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The view from The Bridge: Asperger’s Syndrome

The view from The Bridge: Asperger’s Syndrome

What about a talented female detective with absolutely no social skills?

Saga Norén, the detective in the Scandi-noir drama The Bridge, (wonderfully played by Sofia Helin), is a Swedish beauty, blonde, with a facial scar, leather trousers and a 1977 stunning green Porsche 911S. She’s brilliant at what she’s doing, but when it comes to interaction with other people she just can’t get it. She is inept at normal human interaction because of her emotional dislocation, but capable of extraordinary feats of logic which allow her to solve the most convoluted of crimes.

Saga’s lack of self-consciousness extends to her attitude to sex, which is very pragmatic. “Sex is just another need for Saga,” says Rosenfeldt. “If you’re hungry you eat, and if you’re horny you go out and have sex. It’s as easy as that.”

The awkwardness of Saga is not just a matter of shyness, or a failure of manners. It has a medical root, though neither show makes this explicit.

The first director, Charlotte Sieling, said that Saga is somewhere on the autistic spectrum. As the series developed, more and more people said that she must have Asperger’s. Now it’s a kind of a truth, even though “…we never diagnosed her”, said The Bridge creator Hans Rosenfeldt.

Apart from Saga, when people hear the words Asperger’s syndrome, they often think of children or Albert Einstein – even though he was never formally diagnosed. But here are some things about Asperger’s that are less well known.

Asperger’s syndrome is a form of autism, which is a lifelong disability that affects how a person makes sense of the world, processes information and relates to other people. Autism is often described as a ‘spectrum disorder’ because the condition affects people in many different ways and to varying degrees.

The syndrome is named after the Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger who, in 1944, studied and described children in his practice who had difficulty integrating socially.  Although their intelligence appeared normal, the children lacked nonverbal communication skills, failed to demonstrate empathy with their peers, and were physically awkward. Dr. Asperger called the condition “autistic psychopathy” and described it as a personality disorder primarily marked by social isolation.

The diagnosis of Asperger’s was eliminated in the 2013 fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and replaced by a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder on a severity scale.

Asperger syndrome is mostly a ‘hidden disability’. This means that you can’t tell that someone has the condition from their outward appearance. People with the condition have difficulties in the following three main areas: social communication, social interaction and social imagination.

While there are similarities with autism, people with Asperger syndrome have fewer problems with speaking and are often of average, or above average, intelligence. They do not usually have the accompanying learning disabilities associated with autism, but they may have specific learning difficulties. These may include dyslexia and dyspraxia or other conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and epilepsy.

The cause of ASD, including Asperger syndrome, is not known.  Current research points to brain abnormalities in Asperger syndrome.

A specific gene for Asperger syndrome, however, has never been identified.  Instead, the most recent research indicates that there are most likely a common group of genes whose variations or deletions make an individual vulnerable to developing ASD.  This combination of genetic variations or deletions, in combination with yet unidentified environmental insults, probably determines the severity and symptoms for each individual with Asperger’s syndrome.

There is no cure for Asperger syndrome and the autism spectrum disorders.  The ideal treatment plan coordinates therapies and interventions that meet the specific needs of individual children. There is no single best treatment package for all children with AS, but most health care professionals agree that early intervention is best.

With effective treatment, children with AS can learn to overcome their disabilities, but they may still find social situations and personal relationships challenging.  Many adults with Asperger’s syndrome work successfully in mainstream jobs, although they may continue to need encouragement and moral support to maintain an independent life.

http://www.autism.org.uk/asperger

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