Sunday, 17 April 2011

Nerd Olympics

There was a documentary that followed the UK entrants to the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO). It followed their preparations, their lives and what it meant to them. That's what it was billed as turned out to be a documentary about Asperger's Syndrome (AS). It's a shame this wasn't reflected in the promotional material as a few people might have watched it where they otherwise didn't.

I'm sure this isn’t how it was intended, but of the key players some had AS diagnosis, some were undergoing diagnosis during the documentary, and for the rest AS wasn't even mentioned but they showed strong signs of it. The star of the show was a lad called Jos, who was so emotionally stunted that he functioned like a robot. Analysing family relationships on terms of material need. He said he was a rare thing; someone who was intelligent but not arrogant, yet he was the most arrogant person you've probably ever seen. However what I found quite interesting, was that he was also often wrong. His abilities didn't seem to match up to his boasts which isn't something I've ever associated with AS.

Another bit that amused me was the guy who was in the process of getting a diagnosis. For anyone who has done this you'll know that it's fairly drawn out, and sometimes almost impossible. Not when you're being filmed for a documentary though! The doctor doing the diagnosis was none other than Simon Baron-Cohen himself. After some scenes of discussion the Doctor then announces that the guy "clearly has Asperger's". It trivialised the whole process and made it look the easiest thing in the world to get a diagnosis. Anyone watching this documentary who then wishes to get a diagnosis themselves are going to be in for a shock.

The IMO is obviously open to many countries, with some doing better than others. China always puts in a strong team and always does exceptionally well. The question is, however, is this because their education system is much better than ours? Can the UK only compete in these things if we "use" people with Autism to bolster the ranks? Why can't we simply have intelligent, well-educated students like China does?

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