Your Doctor: Asshole or Asperger’s?

Are you having trouble getting along with your doctor? Do you think he’s not listening to you? Is it hard—or impossible—to get through to him? Is he behaving like an asshole?

Maybe he has Asperger’s syndrome:
“Asperger syndrome (AS), also known as Asperger disorder (AD) or simply Asperger’s, is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. It differs from other autism spectrum disorders by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development . . .” (Wikipedia)

Dr. David Felten, a noted neuroscientist, stated that a physician is simply somebody who studied hard in school. Dr. Paul Cohen, my ex-psychologist, theorized that people with Asperger’s aren’t out shooting hoops with their buddies or drinking beer in a sports bar: they are at home studying, consequently, they become doctors. The incidence of Asperger syndrome among doctors exceeds that in the random population. The field of medicine rewards doctors with Asperger’s.

“As a pervasive developmental disorder, Asperger syndrome is distinguished by a pattern of symptoms rather than a single symptom. It is characterized by qualitative impairment in social interaction, by stereotyped and restricted patterns of behavior, activities and interests, and by no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or general delay in language. . .”

In other words, people with Asperger’s come across as brilliant, but with a touch of autism. And what rewards brilliance more than the field of medicine? And what field really doesn’t care if you get along with the customer? Oh, that would also be medicine. In the past ten years in Syracuse, NY, I have been exposed to five doctors who have Asperger’s.

“A lack of demonstrated empathy has a significant impact on aspects of communal living for persons with Asperger syndrome. Individuals with AS experience difficulties in basic elements of social interaction, which may include . . . impaired nonverbal behaviors in areas such as eye contact, facial expression, posture, and gesture.”

Two of the doctors specialize in sleep disorders: they like their patients best when they are unconscious and, therefore, least social. The others specialize in endocrinology, neurology and immunology. Four have been diagnosed by psychologists in informal situations, i.e., the psychologists have been patients or neighbors of the afflicted; the fifth I diagnosed all by myself. Farmers show me four fruits and call them apples; by the fifth time I see an apple, I know what it is.

“This failure to react appropriately to social interaction may appear as disregard for other people’s feelings, and may come across as insensitive.”

• My friend’s wife works for an Asperger’s doctor. She comes home in tears at least once a week. On one occasion, the doctor called her into the treatment room and, in front of the patient, read her the riot act because she had put the paperclip in the wrong corner of the papers. Who knew there was a “right” corner? The Asperger doctor . . .
• I am being interviewed by one of the Asperger doctor’s. He does not look at me but keeps his head down and his gaze focused on the papers on his desk. He will only tolerate “yes” or “no” answers to his questions. If I give an extended answer, he freezes and repeats the question until I limit myself to a yes or no.
• The Asperger’s doctor is sitting in a high-backed padded leather upholstered armchair pulled into the knee-hole of his desk. I am seated on a metal and plastic stackable chair without arms with my knees up against the outside of the doctor’s desk. I am enduring a three-hour testing session. The doctor refuses to give me a break or let me move to another chair. He has no awareness that I am in discomfort.
• The patient keeps skipping her appointments with the sleep doctor who has Asperger’s. Every time he sees her, he berates her about her excessive weight. Fact: she has multiple sclerosis and cannot exercise.
• The doctor cannot see me. He has the resident interview me, then he interviews the resident. When he asks the resident questions that the resident did not ask me, the resident makes up answers, some of which are wrong. I am not allowed to interject a comment.

Doctors with Asperger’s syndrome do not have any awareness that their behaviors are hurtful to their patients. They are insensitive to the clues that other people are sending. There is no indication that any of these five doctors have been formally diagnosed or are in treatment. What physician is going to call any other physician psychiatrically impaired?

What should happen is that anytime you come across a doctor who mistreats you in this manner, you should file a complaint with the NYS Dept. of Health’s Office of Professional Medical Conduct at

The complaint is that the physician is practicing while impaired by a mental disability. All that needs to be done is to get the doctor formally diagnosed and into treatment. It is not a career-ending problem; it is about the doctor’s need to address his own problem so that he can get out of his own way and properly treat the patient.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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12 Responses to Your Doctor: Asshole or Asperger’s?

  1. TRRL says:

    “Asshole”?? As someone with aspergers, i know first hand that people with the diagnosis have tendencies to act unordinary, but that is NO reason to make remarks as insulting as this.

    • annecwoodlen says:

      You’re not a physician, are you? Have you tailored your career path to something that isn’t customer service? I wasn’t talking about people with Asperger’s. I was talking about physicians. Why have you decided to take it personally? For example, a physician who chooses research instead of direct patient-care might be a very good thing. I am talking about physicians who clearly don’t want to be in the same room with the patient.

    • annecwoodlen says:

      TRRL, did you read the article, or just the title?

  2. xxspirit4musicxx says:

    I really liked reading your article because I am so very fustrated with not being able to locate a Dr. who I can exchange medical lingo with. Ever since I turned 15 years old, I have a high interest in all of the Sciences; Oceanography, Philosophy, Astronomy, Anatomy, Molecular Biology, etc. I have always gotten A’s and B’s my entire life and finished my work first before all the students in my class. If I am having a health issue, it is really an upsetting event because I want my body to stay functional. Lots of times there is no way to diagnose something unless it is tested directly in the lab. Or I kind of prefer my method first, which is, if your symptoms match a possible condition and there is a nonharmful drug that I can try, then I want the drug. So I look up university studies to support why I want this medication. And then I show it to my Dr. and ask her. But she acts like I just word vomited. Like she didn’t hear anything I said and theb redirects the conversation to how it is probably a normal reaction to something. I am so sick of these Dr.’s not following new trends and new medical studies. That ten inch degree they keep wallowing about, guess what asshole Dr., your degree is 12 years old, so unless it is a university degree that holde magical powers, then shut the bullcrap and help me like it is 2014. Fuck.

    • annecwoodlen says:

      Dear Spirit,

      I have an I.Q. of 139 and my board scores were high enough to get me into medical school, but physicians talk to me as if I’m an idiot, too. The fact is that physicians belong to an exclusive club and will not have a open conversation with anyone who does not hold a medical degree. Don’t waste your time on what isn’t going to happen.

      You don’t state your age but I imagine you are relatively young; I am old. In 68 years–years of chronic medical conditions–in which I have interacted with many, many physicians, I only have met two (out of hundreds?) who accept me as an equal. Don’t hold your breath.

      You say you want your body “to stay functional.” You don’t talk about being sick. My guess is that you have unreasonable and unrealistic expectations and your physician is trying to get you to relax and accept minor physical variations as normal. Your body is not a machine; it will not always function according to specifications. My rule is that if something “non-functional” happens once, I ignore it. If it happens twice, I ignore it. If it happens three times, then I do something about it. A healthy diet and good exercise will do you more good than any doctor.

  3. JDM says:

    I recently saw a specialist at an academic teaching hospital. The doctor was rude, he snapped at my wife when she asked some important questions, and he refused to be corrected when he got a basic fact about my condition entirely wrong (I suspect he didn’t read the information I provided). He was also incredibly insensitive, treating me as another case, not as a human being. At first I thought he was a mere asshole, but I’m now certain that he has Asperger’s. He’s being protected in that environment. If he worked somewhere where he actually had to treat patient’s with consideration, he’d never last.

    • annecwoodlen says:

      Alas, the medical profession does not value physicians who respect their patients. You thought he was an asshole but now are certain he has Asperger’s: what changed your mind? We should not give Asperger’s patients a bad name by mixing them up with assholes, of which there are a great many, too.

      • JDM says:

        He exhibited many signs of Asperger’s: upon entering the examination room, he jokingly identified himself by another name (just to make sure we were paying attention, he explained); he had very strange body language (he put one awkwardly on a stool while he was waiting for his assistant to come in); he spent about 20 minutes talking about his son’s achievements, time he could have used to get more information from me and my wife. The dude was just plain strange, sort of like some computer professionals I’ve encountered. Perhaps he’s an asshole with Asperger’s.

      • annecwoodlen says:

        Indeed, there’s nothing that says he can’t be both.

      • annecwoodlen says:

        I, on the other hand, met a new physician today. He spent two hours talking with me (mostly listening), and began by asking if I wanted to hear his story first, or tell mine. Yes, he really was a board certified physician, but a whole new different kind,

  4. Diane says:

    Anne, could I ask you a question about my consultant surgeon?
    I didn’t meet him before my operation except for a few minutes as I was going to theatre. he never looked at me or the young surgeon standing next to him. He just had his head in his hands saying he couldn’t do the special operation he had planned (which noone had told me about) because my blood pressure was too high, I would just have to have the ordinary one, which meant leaving a scar. He kept making comments to noone in particular like “it’s too dangerous” ” there will be too much bleeding” ” I can’t do it under a local as there is too much heaving about” etc. he never introduced himself or the (lovely) registrar who actually did the operation, and the registrar neither looked at the consultant or spoke one word, although he looked at me frequently. I considered this all very odd.

    I was told I would see the consultant at my first post op appointment (I even had it twice in writing) – But, I didn’t see him. I was told this 2 more times. Then I actually asked his secretary if I could see him the next time, which I duly did.

    what a shock. as I walked in the room he looked at me with an expression of pure hatred and anger. He said “I’m the consultant here and I understand you asked to see me – WHY?” well the answer is in the question! When I said lots of people had told me I was supposed to see him, he demanded to know who all these people were. As I went through them he said ” that didn’t happen” or “I don’t believe that” or similar, to everything I said. when we got onto the actual consultation he was rude about everything I asked. I didn’t ask if I would die, but he decided to tell me anyway, and I quote “with cancer we talk in terms of 5 year survival, in your particular case I really don’t think you will make that, that is why you will have lots of follow ups, and NONE of them will be with ME” said with venom in his eyes and voice. He never said anything nice except to say I had excellent tonsils. at the end, he threw me a bit of paper saying that was my first follow up and THAT wouldn’t be with him either. (thank goodness I say)

    this cuts a very long story short, but do you think he has aspergers? I think he must have, so it’s difficult to hate him, even though he has made me extremely miserable, and he often features in my nighmares, so I wake up crying. I am told that he is a brilliant surgeon (I wouldn’t know as he didn’t do mine himself) My GP has said he must apologise, but he never has.

    • annecwoodlen says:

      I cannot comment on your experience as I have–thank the good Lord–never had surgery, and don’t know anything about surgeons.

      What kind of research did you do on this surgeon before you signed on with him? Personally, I think it is crazy to sign on with a surgeon whom you have never met, or sat up in his office with your clothes on and talked about your expectations for how you will be treated. How many patients had your referring physician sent to him? Did you talk to any of his other patients or look up his satisfaction rate on-line? Before I let a man stick a knife in me, I for sure would vet him pretty thoroughly. Why didn’t you?

      You describe the surgeon as having “hatred . . . anger . . . rude . . . venomous.” Generally speaking, people with Asperger’s are not mean. They are just oblivious to other people’s comfort or emotional well-being.

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