Monday, May 26, 2008

Tortured genius

How many times to I have to type the word "proselytizing" before spelling it correctly? Apparently this moment will never come, which I'm interpreting as proof of my superior defense system, at the ready if ever confronted with zealous missionaries. When all it is, really, is proof that I am not, contrary to what I wish while writing a final paper, a tortured genius.

Which brings us to the next question: what to make of Aspergers' pride. Any disorder whose tell-tale signs are reputed to be brilliance and the feeling of being just a bit different from everyone else is bound to attract hordes of, 'Hey, sounds like me!'-type remarks. Quotes such as, "The Web, [autism advocate] Singer said, 'is a prosthetic device for people who can’t socialize without it,'" will only encourage matters. Plenty of people not suffering from anything other than garden-variety geekiness find themselves in just the same situation. I guess the thing is, I, humanities student that I am, am having trouble wrapping my head around what it means for something to be a "spectrum disorder." Clearly in extreme cases we're talking about a severe illness, but is everyone somewhere on the spectrum, aside from this one especially perky cheerleader somewhere in Connecticut? Maybe when I finish this paper, which is to say, never, I'll finish the NYMag article and find out.


Miss Self-Important said...

The disability activists who want to normalize disability by saying it's just another "way of being" and no worse than not being disabled do have a point, though a limited one. It's not totally wrong to take the general attitude towards medical technology (for example, the push for broader genetic screening or the support for euthanasia for people whose quality of life is deemed too low to merit sustaining) as a suggestion that, given a choice, most people would rather the disabled not be alive at all than be alive but disabled. The idea that medicine should work to eliminate disability is actually kind of radical and alarming.

The problem seems to be that, since things like genetic screening are grounded in the assumption that the disabled suffer, and so eliminating these disorders will minimize suffering, these pro-disability arguments are trying to counter that logic by saying that the disabled don't suffer. What we take to be their suffering is actually our attempt to force our socially constructed views about normalcy onto them. Or, if they do suffer, it's only from the social stigma attached to their disabilities, and not the disabilities themselves. Thus, the just thing for the non-disabled to do is stop stigmatizing the disabled, not weed them out of our society.

One problem seems to be that all this hinges on a subjective evaluation of suffering--we think people w/ autism are worse off; they think they're fine. We're not them, so how can we argue with that? Another is that we don't want to impose standards of normalcy on others, especially if there is reason to believe their behavior is innate--we think autism is abnormal, but if autistics think we need to learn to accept their behavior as legitimate, how can we argue with that?

Andrew Stevens said...

I think their point is more than just a limited one. It's crystal clear that Asperger's, unlike severe autism, isn't a disability at all. Neither are most other psychological "disabilities."

If you are so depressed you never leave your bed, you likely have a disability. But this is very different from just having a melancholic personality. If you're so obsessive-compulsive, you wash your hands every five minutes, you're probably disabled. But this is different from washing your hands every hour. And so on.

The point being that psychology has gone from labeling people with genuine disabilities to labeling various personality types and calling them all disabilities.

Most people with Asperger's aren't brilliant, by the by, probably no greater a percentage than the normal population. Like many autistics, they tend to be intensely interested in very narrow fields and become extremely knowledgeable about that field. However, despite the detailed knowledge, they frequently have no genuine understanding of, or even interest in, the broader topic.