USA Today published an article (the 4th of February 2015), which claims that President Vladimir Putin has Asperger’s syndrome, according to a study from a Pentagon think tank (2008). The claim was repeated by the media through the world, and the articles quickly became widely read.
Articles published in Finland the very next day (Iltalehti, Iltasanomat and Helsingin Sanomat 5.2.2015) repeated the same errors by telling their readers that Asperger’s can be diagnosed either by observing Mr. Putin’s behavior from videos, or by scanning his brain. Neither of these methods is sufficient nor right for diagnosis. Instead, diagnosis should be made by a psychiatrist or a neurologist who has expertise in this complex syndrome. During diagnostic assessment clinicians should examine the person’s course of life, and use both neuropsychological tests and information from school, clinics, and people who know the person best.
Asperger’s syndrome is a developmental neurobiological divergence that causes varying deviations in social interaction and communication. It is typical to have intensive and peculiar special interests, a need to do things systematically, and divergences in processing sensory information. Many of those with Asperger’s are highly intelligent and thus able to compensate their difficulties, and most of them have got special strengths, too. Respected specialist Mr. Tony Attwood, PhD in psychology, has written that adults with AS can be renowned for being honest, faithful, straightforward, and reliable, as well as for having a strong sense of social justice and sticking to rules.
The news on Mr. Putin’s possible Asperger’s is first and foremost understandable as a part of an information war between superpowers. Uncritical attention in Finnish media is very unfortunate. This time the victim in this battle with words seems to be a group of people, that already has to face many kinds of bullying, harassment, and marginalizing. They are an easy target to all kinds of negative and harmful prejudice.
People with Asperger’s syndrome in Finland and all over the world do not accept speculations claiming that Mr. Putin has Asperger’s syndrome, and remind that it must always be diagnosed on grounds of professional, personal clinical assessment. Lacking it, there is no point in playing with stigmatizing speculations, whether Mr. Putin is a person with Asperger’s or not.
Text: the editors of online magazine Puoltaja (Advocate)
English translation by Ekfrasis