Why Do We Call It Asperger’s?
I first encountered Carl, my wife’s cousin, in a high school biology class. He stood out because of his nearly white hair, eyes that were always staring past you, and a tendency to interrupt the class asking peculiar questions tangentially related to the topic being discussed—”why is a tadpole forced to become a frog?”
Many years later, long after I had become a psychiatrist, I was asked to diagnose him. “Asperger’s” was my answer. I had interviewed him and found his talk to be very concrete and unemotional. When asked if he missed his dead wife he only said, “she was a nice person.” Before her death their severely autistic and retarded son had been taken away by adult protective services at age twenty because he lacked speech, never could be toilet trained, and was maintained on a leash because of his aggressive attempts to wander. Asked about that son, Carl only could reply that the child’s birth may have saved Carl from colon cancer, even though he had colon surgery and was left with a colostomy bag.
Placed on Social Security Disability at a young age Carl managed to invest tiny scrimped and saved bits of money by scrupulously and tirelessly studying the stock market. Eventually he amassed a portfolio worth $500K.
Carl presented as a nominally affable person but was soon lost in concrete tabulations, too often repeated or referred to as when my sister-in-law was getting married, My wife was walking down the aisle as her matron of honor while I hung appropriately with the other guests. Carl vociferously pronounced a logicality that both deluded and disturbed him: we were a married couple and therefore should be walking down the aisle together. He kept repeating his conundrum until someone led him away out of earshot.
Though he seemed to mean well his meanings were his own derivatives and could not yield to the subtle laws and socially adjusted ways that constituted the unwritten, automatic rules of casual social engagement, the basis of small talk, jests, jokes premised on a specific, passing moment.
We now have eradicated the name Asperger from the autism spectrum category because Hans Asperger, despite his eloquent early paper describing high functioning autists and his kindly treatment of them, was lately discovered to have become a Nazi collaborator who sent many mentally challenged children to be euthanized. Yet many autists still refer to themselves as Aspies.
“‘Neurodiversity is a concept and social movement that advocates for viewing autism as a variation of human wiring, rather than a disease.'”
For decades the recognition of autistic traits in children who had language and normal or even high intelligence were overlooked despite sharing many of the same symptoms as cousin Carl:
• Hypersensitivities (to lights, sounds, tastes, etc.)
• Difficulty with the give and take of conversation
• Difficulty with nonverbal conversation skills (distance, loudness, tone, etc.)
• Uncoordinated movements, or clumsiness
• Difficulty with social interactions
• Restricted interests
• Desire for sameness
And also some qualities that many benefited from:
• Remarkable focus and persistence
• Aptitude for recognizing patterns
• Attention to detail
Peer support using digital internet media has helped provide an expanding platform for Aspies, which also provides gateways to other programs, local meetings, and opportunities for socialization.
Aspies and their supporters emphasize and encourage the positive aspects of Asperger’s, putting it into the framework of the normal much like other socially diverse groups such as LBTGQ and, of course, ethnic and racially identified peoples.
The encompassing and grandly humanistic concept of neurodiversity has set a very high mark for acceptance of autism (among other neurologically identified conditions: dyspraxia, dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, dyscalculia, Tourette Syndrome).
Those on the autism spectrum (especially the Aspies) justifiably assert that “neurodiversity is a concept and social movement that advocates for viewing autism as a variation of human wiring, rather than a disease. As such, neurodiversity activists reject the idea that autism should be cured, advocating instead for celebrating autistic forms of communication and self-expression, and for promoting support systems that allow autistic people to live as autistic people.”
The list of renown people who may have been on the autism spectrum is staggering. This list alone proves that Aspies can indeed live full and productive lives and, because of their special brain conformation, are able to make unique and outstanding contributions to humanity.
Aspies deserve the same accolade and best wishes that we give to all we cherish:
Live long and prosper!