The Spectrum

5 Nov

New York Magazine published a rather lengthy article recently about the overuse, and misuse, of Aspergers and Autism Spectrum diagnoses. You can read the full article here.

It asserted, “this is not a story about Asperger’s, autism, or the spectrum—those very real afflictions that can bring untold hardship to the people who suffer from them and to their families. It is, instead, a story about “Asperger’s,” “autism,” and “the spectrum”—our one-stop-shopping shorthand for the jerky husband, the socially inept plutocrat, the tactless boss, the child prodigy with no friends, the remorseless criminal. It’s about the words we deploy to describe some murky hybrid of egghead and aloof.”

The piece discussed how “aspergers” has become everyday language, “sloppy vernacular”, and is no longer true to it’s origins. It has morphed into a catch-all; everything from a slur to an identity.  It’s a card quickly pulled to describe people who don’t fit into our own box.

A psychiatric diagnosis first observed in four boys more than half a century ago has become common slang, a conceptual gadget for processing the modern world. Weirder still: At the same time it soothes the insecurities of those who would weaponize it as insult, it flatters the vanity of those who’d appropriate it as status credential.”

I notice the rampant overuse of “aspergers” and “on the spectrum” all the time.  Some people are always on the lookout for odd people they can hastily label off the cuff. That kid doesn’t pick up on when people are annoyed by him? Aspergers! That person is obsessed with that thing? On the spectrum!

It really bothers me when people throw out fake diagnoses like candy on Halloween.

First-  I can’t stand the overuse of diagnoses as slang because it completely overlooks a main criteria for diagnosis. In order to be diagnosed with something, the DSM-IV is clear that the symptoms must interfere with the person’s life in some way. Just because you have symptoms of something does not automatically give you a diagnosis!!! Your functioning MUST be inhibited by the symptoms in some significant way in order to warrant a diagnosis.

(ie: DSM-IV criteria for Aspergers:  “C. The disturbance causes clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.”)

So what if a kid is aversive to certain sounds? So what if he prefers things lined up or grouped by color? Who cares if he rocks back and forth a little? Unless those things prohibit  him from forming relationships, learning, communicating, etc. it’s NOT diagnosable!

All human beings have weird little things about them. Every single person on this planet. Instead of pathologizing every nuance, let’s be real and recognize all people have quirks.

For me, I avoid touching jeans with my fingers. Wearing them is just fine…but I can’t stand how the fabric feels on my hands. And #2 pencils!! Oh my gosh. I strongly prefer mechanical pencils. I just hate the sound and feel of the lead from writing with #2 pencils. And my stims: I crack my bones constantly (even at the expense of  husband’s sanity). My neck, back, fingers, wrist, ankles, and even toes. I have to crack them all dozens of times a day! I also play with my own hair when I’m upset. It soothes me. I light candles that smell good. I play my favorite songs on repeat sometimes. I shake my foot when I’m sitting. I do lots of little things that make me feel good.

We ALL have oddities and self-stimulatory behaviors. That doesn’t mean we all have autism or aspergers! Which brings me to my next point….

Secondly, it upsets me that people diminish a true diagnosis, and all that goes along with it, by slapping a quick label on people. Not to sound all doom and gloom and rant about how miserable autism is…but it ain’t a walk in the park!! There is hardship and heartache and worry and fear and pain and a million other things that surround a diagnosis. Calling some quirky kid “clearly aspergers” or “totally on the spectrum” negates what autism really is. Yes, autism is on a spectrum and plenty of kids are considered ‘high functioning’ and face less day to day struggle than others. But there are plenty who genuinely suffer with autism. Again, not all experience autism the same. But, I just don’t believe autism is purely some wonderful, magical gift we should all happily embrace. Embrace the child and his or her strengths and personality and traits, of course! But discredit how gut-wrenching autism is for many families…. I would never.

And last, I feel the need to make clear that I do not think people should belittle the validity of  a diagnosis because “that person seems so normal!” or because “we all have stims!”  My declaration that we are all a little odd is in NO WAY a negation of autism and aspergers diagnoses. They are real conditions, with real struggles. And just because we all have little quirks does not mean we are all autistic or aspergers. My wish is simply that people would carefully consider their loaded words before tossing them out.

EDIT: I also feel the need to add that I DO NOT believe WHATSOEVER that the dramatic increase in prevalence of ASD is due to “better diagnostics” or “more awareness”. I actually find that to be a big crock of…. Well, anyways…. Just thought it was worth noting that although I DO see people flippantly tossing out diagnoses in conversation….I do NOT relate that AT ALL to the real increase in real diagnoses. Those are 2 separate things.

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2 Responses to “The Spectrum”

  1. angelina258 November 6, 2012 at 7:12 am #

    Haha, thank you! 😉

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