I’m going to go out on a limb here.
Come to think of it, I’ve been doing that a lot lately.
But apparently I feel a need to, so please bear with me. 😉
On the one hand, we almost overwhelmingly embrace the establishment of neurodiversity as fact. Which it is.
But on the other hand, there’s a significant theme of disability and a common tendency to label ourselves as disabled.
Which is it? Is the Asperger’s/autism spectrum truly a non pathological variant, or is there somehow something wrong with us? (Please know that I don’t mean that in any kind of hostile or antagonizing way.)
Is it somehow a BAD thing to be Aspie/autistic? Are our characteristics always negative aspects?
My personal take on the subject is that Asperger’s/autism itself is not–in itself–a disability, any more than an Italian is disabled when entering a meeting in which everyone else in the room is Egyptian. (I do very much realize that many Aspie/autistic people ARE disabled, living with other health conditions; but I’m talking about Asperger’s/autism itself, in situations in which there are no other health concerns present.)
That’s not to say, however, that we don’t face challenges. The perceived disability becomes (sometimes painfully) apparent when we attempt to interact with people (and/or environments) that are not wired the same way we are. Saying that being on the spectrum is being disabled, is actually (the way I see it–just my opinion alone), in a way, a form of internalized ableism. It’s to say that we’re somehow inferior; it’s to say that we’re lesser. It degrades our neurotype, in comparison to neurotypicality/allism.
I don’t agree with that (what I see is a) negative mindset. I don’t think any of us on the spectrum is inferior. I don’t think our neurotype is lesser. I don’t think that when we hit the “total button” of our net worth, that we come out deficient or impaired.
I simply think that we have, love or hate the term, a “different ability” (or a different set of abilities) from the rest of the world.
The diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s/autism are incredibly ableist. They focus exclusively on our impairments, our shortcomings, or limitations…what we can’t do, or what we have trouble doing.
In meeting these criteria, we do accept that. I’m not going to blame myself or anyone else for doing so. It’s part of the reality, after all.
But what the criteria (and the experts and the research authors) don’t mention are the superpowers. The ability to focus on detail. The tendency to be a great friend who will be sincere, avoid playing mind games, and be REAL with you. The ability to think and see the world in a different way. (Temple Grandin is right; the world needs that, you know.) 🙂
I’m not alone in this mindset, not by a long shot. The most popular blog posts I’ve seen, both on my blog and on those of others, carry positive messages:
- “Autism is a Normal Neurological Variance” by Rhi
- “10 Terrific Autistic Traits” by SeventhVoice (Mae Seven)
- “Autism is not my disability.” by AnonymouslyAutistic (reblogged by Rose Wolfe)
- “Aspie Strengths and Superpowers” by MusingsOfAnAspie
- “Strengths & Advantages of being an Aspie!” by TheOtherSide
- And my own post, “Positive traits of Asperger’s/autism“
- …and a Google search reveals many more where that came from!
Why, then, do we cling to the idea that we’re disabled, that we’re broken, or somehow defective or that something is wrong with us?
Like I said–in a way, that could be considered internalized ableism. I agree wholeheartedly that life is tough for us; after all, we’re “Mac” systems running in a “Windows”-based world! No, that’s not easy–at all. Yes, that sucks sometimes. OK, it sucks a lot of the time. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t measure up. It doesn’t mean that we should put ourselves down. It doesn’t mean that we’re lacking. (Sure, we lack, but we have other skills that allistic people lack, too.) It doesn’t mean that our neurotype is wrong.
I gently-but-strongly encourage us, the members of the spectrum community, to claim our skills and talents as much as we own our deficits. We need to admire ourselves and each other by recognizing the different abilities. We need to give credit where credit is due. (I think) we need to claim the term “different ability” for ourselves before it gets co-opted by the neurotypical/allistic world and used as yet one more patronizing or condescending way (no matter how well-intentioned) to talk about us (without us).
We all know that the allistic world has problems of its own; drama, pettiness, and manipulative head games, just to name a few. The difference is, they don’t own their own shortcomings because those flaws are so rampant throughout the rest of the world that the people writing the diagnostic manuals and issuing labels don’t think twice.
I’ve got news (or not) for all of them: they’re not so perfect, either. Their backyards have poop in them, too. It’s just different poop.
I’m not denying that we face hardships and impairments; I’m just encouraging us not to sell ourselves short by forgetting, ignoring, or overlooking our positive aspects. 🙂
(Image Credit: Cyril Rolando)