thoughts that came to me after reblogging this:
I really do hate the perceived autism/Asperger’s dichotomy that exists in the minds of a lot of people, as if Asperger’s isn’t an arbitrarily constructed “type” of autism, but actually constitutes something wholly other — but similar. Just similar. “So-and-so suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, a condition similar to autism,” says the typical popular article on the subject. And even when it is seen as a part of the so-called autism “spectrum,”* it’s still conceived as wildly different from “real” or “classic” autism. People with Asperger’s are just like us (“us” meaning, of course all the non-autistic people) — just slightly quirky. They’re just genius nerds who have a little bit of trouble with social skills (a view that feeds into all the “Asperger’s isn’t even real!” crap you see from time to time). Autism is seen as a “real” disability; those with Asperger’s are just… “different.” Temple Grandin is frequently referred to as someone who has Asperger’s, even though she wasn’t diagnosed as such. It’s probably because she’s successful, and “real” autism is seen as something that’s supposed to prevent you from being successful.
I was diagnosed with Asperger’s not too long ago. When I was a kid, my parents were told that I might be autistic. This was before Asperger’s was even in the DSM. Thus, I’m in a very good position to see the absurdity of separating out Asperger’s from autism, as if they’re different things. I’ve never identified with the “genius nerd” stereotype — and I know I can’t be the only person with Asperger’s who does not. Oh, sure, I was a nerd, though I’m not sure if I count as a “genius.” I know people tell me I’m “smart,” in any case. But those things — being “nerdy” or being “smart” — never felt like the core difference about myself, the things that made me feel so unlike and so disconnected from everyone else. I wasn’t just an awkward fact-spouting machine. I did weird things like walking around and around in circles while looking dazed when all the other kids played together, or running my fingers furiously through my hair and humming and staring with unfocused eyes while I sat at my desk — things that might have made the onlooker assume that I was autistic and not just “awkward” (which, um, actually happened). I got called things like “mental” and “retarded” by my classmates (and not in the general insult fashion, more in the “we know that, mentally, you are emphatically different from everyone else” fashion), and had it suggested to me, more than once, that my mother must have been on drugs when she was pregnant with me. No one ever called me a “nerd.”
Maybe some autistics (even those who weren’t diagnosed with Asperger’s!) fit the nerd stereotype. Maybe people just assume they’re awkward and nothing more. But it’s terribly inaccurate to talk about Asperger’s (and so-called “high functioning” autism) as if it only makes you seem like a “nerd,” while “real” autism makes you seem completely different from everyone else. That just isn’t the case. And appearances can be deceiving, anyway. To look at me now, maybe you’d just think I seem a little awkward (though, maybe not — I’m not really sure how I’m perceived), and you might never imagine that, as a child, I walked around aimlessly in circles and spent a lot of time withdrawn in my own world, typically interacting only when forced to do so (a very upsetting experience that still haunts me to this day**). And it’s not necessarily that I’ve changed so much since then, but that I’ve hidden a lot of my natural inclinations (often, out of fear). When I’m alone, and no one can see me, I still walk around in circles, aimlessly (though not *really* aimlessly, not to me). I rock back and forth. I repeat words and phrases. I do the kind of stuff people think of as “autistic” and not as “awkward and nerdy.”
*I have to confess to always sort of hating the phrase “autism spectrum”; it makes autism seem so linear, which it really isn’t.
**This is why I feel almost physically ill when people talk about trying to get autistic kids out of “their own world” and into “our [that is, the non-autistic people’s] world.”