condition, some prodromal signs of schizophrenia, and some aspects of maleness.

However, in the counseling and layperson arena, a slight loosening of the criteria has allowed the concept of Asperger's Syndrome to really taken hold, and this should not be ignored. There is no question that this construct, even as popularly rendered, represents a very real, fairly discrete syndrome of interpersonal difficulty that is readily confirmed by everyday observation. Here is a link to a longer article on the mind-body approach to the concept of Asperger's.

My opinion is that Asperger's Syndrome has four elements: 1) a subject with awareness of sensation, feeling and emotion decreased below a threshold that causes a persistent disruptive breakdown of communication with others that take perception of sensation, feeling and emotion for granted, 2) a tendency to try to 'fit' into life by understanding everything as a 'lawful' system. This may be accentuated by the first element, or by the basic nature of the 'male' mind, 3) a positive feedback escalation of the conflict (ie hostility, increased avoidance, outbursts.) due to an inability to repair the rift or recognize it's nature (that is, rules and principles are searched for where there are none) and, 3) some narrow 'obsessional' behavior that naturally expands in the environment of low sensation, feeling, and emotion that may seem bizarre to others that are differently constituted. If the first two elements are present but mild, the second two elements may not ensue, and this is called alexithymia.

In the Reich and Lowen tradition, the mechanism (some would say origin) of the decreased feeling is muscle tension, especially in the smaller muscles around the joints. That is, the basis is neuromuscular. That also explains the two non-interactional characteristics found in Asperger's Syndrome: clumsiness, and hypersensitivity to a sensory stimulus. Males have greater muscle mass, and this is one more possible reason they are more subject to this phenomenon. Also a brain developing in the presence of testosterone is also likely a factor. It has been said that Asperger's reflects the extreme male brain (systematizing valued over empathy) but I think it represents the systemitizing male brain with both low aggression and low feeling.

I believe there are two main reasons that Asperger's has been accepted by the public in a way that other formulations of character have not. First, it concentrates on surface life. Now by that I do not mean it is superficial, but rather it occurs in the arena of contact between people. In Alexander's Lowen's typology, the emphasis is on the core or deep phenomena. Second, Asperger's Syndrome as a construct is organized around the point of view of the non-Asperger's person. In saying this I in no way imply bias or inaccuracy-- the construct can be a valuable mirror. Asperger's seems a very much more manageable idea or 'problem'

In sum, Asperger's seems to describe a male creator (or possibly communicator) character, perhaps with some drivenness, as seen by others. The benefit of a parallel body of understanding of the creator character is a very enriched and nuanced second body of observation and systemization that aids recognition. It is simply fact that once something is named it seems more manageable.

An immediate humanitarian benefit is also that the understanding becomes widespread that the frequent interpersonal misunderstandings and frictions are not based on ill will and punishable, but rather are neuro-muscular in origin, and therefore not morally culpable.

It will be no surprise to the reader of this website that I believe the solution is bodywork and character analysis to increase drive and aggression. This of course is a long and arduous journey with no certainty of result. The mainstream suggestion is teaching 'social rules' cognitively. This makes great sense for children who suffer greatly in school and can use any partial help to avoid humiliation. But for an adult this is essentially useless, because he (or perhaps she) has been trying to formulate rules his whole life!. The truth is that while social interactions have some generalities, there are no real rules. Each situation is slightly different, with small discriminative cues that must be felt. Some people are really good at this, and others passable, but below a certain level there is unfortunately real trouble. Some of the biggest faux pas in this Syndrome get committed because some one is applying a rule. An emphasis on rules just takes one away from nascent feelings, it is dissociative-- a compensatory maneuver that helps perpetuate the very state it is meant to address.