Autistic or introverted? (Or both)?

My thoughts about introversion in my post Monday morning lunatics got me thinking about a possible relationship between introversion and Asperger’s Syndrome.  That, and a thread at Computerworld discussing Asperger’s in the field of Information Technology.

Not long after starting my first post-college job, I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and discovered that I was introverted.  (INTP, to be exact.)  Discovered is probably too strong a word, though, since I already knew I was introverted, as described in this definition:

I like getting my energy from dealing with the ideas, pictures, memories, and reactions that are inside my head, in my inner world. I often prefer doing things alone or with one or two people I feel comfortable with. I take time to reflect so that I have a clear idea of what I’ll be doing when I decide to act. Ideas are almost solid things for me. Sometimes I like the idea of something better than the real thing.

The following statements generally apply to me:

  • I am seen as “reflective” or “reserved.”
  • I feel comfortable being alone and like things I can do on my own.
  • I prefer to know just a few people well.
  • I sometimes spend too much time reflecting and don’t move into action quickly enough.
  • I sometimes forget to check with the outside world to see if my ideas really fit the experience.

To someone not familiar with all the intricacies of an Asperger’s diagnosis, this looks a lot like Asperger’s.  But consider this definition:

Basically, an introvert is a person who is energized by being alone and whose energy is drained by being around other people.

Introverts are more concerned with the inner world of the mind. They enjoy thinking, exploring their thoughts and feelings. They often avoid social situations because being around people drains their energy. This is true even if they have good social skills. After being with people for any length of time, such as at a party, they need time alone to “recharge.”

When introverts want to be alone, it is not, by itself, a sign of depression. It means that they either need to regain their energy from being around people or that they simply want the time to be with their own thoughts. Being with people, even people they like and are comfortable with, can prevent them from their desire to be quietly introspective.

Being introspective, though, does not mean that an introvert never has conversations. However, those conversations are generally about ideas and concepts, not about what they consider the trivial matters of social small talk.

So my question is: Are introversion and Asperger’s related, or is the similarity of  the outward presentations of the two just a coincidence?  If they are related, is Asperger’s simply (I know nothing it simple) an extreme form of introversion?

Another way to look at it:  Are all people diagnosed with Asperger’s introverted, or are there some extroverted Aspies out there?

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12 thoughts on “Autistic or introverted? (Or both)?

  1. Of course there are extroverted Aspies!! There’s a difference between what people want to do like communicate with others instead of stay in your own head and what they are capable of doing.

    Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.

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  2. There are many extroverted Aspies. In my experience, these account for most of the kids who are currently being diagnosed with AS at young ages, because they tend to be more disruptive in the classroom. Introverted Aspies slide by better in school, and tend to fly under the radar for quite a while, if not forever.

    An extroverted Aspie will approach and talk to anybody who strikes his fancy. He is not shy, and may be extremely chatty. However, his conversations with others may be one-sided, or may involve only subjects the Aspie enjoys discussing.

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  3. Trouble is I do not believe in an absolute seperability of Introversion and Extraversion, it is something that is a binary construction and a categorisation that does not objectively exist therefore by reifying it within old paradigms like Myers Briggs we are creating misleading information.

    Certainly I can be extrovert but I can be introvert too, it is complex and mutable.

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  4. @laurentius-rex:

    I agree that introversion and extroversion do not exist completely separate from each other. The key to the concept, for me anyway, is how an individual prefers to be. Believe me, as a “natural” introvert, I have plenty of opportunity to be extroverted in my daily life at work, home, and with friends.

    Despite the question I asked, I believe there are both introverted and extroverted autistics, probably in the same distribution as the general public (extroverts are a bit more prevalent). I framed the post in the form of a question to get people who may not have considered it before to actually think about it instead of just reading my opinion.

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  5. I really like your article. I am a mom of four with three boys on the spectrum. My hubby has Asperger’s as well. After a family social outing, we all have to “destress” and we go to separate rooms doing our own activities to unwind for an hour or so. It can be exhausting!

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  6. @LBC,

    I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head. Reason I managed to fly under the radar as a child is that I was painfully shy, quiet, introverted girl. In other words, any teacher’s dream :-)

    And then there is my son who has to talk all the time and get into everyone’s “personal space”. Needless to say, no flying under the radar for him…

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  7. How it describes introversion needing time to destress from socialization, reminds me of how I need to destress from sensory overload. I love being around lots of people, but unfortunately you usually can’t have a not chaotically loud discussion with a lot of people for long (but it has happened!), at least in a social context (we’re not talking about a meeting of Congress here).

    I’m considered an extrovert, though the way I react to sensory stimuli gets interpreted as a retreat from social contact, and I get interpreted as introverted a lot. But when the sensory distraction isn’t there, I can be extremely social and extroverted. So that’s another confounding factor with autistic people, to be taken into account from outside observations before determining whether they’re introverted or extroverted. I used to think I was introverted, because I thought introverted meant “retreats from social situations when the sensory stimuli gets too chaotic”.

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  8. I test out as a very strong INFJ, but I don’t have Asperger’s or autism.

    Introversion may share some of the same attributes as Asperger’s but is not the same. Introversion is a preference; I can and do come out of my ‘shell’ to deal with people (and I’m a people watcher, although usually from a distance). If I understand Asperger’s correctly, the behavior cannot be changed at will.

    Introversion is also often conflated with shyness, but I don’t think of myself as shy at all.

    It is very sad that most of the world regards introverts with suspicion (every time there is a shootup on the news it’s invariably a ‘loner’ who is responsible).

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  9. I suspect that introversion and autism are related in some way, because both involve high arousal levels and resulting difficulties processing large volumes of disorganized information. I test on Meyers-Briggs as a 100% expressed introvert — I hate interruptions and distractions, and carrying on multiple conversations at once, and am prone to meltdown if I have too many people pushing my buttons and there’s nowhere quiet to retreat to. And that reminds me a lot of self-descriptions of high-functioning autistics like Temple Grandin.

    Not to say that they’re the same thing, but I suspect high-functioning autism and introversion involve similar causes in the functioning of the reticular activating system.

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  10. “it is something that is a binary construction and a categorisation that does not objectively exist therefore by reifying it within old paradigms like Myers Briggs we are creating misleading information.”

    See, now, that’s the sort of pseudo-scientific psychobabble that beggers the conversation. If the person making that statement had read on the subject, he wouldn’t need to invent his own nonsense. There’s no “binary construction”, it’s simply a continuum. It’s not an either-or thing. The intensity of drivers or characteristics determines where a person falls on the continuum – like the light spectrum, there’s a point where you stop saying a color is blue-green and just decide it’s green.

    Anyway, getting back to the point, I’m throwing my weight behind the author. My being an INTJ led me to speculate about having Aspberger’s after a spectacularly bad work relationship with a needy woman always demanding validation.

    I’m of the view the two personalities are superficially similar. Incidentally, I see that DSM V is going to dispense with Aspberger’s Syndrome and the review board simply states that if clinicians want to retain the term as a shorthand for describing the personality type that Hans Aspberger had used it for, that was their business.

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