Autistic vs. Person with Autism

Revisitation: Jenny McCarthy on Oprah. In a comment on the Livejournal Asperger’s forum, I coined her display as the “new McCarthyism.” Another blogger apparently shares my sentiments (smart people think alike — sometimes). Admittedly, since Livejournal’s comment dates/times are all incomprehensible to me, I can’t figure which of us used it first, but we certainly seem to have used it independently. This paragraph is my attempt at avoiding plagiarism. (Go me. The Rhetorician/Compositionist inside me lives!)

McCarthy’s talk of cure hinted at witch-hunt — specifically geared toward the elimination of any and all autistic traits, or elements of autism. She made clear that her son was not an autistic: he was a person with autism. Now, I’m all for semantics, especially since, from a disability studies standpoint, politically correct parlance includes disabled person or person with disabilities rather than the disabled — the key difference here being that the latter does not use the word person. Elimination of person removes more than mere letters: it removes the humanity from the person in question, conjures images of partial personhood rather than wholeness. I get this distinction, and I agree with it.

However, as a person with a form of autism, I don’t really make this distinction — of being “with” something rather than just being that something. In a lot of ways, I prefer to be called autistic or Aspergian rather than with autism or with Asperger’s. Being someone “with something” makes it sound as though, should that “with” and “something” be removed, I’d still, essentially, be the same me. And, quite honestly, I don’t believe that to be the case. As I’ve stated in a previous entry, I often cannot distinguish between my autistic symptoms and my personality traits. Am I quiet because I have autism? If I didn’t have this disorder, if my brain were rewired, would I suddenly become garrulous? If I weren’t Aspergian, would I still have an excellent visual memory, or would I suddenly be a learner of different sorts? Would I still be detail-oriented and drawn to patterns? Would I still experience synesthesia? Would I still love Jeff Lynne and the Electric Light Orchestra? Would I have facility with road maps and bus schedules? Would these “elements” occur or exist with the same unabashed intensity?

The above questions, of course, are rhetorical and unanswerable. That McCarthy could believe — or pretend — that she has the answers baffles me. I have to reiterate that I am *not* against her want of helping her son, of her doing everything possible to help him “function” in a “mainstream world.” But this cure stuff, this crap treatment stuff, this MMR stuff, all on Oprah – it bothers me. Sincerely. Treatment of negative symptoms is worlds away from cure, especially with something as developmentally rooted as autism.

Truth be told, sometimes I even like my negative symptoms, or my less desirable personality traits. At times, I’m glad to have few to no friends and acquaintances. I enjoy solitude and despise speaking. I like pacing — I really like it. I like talking to myself and staring at mirrors. Shiny and spinning objects are quite nice things, and I honestly wish I could dissertate on ELO. I can’t conceive of things being any other way.

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