Aspies on the interwebz

Apparently, there are a lot of people who fake Asperger’s on the internet. Or, at the very least, apparently there are a lot of people who, whether or not they have Asperger’s, use Asperger’s as an excuse for ridiculous behavior. Key word: apparently.

Enter Luke McKinney’s The 5 Most Retarded Causes People Are Actually Fighting For on cracked.com. The title itself cues readers into the sort of rhetoric that McKinney abides by. Item #1 on his list is the Asperger’s Pride Movement:

Asperger’s is a real disorder for some, but has turned into a kind of “get out of self-improvement free” card for legions of socially awkward Pokemon fans. This latter group doesn’t care about your “medical credentials,” “basic common sense” or even “knowing people who actually do have Aspergers.” This syndrome they read about on Wikipedia once is their winning lottery ticket to a life of never having to learn how to interact with other humans. Welcome to the Aspergian Pride movement.

I’m really at a loss as to where this attitude toward Asperger’s comes from. It’s an attitude I encounter quite a bit online. In aspie forums, we often discuss the difference between using Asperger’s as an explanation versus using Asperger’s as an excuse – but the dominant NT perception online seems to be that Asperger’s is an excuse about 90% of the time, or that Asperger’s is a largely mythical disorder.

Per my own understanding, Asperger’s as explanation involves disclosing in such a way that communication and understanding are more easily achieved for all parties, regardless of neurological wiring. Conversely, Asperger’s as excuse occurs when the goal involves getting out of or getting away with something, e.g., Mom, I can’t clean my room because I have Asperger’s and am resistant to change.

I don’t think that the latter example, Asperger’s as excuse, is as problematic of a phenomenon as people on the net make it out to be. Who hasn’t used something as an excuse to get out of something? Moreover, there is a fine line between explanation and excuse, I think. While there is very little I “cannot” do, there are many, many things that I have extremely great difficulty doing, just as there are many, many things that I “can” do, but can only do very poorly. (For example, I can physically make eye contact. However, in forcing myself to do so, I stop paying attention to other things, and I also maintain eye contact in a very obviously forced, unrealistic fashion.) The aspies I’ve met generally don’t use Asperger’s as a way of excusing themselves for being manipulative jerks, as cracked.com would have people believe.

This whole debate — the excuse versus the explanation — goes back to the ADA, I think, especially to issues of accommodation. If we judge PWDs based on “r*tarded causes” (ugh) and fakery claims postulated by internet sources, then accommodations for largely “invisible” disabilities like ASD or LDs become unsubstantiated complaints made by a pack of faking whiners.

As an example, I think to my own documentation that sits in my university’s office for disability services. One of the suggested accommodations involves class participation, a request that I be entirely absolved from verbally participating in class. Now, I know how to speak, and do speak, despite having difficulties. Does this make my accommodation an excuse made by a lazy whiner?

I should also mention that I’ve rarely asked disability services to contact my professors. I am fearful of being perceived as lazy, even though, legally, I shouldn’t experience such backlash. However, I’ve generally found that telling my professors of my difficulties — without invoking the disability/autism label — has worked as well as (and sometimes better than) asking disability services to intervene. One negative experience with disclosure comes to mind: my ODS counselor contacted a professor of mine, mid-quarter, and informed them (I’m being gender-neutral on purpose) that I was registered with their office and had communication issues. My professor, in response, said, “Melanie has a disability? But she’s smart!” My professor treated me differently after this point, and tended to be very patronizing.

I wonder how it is that we identify these so-called fakers who take excessive pride in their fraudulent disorders, disorders which, when real, supposedly cause “extreme suffering.” Because that’s the point, isn’t it? Unless we hate ourselves, we don’t have a real disability.

PETA’s new ad campaign

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals) launched a new ad campaign three weeks ago in their fight against cow milk:

Got autism?

I’m not entirely sure where to start here, PETA. First of all, though I realize that ads meant for billboards and quick web visits are meant to be image-heavy and textually sparse, you’ve provided a whole lot of misinformation in your few measly independent clauses. In asking the lovely “Got autism?” question, are you trying to be sardonic and rhetorical, or are you in fact addressing the 20 million autistics who currently occupy planet earth? Because, sure, I’ve got autism, and no, I had no idea that studies linked cow’s milk to autism. But perhaps your “study” is actually synonymous with what I would call “total crap.” Just a thought. Although, since I’m autistic, it might be that my inner thesaurus is operating on some totally whacked out, casein-induced frenzy. Or how about not?

Anecdotally, some autistics note amelioration of their “symptoms” — e.g., isolation, meltdowns, sensory overload — when they’ve removed dairy and wheat from their diet. (Of course, PETA, you would never crusade against wheat.) However, this “improvement” is anecdotal and not scientific. It could be that some autistics experience food intolerances or digestive problems. But, see, there’s a big problem with this “link” word, PETA, because any protective parent who reads this will assume that milk has been shown to have a causative impact on autism, which it simply doesn’t. There are plenty of vegan autistics who are just as autie or aspie as ever. I suppose, on the positive side, if people were to assume that milk does cause autism, then maybe they’d get their kids vaccinated and stop with the mercury-poisoning mantras.

And then there’s that frowny face, PETA. The Cheerios are a nice touch, really. I’m glad you didn’t use Fruit Loops, because then that might play into the assumption that only autistic children are worth giving a crap about.  But the frown — oh, the frown. I may have difficulty with nonverbals and facial expressions, but I think I’m accurate in concluding that Mr. Cheerio Face is quite weepy and pathetic. Basically, PETA, you and Mr. Cheerio Face are making the assumption that autism is a sad, sad thing. And, quite honestly, it’s not. Autism is a way of life, much like veganism, minus the liking of food-with-freaky-textures thing.

On another page, you write:

Autism is a brain disorder that causes sufferers to have extreme difficulty communicating and relating to others. It is often marked by anti-social behavior like screaming and obsessive repetition of actions, which takes an enormous emotional toll on sufferers and their families. PETA has created a billboard to alert the public to the connection between this devastating disease and dairy-product consumption. …

Anyone who wants to alleviate or avoid the devastating effects of autism should give cow’s milk the boot and switch to healthy vegan alternatives instead.

Again, PETA, you’ve mixed up some pretty important facts. Autism isn’t a disease.  It isn’t something that you wake up with one morning; it isn’t something that you catch on the subway; it isn’t something that goes away. Autism is a neurological condition, a condition that affects how one’s brain is wired. Autistic brains and autistic existence aren’t devastatingly anything, unless you’re claiming that they’re devastatingly awesome.

You ask, “Got autism?” I say, “Yes, I do.” Somehow, though, I don’t think you were ever asking me anything in the first place.

Keep on chugging!

Raise some money to help cure neurotypicality, goshdarnit!

My university — as with many universities, I’m sure — is holding a walk that is being sponsored by Autism Speaks. I learned of this via a newsletter sent out from my school’s disability services office. The promo blurb rambled about cures and epidemics and puzzle pieces and “combatting” ASDs. It all just really, really upset me.

Consequently, in my state of upset-ness, I attempted to parody an Autism Speaks YouTube video: I took an interview with Suzanne Wright (founder of Autism Speaks) and replaced a CNN dude’s questions with my own. It’s not great quality or anything, but producing this has kept me from fulfilling my head-banging desires, so it’s served at least one fruitful purpose. Using Vixy, I captured video of the CNN interview. I then extracted the sound using iMovie and recorded my own voice using Audacity. (I interspersed my “interview” questions with Suzanne’s Wright’s answers from the original video.) I also took a screen shot of the original video and modified it in GIMP to fit the neurotypicality disorder parody.

Original video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GuyTJ…

[cross-posted to the Asperger Syndrome Livejournal Community]