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Aspergers: Disability or Unique Ability?

Any increasing number of men and women with Aspergers (High-Functioning Autism) are refusing to be classified as individuals with a disability, syndrome or disorder. They claim that Aspergers is not a disorder, but a “different way of thinking.” Many claim that a “cure” for Aspergers would destroy the original personality of the individual in a misguided attempt to replace them with a “neurotypical” (i.e., a person not on the spectrum).

The “different way of thinking” perspective supports the model of Aspergers that says that Aspergers is a fundamental part of who the Aspergers individual is – and that Aspergers is something that can’t be separated from the individual. As a result, some “different way of thinking” believers prefer to be referred to as “Aspergers people” instead of “people with Aspergers,” because “people WITH Aspergers” implies that Aspergers is something that can be removed from the individual.

Aspergers individuals with this perspective oppose the idea of a cure, because they see it as destroying the original personality of the individual, forcing them to imitate neurotypical people (which they believe is unnatural to the “Aspie”), simply to make mainstream society feel less threatened by the presence of men and women who are unique.

“Different way of thinking” believers assert that the “quirks” of Aspergers individuals should be tolerated as the differences of any minority group should be tolerated. When there is discussion about visions for a future where Aspergers has been eliminated, “different way of thinking” believers usually see this as an attempt to end of their culture and way of being.

“Different way of thinking” believers certainly would enjoy having fewer difficulties in life, and they find some aspects of Aspergers painful at times (e.g., sensory issues), but they don’t want to have to sacrifice their basic identities in order to make life easier. “Different way of thinking” believers strongly desire society to become more tolerant and accommodating instead of searching for a cure. These unique individuals:
  • think that Aspergers treatments should focus on giving them the means to overcome the challenges associated by Aspergers rather than curing it
  • support programs that respect the individuality of the Aspie
  • prefer the word "education" over "treatment"
  • try to “teach” other Aspergers individuals rather than “change” them
  • are in favor of helping make the lives of people on the spectrum easier

The “different way of thinking” perspective is related to the controversy of the movement. Some moms and dads see Aspergers as something that gives their sons and daughters great difficulty in life, and therefore see Aspergers as a “disorder.” Adults with this perspective believe that a cure for Aspergers is in their kid’s best interest, because they see a cure as something that will alleviate suffering. This is certainly understandable, but at a different level, insulting.

Many researchers and doctors have the goal of eliminating Aspergers completely someday; they want there to be a future with no Aspergers. But, many Aspergers men and women see Aspergers as a natural human variation and not a “disorder,” thus they are opposed to attempts to eliminate it. In particular, there is opposition to prenatal genetic testing of Aspergers in unborn fetuses, which some believe might be possible in the future if Aspergers is genetic. Many scientists believe there will be a prenatal test for Aspergers (High-Functioning Autism) someday. Our culture has started to debate the ethics involved in the possible elimination of a genotype that has both unique challenges and abilities, which may be seen as messing with nature in general – and natural selection in particular.

Many Aspergers individuals believe that society has an opinion about Aspergers that is highly offensive. This opinion compares Aspergers to a “disease.” Thus, one of the goals of “pro-Aspergers” adults is to expose and challenge those claims they find distasteful. Similarly, Aspergers rights activists reject terming the reported increase in the Aspergers (High-Functioning Autism) population as an “epidemic” since the word epidemic implies that Aspergers is a disease.

 If you are an Aspergers man or woman, and you're tired of hearing about all the "deficits" associated with the Aspergers condition – join the club! The world needs to know that there are many more positives associated with Aspergers than negatives. If Aspergers is “cured” someday – then there go all the positives out the window. These positives are well worth celebrating. Here are just a few:

1. How often do neurotypical individuals fail to notice what's in front of their eyes because they're distracted by social cues and random small talk? Individuals with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism truly attend to the sensory input that surrounds them. Many have achieved the ideal of mindfulness.

2. How often do neurotypical individuals forget directions, or fail to take note of colors, names, and other details? Adults with Aspergers are usually more tuned-in to details. They may have a much better memory than their neurotypical friends for critical details.

3. If you've ever joined a group or club to “fit in,” you know how hard it is to be true to yourself. But for individuals with Aspergers, social expectations are often irrelevant. Interest and passion are what really matters – not meeting other’s expectations.

4. Individuals with Aspergers tend to be less concerned with outward appearance than their neurotypical friends. As a result, they worry less about brand names, hairstyles and other expensive - but unimportant - externals than most adults do.

5. We all claim to value the truth, but few of us are truly truthful. But to most Aspergers men and women, the truth is the truth. A good word from an Aspie is the real deal.

6. Most Aspergers individuals don't play head games, and they assume their partners/spouses won't either. That’s a refreshing change from the emotional roller coaster that damages many neurotypical relationships.

7. Who's Richer? Smarter? More talented? Prettier? For Aspergers individuals, these distinctions hold much less importance than for neurotypicals. Aspies often see through such surface appearances to discover the real person underneath.

2 comments:

  1. On a bbc documentary called living with autism (an excellent programme btw) Simon baron Cohen has a brilliant explanation for the autism spectrum and how most of the world population is on it somewhere. This explains very well why some adults who are aspergers do not get a diagnosis either becuase they are not considered to be affected badly enough or becuase their issues are assigned to something else. Why in my case my issues were put down to 'well every has this or that experience or problem'. True moreso now I have seen prof. SBCs explanation. He draws a line on a piece of paper and on one side puts zero and the other 50. He then puts 25 in the middle. He then explains most people have 'some' ASD characteristics from zero to 25. Then some have 26 and over. The ones under 25 may be considered normal whilst over 25 may be seen to be ASD. But he then added that even though someone may clearly be ASD, the professional may still decide to not diagnose IF in their view the ASD is not impacting severely enough to necessitate the label. I found it re-assuring to find that most of us have some characteristics found in someone ASD becuase of this confusion some professionals were having over diagnosing becuase other people had similar issues who were not ASD, what I did find a bit of a problem is that clinicians still get to decide who to give or not give a label to. Not becuase I label is a good or bad thing but simply becuase the clinician decides if the person with ASD is suffering enough. I do not think it should be the decision of a clinician to decide what constitutes a good or bad quality of life for someone with an ASD. The only person who knows is the person themselves and if they've gone to be assessed for an ASD then clearly there is an issue! The label is regarded by some as unhelpful. Unhelpful to whom? Why unhelpful? If someone has ASD symptoms and are ASD then the label applies. End of. It is preposterous to infer that by giving a label to it you're damning the person with ASD. How so. When you consider it is a developmental disorder the damage for the want of a better dictum is done before or at birth. So how exactly does giving a label to that damn someone? It is a label that defines what is already there you muppets. So help and support can then be sought for the symptoms by the sufferer. IMO the only reason for not giving a label is to keep numbers down and funds are then not needed for those people becuase they are not 'officially' in need becuase they are not 'officially' ASD. To suggest someone with an ASD will be harmed further with a label is rubbish. And it insults our superior intellect. Since being diagnosed with aspergers I have been able to grow. To understand better my symptoms and embrace my qualities that previously actually had been misdiagnosed as personality disordered etc. Really helpful right!? Misdaignosing me added years of torture and misery onto me and my family. Since the (correct) label was given to me I have become empowered. Sadly there is little support for me still yet I have been able to get some extra support becuase of the label so not damned but some help and I have been able vto help lyself and others have gained a better understanding of my condition too so tolerance and support all round. So again I ask, why exactly is is a problem for me to have a label exactly? The ONLY issue I see is being given the WRONG label not being given the correct accurate one. For someone with an ASD labels are brilliant! For a profession that deals with labels all the time and thinking about it we all use labels all the time to say that 'labels aren't helpful', are you kidding me?!? Take it from a 50 year old asperger's person aka sufferer, this label is definitely helpful to me and those in my life. For the help and support for my issues and for the qualities I now can finally embrace. That were mis-labelled by these same clinicians as personality disorder and character flaws. More (accurate) diagnosing and labelling please not less.

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  2. I have Asperger's and have a lot of work to do to improve my social skills and interaction. I find that having been a member of a nas (national autistic society) group, the other Aspie's in the group are affected very differently to myself. Unfortunately; attending the group didn't help me to make progress in any way; i felt I didn't really fit in. I was diagnosed with Asperger's at the age of 22. I'm now 34 and have an awful lot of progress to make. Any Aspie who suffers with depression; i too; understand how it feels. I have suffered with depression for many years since my Asperger's diagnosis. It can be very hard at times and I guess life is not always easy for anyone. I hope with time that things will get better and that I will move on and get back to being my usual happy self. Hopefully I can vastly improve my independent living skills too: and reach my goals in life. And get the right help to improve my mental health too.

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