Posted in Advocacy, Autistic Identity

I Wish I Could Say I’m Aspergian: Why We Have to Join Up “For the Team”

Every so often, you’ll meet an Autistic who insists on saying that he or she has Asperger’s Syndrome.  That term has been removed from the diagnostic manual because people OTHER than us decided on Autistic being the blanket term.  While there’s good and bad in that, the gist of the reasoning was that those who got the Asperger’s label weren’t getting help, so it was better to call us all Autistic.

That was remarkably helpful of the medical establishment, which is sort of rare.

But had I been in the meeting, I would have said, “Can’t we both be Asperger’s Syndrome, instead?”

But since Asperger’s ONLY (to them) meant “high-functioning,” to ask that question would be tantamount to saying that I wanted to erase the “low-functioning” people from existence.  I don’t believe in functioning labels, but if I DID, I need to support my Neurosiblings who have been considered “low-functioning” first.  As such, I have to bury Asperger’s Syndrome.

Which is sad, I think.

If you’ve read Steve Silberman’s Neurotribes (if you haven’t, please do), you’ll learn about Dr. Hans Asperger and his work.  Unlike later researchers in our area of Neurodivergence, Dr. Asperger seemed to really respect his patients and understood that they just needed to be understood.  When you learn about who an Autistic person is, then you can teach him or her.  It’s pretty much that simple.  In our highly industrialized educational system designed to be able to produce perfect replica students of each other, us Autistics tend to mess up the system.  We need to incorporate our own interests into how we learn and some of us need alternative ways to communicate.  Dr. Asperger and his assistants including Sister Viktorine Zak, who worked with him in the clinic, knew that to teach an Autistic, you have to get to know us.

And he didn’t just work with “high-functioning” types.

A key point of Silberman’s research in Neurotribes is that Asperger was a product of his time.  It was Nazi Germany and they wanted to get “inferior” individuals out of the gene pool (insert mandatory #BoycottToSiri mention here).  In that reality, Asperger didn’t write about his what we’d now call “low-functioning” types simply because that would be inviting his students to be sterilized and/or killed outright.  So, he focused on Autistic, well, Asperger’s, strengths.

He knew how to play the game, and but for an Allied bomb destroying his clinic and research (and Sister Viktorine, who died trying to shield his patients, who lost their lives, too) while he was made to be in the German Army, we’d probably be all Aspergian today.

I’d like to believe we’d have made a lot more progress besides.

But it happened, so here we are, Autistic and therefore, in the eyes of the world, inferior.

And the thing of it is, while we care enough to know the whole story of our people, the average person really doesn’t.  In that reality, we must do the pragmatic thing and all be Autistic together so we can help fight for the right of our seen-as-lesser-functioning Autistic siblings.  It is privilege to be able to pass as neurotypical sometimes, and we need to use it to help those who struggle more at passing.

So I call myself Autistic out and about in public, but in-house, just among other Autistics and allies who know the story, I call myself Aspergian and I pray for the repose of the souls of Dr. Hans Asperger and Sister Viktorine Zak.  I mourn what we lost because of Hitler’s rise to power and the need to bury research that didn’t tell all about us and the many ways we can be Aspergian.  I mourn the generations lost due to the negatives associated with being Autistic or a mother-of-Autistics.

We should have progressed more than this by now.

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