Monday, June 1, 2009

Asperger's Syndrome

I was diagnosed with Asperger's in 2007. That's not very long ago. It's not as if I've been studying Asperger's or autism for decades, as have many other people. I don't consider myself an expert on Asperger's just because I have it. I certainly don't wish to present myself as some highly-qualified spokesperson for people on the autistic spectrum. But since I learned that I have it, it's been on my mind a lot.

Some people, myself included, think that Asperger's is autism, and that the difference between those of us who are diagnosed as Aspergers, and those who more traditionally would be called autistic, is a matter of degree in some symptoms, some of the differences in behavior between us and the neurologically typical (NT for short). So when I say I'm an Asperger, in my opinion, I'm saying I'm autistic. But again, I'm no expert. I'm trying to keep an open mind about all of this.

As I understand it, the best current research says that autistics and Aspergers differ from NT's in the structure and chemical processes of our brains. Most people seem to think that this difference constitutes a disorder, a malfunction.

Maybe so. But what bothers me about this view, by all appearances very much still the majority view, is that it seems not to account for the fact that many Aspegers and autistic people have very unusual talents and abilities. The most famous autistic person is a fictional character, the tittle character in the movie Rain Man. But the character is based on a real person, Kim Peek, and aw crap, as I learned just this minute surfing around looking for some info him, apparently Kim Peek may not actually be autistic!

You know, I feel like I'm opening so many cans of worms with this post...

Okay, forget Kim Peek, forget Rain Man. I gather that many Aspergers and autistics have unusual abilities, up to and including savant-level mathematical abilities comparable to those of the fictional Raymond-Rain Man. If a certain condition brings with it not just difficulties but also extraordinary abilities, is it accurate to call it a disability? Is it really inherently a problem? or a good thing, which only looks like a problem because it's misunderstood? Maybe more of us than is currently realized have unusual abilities, and maybe these abilities would be recognized more often if people looked for them more often. As opposed to treating us as if we had a disease. (Let alone a disease caused by vaccination, as Jenny McCarthy and other celebrities maintain, in a depressing popular attempt to set medical science back a century or two.)

It is said that Einstein and James Joyce may have been autistic, that Wittgenstein may have had Asperger's. If it's possible that those three, and some others of us, have unique talents wholly or in part because we have autism or Asperger's -- if that's the case, is it appropriate to want to cure us of our condition?

I wish merely to raise the question. I don't claim to have the answer.

1 comment:

  1. I'd be interested in stats and other information about how many people diagnosed with autism and/or Asperger's have unusual abilities. "I gather" and "it is said" don't work for me. Unless a condition that interferes with typical human interactions inevitably comes with positives and compensations, I think it's fair enough to call it a disability. It's also fair to recognize those compensations and abilities here they exist.