Asperger’s Chic

I’ve always been turned off by what I have come to call Asperger’s Chic. By that I mean the fascination that people off the spectrum have with people on a particular part of the spectrum, people with the Asperger’s label. People off the spectrum are amazed by some of these folks’ ability to memorize, how some of them have keen senses of sight or hearing, or the way they can do their own thing in the face of what seems to the rest of us to be oppressive and aggressive forms of popular culture. Those lucky folks with Asperger’s. They remember everything. They see everything. And they don’t give a damn. 

The New York Times recently ran an op-ed piece about the new edition of the DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: the new version, editors have removed labels such as Asperger’s and PDD (pervasive development disorder) in favor of the more general term, autism spectrum disorder. The editors reasoned that the labels obscured as much as they illumined. They were wrong as often as they were right.

While many clinicians welcome this move for these reasons, the author of the editorial piece hailed it for another. The writer, the father of a daughter who had received the Asperger’s label, thinks its time to get over what I call Asperger’s Chic. He called out his readers to stop understanding this part of the spectrum as the good part and the other parts as devastating. He asked his readers to interrogate their impulse to see Asperger’s as the cool sort of autism.

I have some sympathy with the writer. I cringe when people congratulate me on my child’s early reading or his capacity to memorize all the presidents. I get riled when people assume that it’s great that my kid will be insusceptible to some of our culture’s lower offerings. But think about it for a moment. Wouldn’t I rather have a kid whose brain works?

Because I feel this way, I hit the roof when I read the editorial’s last lines: “We no longer need Asperger’s disorder to reduce stigma. And my daughter does not need the term Asperger’s to bolster her self-esteem. Just last week, she introduced herself to a new teacher in her high school health class. ‘My name is Isabel,’ she said, ‘and my strength is that I have autism.’”

Isabel, I’m glad you feel that way, but I don’t share in this perspective. Or maybe I should say that I cannot see autism as an unqualified strength. There’s no way to utter that sentence without also acknowledging all of the difficulties, all of the struggles, all of the ways that a goofy brain can be both fun and maddening. I would never want Martin to feel that he has some sort of terrible weakness. And I acknowledge the way his particular brain might find interesting and unexplored ways to interact with the world. But not without missteps. Not without pain.

Will getting rid of Asperger’s Chic just lead us to Autism Chic?

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Jen Graber
I blog because having a special needs child can be lonely. People don't want to pry. They focus on the positives. In this way, people are nice. But life with Martin includes very difficult moments. And I'm a little tired of keeping them within the family.
Jen Graber

Jen Graber

I blog because having a special needs child can be lonely. People don't want to pry. They focus on the positives. In this way, people are nice. But life with Martin includes very difficult moments. And I'm a little tired of keeping them within the family.

0 thoughts on “Asperger’s Chic

  • I am beginning to collect data for my dissertation, and I was hoping that you guys would be willing to help me. I am looking at stress and ways of coping with stress in parents of children ages 5-12 in three groups: parents of children with ASDs, parents of children with Type 1 diabetes, and parents of children with no diagnoses. My hope is to use this data as a jumping off point to create an intervention to help parents cope with stress.

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  • @OstentatiousEloquence@xanga – I believe in segregation.  I was just saying that this is what they do.  This also goes back to my debate that average disabled people should be left alone.  They just have different personalities.

  • @Colorsofthenight@xanga – I agree. Segregation is never practical, even if it makes one feel a sense of belonging at first. As typical as this sounds, diversity will really help a person gain light into themselves, and feel apart of a bigger, more realistic-feeling world community.

    The idea of being nitpicky to such a generalized neurological disorder (autism, its spectrum, and the like) begins to lose my respect as it sounds more and more philosophical and starts to get off the track of science.

    I mean, it is what it is. Your son was born how he was. He should put himself in a category that he equates to no better nor worse than the average person. That is- acknowledge his strengths, and accept the disabilities that they may bring as well. No reason not to work on his weaknesses, just as there is no reason to define them in his self-concept.

    The idea of cognitive plasticity very much intrigues me, and from what I’ve read seems very, very real and possible. I think autistic people, especially of normal to higher intelligence have a lot of potential so long as they are given the means to utilize it. If diagnosed in childhood, I think it should be seen as a temporary condition instead of a tattoo branded on their invisible forehead.

  • my brain is messed up and all it’s brought me is hardship because people get jealous of any special treatment I receive, and I’ve had several attempt to kill me over my pension during this recession.  I have sustained a TBI from some mad doctor who wanted to fix me, which I didn’t need from these people.

    My “special” ability is that I am highly entertained by myself.  I can also throw numbers around in ways that wouldn’t make sense to normal people because I see patterns more readily and can handle more data, but I struggle with school subjects.  I can predict the news because I have a very literal reality.  After the TBI (from psychotronic warfare, Madonna’s “A Bedtime Story;” “sentences have lost their meaning”), I have lost linear abilities, and all I want is my functioning brain back, messed up as it was.  I was comfortable being me.

    I think what happens with the chic is that people with like abilities tend to separate and conform to each other in a club.  The deaf community does the same thing.  They have isolated themselves and feel superior.  They even discriminate against people who weren’t born deaf.


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