Attention New York Times and the Entire Rest of the World: Asperger's IS Autism‏

by Shaker Meowser, a hetero fatass in her 40s, born in Brooklyn, New York, currently living in Portland, Oregon with a trio of fat cats and an adorable skinny boyfriend.

Quick quiz. Two questions. 1. True or false: In order to be diagnosed with autism under present DSM-IV-TR criteria, one must have either diagnosable speech delay in early childhood or intellectual disability (i.e. what used to be called mental retardation), or both.

Answer: FALSE.

2. True or false: All persons diagnosed with Asperger's under present DSM-IV-TR diagnostic criteria also meet the diagnostic criteria for autism.

Answer: TRUE.

Didja get them both right? Congratulations. You're smarter than the New York Times.

And if you didn't, don't fret too much. I probably wouldn't have either, before I got diagnosed. But it's got to come out. Asperger's is not, pace the Times, "complex and mysterious neurological disorder linked to autism." It is autism.

Oh, I'm not going to pick on the NYT too much. They were writing about the new movie Adam (which hasn't come out here yet, thus haven't seen it) and some other projects about aspies and "high functioning" autistic people like Temple Grandin (an HBO biopic starring Clare Danes is in the offing). From the preview I saw, Adam seems fairly inoffensive, maybe even amusing, and I'm sure I'll go see it. (I'm a lot more concerned about the potential theatre-audience reaction than the film itself; are they going to gigglesnort about stuff that's just not funny?)

The article itself wasn't particularly noxious, although someone ought to tell the author, Neil Amdur, that the phrase "autistic savant" is, well, kinda demeaning—isn't that cute? they actually say things! over and over! haha! (And no, I never thought I was much like "Rain Man" at all. In fact, this character being tied in the public's mind so heavily to Asperger's probably delayed my diagnosis by a lot, since I didn't identify with the character—although I thought he was interesting as an individual—and even most shrinks seem to think that's what adult aspies are like, even now, even women. Gargh.)

But let's take a look at that phrase "high functioning," shall we? It gets bandied about a lot, although it's not part of any "official" diagnostic criteria. Back to our quiz in the beginning: You might well have found yourself asking, "Well, if all aspies are autistic, then why is Asperger's a separate diagnosis at all?" And it's a damn good question. I think it has a lot to do with the idea that when I was a kid, and even a young adult, diagnosing a child with autism was fighting words.

Back then they still believed the refrigerator mom stuff, see? Tagging a kid with that label was like saying to a mother, "You are such a fuckup." And even after that theory was largely discarded, the perception of autism was that it was this horrible beast-monster that ate your child's brain and ruined your entire life and busted up your marriage and by the way, your haircut's ugly too.

Enter Lorna Wing, who came up with the Asperger classification (based on Hans Asperger's work with autistic kids in the 1940s) to describe autistic kids who talked more or less on expected schedule and developed "self-help" skills (feeding, toileting, dressing) more or less on expected schedule, albeit possibly going about both in unusual ways. This became a DSM diagnosis starting in 1994. Parents were told that this was "mild" autism, that their children weren't completely hopeless like Those Scary Kids With Autism, just a little flaky maybe. What they meant, of course, is, "Your kid won't strike anyone who knows nothing about autism as obviously autistic."

I can see how this diagnosis has had its uses. I have to admit it would have been harder for me to swallow it if my therapist had said, "You are autistic," instead of "you have Asperger's." Because I, too, would have thought autism was "those people," who couldn't hold a job or make themselves a meal or have a relationship. Never mind that people all over "the spectrum" have varying levels of skill at different things. Which is why the phrase "high functioning" misses the mark; it's not like we're good at everything, or good at nothing. But did I know that? Of course not. Never mind Kool-Aid, it's shower water, those ideas about what a "normal" brain is supposed to be like are what I and the New York Times and the rest of the world have been soaking our heads in, lo these many decades.

But now? I wonder if splitting "the spectrum" into Real Autism That Needs A Cure versus Those Kooky Lovable (But Only At A Distance!) Aspies isn't just another form of divide-and-conquer. The stated goal of Autism Speaks is to come up with a prenatal test for autism similar to the one for Down syndrome. Which basically amounts to cure-by-selective-abortion, should it come to pass.

The curebies tell us that it's only Real Autism they want to squash like a giant cockroach they're trying to find a big enough swat-sneaker for, not Asperger's, and that we "aspies" (who they consider to be any autistic person who can write and isn't in the mood to be stamped out) just couldn't possibly understand what life is like for kids with Real Autism and their poor, beleaguered parents. (Neurotypical parents, that is—they know of no other kind.)

Leaving aside that they're perfectly happy to use aspies to pad their numbers to make autism look like more of a "tsunami," leaving aside the fact that it's unlikely a prenatal test is going to be exact enough to distinguish Real Autism from Asperger's, and leaving aside the fact that it wouldn't exactly give me the warm fuzzies if it an autistic adult who presents differently from a 7-year-old knows less about autism than a parent who's not autistic at all? Talk about a total waste of resources.

If they actually bothered to communicate with a wide range of autistic adults, they'd find out that a surprising number have been exactly where that 7-year-old is, or pretty damn close, because—whaddaya know—almost all adults present differently and have more skills than kids. And that the kid's brain cooties hardly need signal the end of the world. Yes, a kid who has speech delay and/or intellectual disability lacks a certain amount of privilege that others of us have, and probably has somewhat different educational or environmental needs, and that does need to be acknowledged. But not by drawing a thick line in the road going in opposite directions between Real Autism and Those Aspie Poseurs. It's all autism.

So yeah, I'll probably go see Adam; even if it sucks, if it's a hit it might well inspire others to create more films with autistic characters, maybe even—gasp—written by autistic people (dare I hold my breath?). There's just one little problem I have: Professional hatebag Rex Reed liked it. And he doesn't like us aspies one little bit.

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