If a “neurotypical,” (?) non-depressed, non-anxious, non-idiosyncratic (???) person were ever to be described in some of the ways I see autistic people described, I’m betting that “ableist” language would pretty quickly become a thing of the past.
(Note: ** I use quotation marks around words that I find objectionable or else don’t have the knowledge and experience to find other words for.)
Consider this one website that claims to “describe” Asperger’s teens. Language such as, “clueless,” about social cues. “Overly logical and rigid.” “Abnormal and intense interest.” “Lack of appropriate social and emotional responses.”
And this is supposedly a “friendly” site.
What the hell?
Or, consider a book I picked up this morning, about anxiety and Asperger’s. The author says he is an Aspie. Yet even in the first chapter I ran into example after example of his portrayal of Asperger’s in a negative stereotypical way. He also insists that life in general is going to be harder for Asperger’s people, and that they just need to be brave and get through it.
And so, when I’m looking for possible diagnoses for my daughter, I’m sort of wondering if I even should. Is this what she’s up against? What if her diagnosis is bipolar, or borderline personality disorder, or schizophrenic, or something even more reviled by the mainstream?
From what I can tell in my early research, and IF my daughter falls into that spectrum of brain wiring, what I know of her to be true is that Aspie people are creative, intense, generous, loyal, sensitive and highly attuned to their environments. She’s far from “clueless,” about social cues. She may not always interact with people in ways that others might expect, but rather than clueless, she is extremely clued in, and figuring it out with a lot more care and thought than your “average” person.
One site even claims that Aspie boys, because they don’t get the whole dating scene, become obsessed with masturbation. Girls prefer to wear the same hairstyles and clothing they wore in grade school, well into the teen years. Both boys and girls neglect their hygiene.
Part of me is right disgusted that this stuff is even printed. Part of me wants to laugh. Seriously?
My daughter doesn’t fit this stuff.
But you know what? While I think that yes, there may be a very wide range of behaviours, interests and manifestations, it’s the overwhelming focus on the negative that bothers me, as if the only way a kid can be diagnosed is if they fall into these apparent extremes. And if they don’t exhibit negative extremes, what then?
And really, who writes this stuff??
Oh yeah. It’s the “well-meaning” professionals who want to make it “easier” for parents to “manage” their child’s “symptoms.”
My child does not need to be managed, thankyouverymuch. She doesn’t have symptoms of a disease, unless you count anxiety and depression, which are literally DIS-ease, as in not at peace with herself. She has a personality that is varied and intricate. I don’t need it to be easier for ME.
I asked my daughter recently how she would feel if she did find a diagnosis that makes sense to her. Would she feel labelled? Would she feel like she’s being categorized, or would it increase her anxiety? She told me that more than anything, she just wants to know that there’s a reason why she feels the way she does.
But if she were to come across sites and writing like I’ve described above, I fear it would set her back to be described as rigid, clueless and obsessed.
I think this is going to take some time to figure out.
Thankfully, it’s not all like this. Am I naive? Absolutely. Optimistic? Eternally. (See my earlier post about the case for optimism.) Oh there are people who struggle with having been diagnosed with something that isn’t a mainstream brain wiring. I think that anyone who receives a diagnosis must have some processing to do, coming to terms with whatever it is that has caused the diagnosis to be made.
But isn’t it easier to deal with things when you know what you’re facing?
If my daughter has a bipolar disorder, then we need to treat it so that she can live with more peace and more fully than if it’s not treated. If really she is perfectly neurotypical, and her anxiety and depression are just things unto themselves (“just,” she says. Ha.), then isn’t it better to know so we can confront them and help her feel better? She wants so much to get on with the living part of life! Celebrate what makes her who she is, and figure out ways to deal with the negative (anxiety and depression).