Today was a not-very-good day, full of waking too early on not enough sleep, a pigeon on the Tube train, Tube delays, boring work and sukkah-building (which was actually good, but I was exhausted by then from less than five hours sleep after a day of fasting). I also miss E a lot and being long-distance is just SO HARD now. The most annoying thing was someone on the autism forum claiming that Asperger’s Syndrome isn’t a disability, but actually involves advanced sensibilities and special abilities (superior to NTs) and that if only we could end neurotypical (NT) stigma, Asperger’s sufferers would be fine. I thought this was nonsense and got angry.
When I get angry, it tends to result in pedantry as much as fury. I did think of posting the response below on the forum, but chickened out. I foresaw an endless discussion of what adjustments are “realistic” and just how much NT society would have to change, and how self-destructive those changes would be, to NTs and to society and the economy as a whole, to make things tolerable for those of us on the spectrum. But I’m still angry enough to post it here:
There is a lot I could say to this. I will endeavour to be brief and polite.
Yes, people with Asperger’s are, on the whole, better off than those with severe autism, such as the man in the article [an article about a man with severe autism who was kept essentially in solitary confinement in a psychiatric hospital for years on end]. Yes, some people with Asperger’s survive and even thrive in neurotypical society.
However, living in a neurotypical society is difficult for us, and inherently so, not just because of NT stigma or ableism. The fact is that many aspects of NT communication are difficult or impossible for us. This affects many spheres of life (work, family, friendships, dating/romance/sex). It’s not a case of simply removing supposed NT “ableism.” Asking NTs to stop using eye contact, body language, metaphor, sarcasm, indirect commands etc. would be imposing a serious disability on them in the interests of a more level playing field. This is not the kind of “reasonable adjustment” that equalities law requires. The same goes for ending competitive interview as a method of recruitment, ending team work at school and in the workplace, ending networking and self-promotion in the workplace and so on. If we want to exist in NT world, we have to play by their rules. It just wouldn’t work any other way. And the word for being at a permanent, inherent disadvantage in society is… disabled.
This is without getting into the autistic exhaustion and autistic burnout that are a very real part of high functioning autistic life.
The upshot is this is that I have two degrees, but work part-time in a job I don’t like and am not good at and which isn’t the one I trained for.
As for the “special abilities” and superpowers we supposedly have… well, maybe the lucky few, the Steve Jobses and the Greta Thunbergs, have these, but most of us don’t. I used to be able to hyperfocus, but rarely manage it now. My sensory sensitivities are acute enough to cause me irritation, but not to be useful. I’m not good with numbers or computer code. I am reasonably good at proof-reading, but no more so than many NTs. My encyclopaedic knowledge of Doctor Who has not helped me earn money. To quote Winston Churchill out of context, if Asperger’s is a blessing in disguise, it’s in a very good disguise.
If I wanted to personalise this a bit more, I would say that I struggle with noise levels in workplaces and that I find the Tube, and the crowds in London, increasingly difficult, but adjustments are difficult here. My brain tends not to work fast enough for me to speak coherently when I haven’t planned what I’m going to say, again especially in the workplace and in job interviews; again adjustments are hard, as well as to problems with eye contact and body language, not to mention issues around autistic psychological rigidity and difficulty working in teams in a job market that values flexibility and collaboration. Again, it’s not enough to talk about adjustments: what they want just isn’t what I’m offering. Then there are issues around networking and self-marketing (both important for the self-employed, including writers), or, as autistic people might think of them, small talk and lying, neither of which come easily to us (slight exaggeration, but not much). And I didn’t even mention alexithymia…
Yesterday I broke my quasi-diet because I’d had a difficult fast and felt I’d earned a treat, and then I started feeling shaky and tried to work out what I needed to eat. Today I’m tempted to break it because I had a hard day and miss E. I probably need a better selection of non-calorific rewards, although that leads on to buying things, particularly books and DVDs and I probably have too many of both…