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Compare and Contrast

I have now heard from at least two friends I trust about a growing movement of people online who believe they might have Asperger's Syndrome. Back in the day, people thought they were depressed, and lots of people said they had terrible bouts of depression that made them think about killing themselves. They took a lot of online quizzes about that, and made long blog posts about how horrible the world was, and how absolutely bleak their outlook for the future was meant to be. They wore black. They listened to morbid obsesso music. They read Anne Rice. They roleplayed vampires.

Quite a number of them grew up to be pretty normal adults, with pretty normal families.

They never had day of therapy to their name. They never wound up in hospital after a failed suicide attempt. They never wound up in a box when their suicides worked. They just took online quizzes, and grew up. I hate how that works.

And now there are online quizzes for Asperger's Syndrome.

I'm just thinking here -- why does anyone even want to have Asperger's Syndrome? Patients with Asperger's Syndrome typically ruin the mental, emotional, physical and possibly the financial wellbeing of the people closest to them. It is like any other severe, life-changing illness. It brings severe life-changes. The irony being that for people with Asperger's Syndrome, as it would be for the autistic, these severe life-changes usually happen to the people around them, since, the patients themselves rarely have the kind of world view necessary to even understand they're sick.

It is not about being clever. Look, patients with autism and autistic-spectrum disorders are not actually clever. They're fixated and specialized. They usually know one subject, and they stick with it their entire lives. This means they study, practice and think about virtually nothing else, at the expense of virtually everything else. When you think about it like that, many religious hermits are probably exhibiting a kind of autistic-spectrum disorder, but then again, many religious hermits are also capable of thinking creatively, expansively and between the lines -- you'd have to, to think philosophically. Patients with autism and autistic-spectrum disorders cannot think beyond a single, straight line. They play one single role and that's all they will ever want to do. They do not know how to deviate.

It is not about being clumsy. Yes, the levels of clumsiness vary. Some autistic persons or persons with autistic-spectrum disorder are perfectly capable of handling PS2s. Others might have trouble sitting up. If you want some kind of perspective on this, I once met a boy who was not remotely autistic, but who had been blind his entire life, who could beat everyone he met at Mortal Kombat II. It is not like lacking the hand-eye coordination to dance. It is like never being able to tie a dead knot or threading a needle possibly into adulthood, if ever. It is like walking into every puddle, pile of dog poop, pool of shattered glass, fallen razor blades or sharp branch you come across, not having even realized they were there. It is not a matter of, yeah, I seem to be walking into these things a lot. It is walking into these things all the time, without fail, sometimes twice or thrice even after having walked into them before.

It is not about being twitchy. You know what it's like, when you're faced with an insect you mortally fear, like a spider, a cockroach, a cricket, a dog, a cat, a rabbit, a hamster, a house lizard or a mosquito, you are so horrified, you can't move a hair? You know how it's like to be so afraid of sparks, like from gas stoves, matches and lighters, you will never be able to use a stove, no matter how hungry you are, even when you are surrounded with raw ingredients that only needed to be put on the fire, even if that means, as an adult, you'll have to wait for other adults to come home before you can eat? You know how it is, when you're afraid of strangers saying, "Fuck you!" on the road and giving you the finger, that you have to pull over and have an asthma attack? You don't? Then you're probably not autistic.

It's not about bad socializing skills. Asperger's Syndrome patients can barely read facial expressions. They don't understand tonal differences in vocalized conversation. They won't be able to see or make sense of metaphors in written correspondence. You might notice that people with Asperger's seem to yell a lot. They're not necessarily deaf, or think that you are. They don't really understand, without a lot of training, that human speech has all these emotional cues. They certainly wouldn't understand, without a lot of training, or otherwise being explicitly told what you meant, whether you're frustrated, tired, sad or happy. They may understand very blatant emotions -- demonstrated anger and happiness. For the latter, they might be very surprised you got angry at them, when they hadn't done a thing wrong, even if you'd been wincing in pain and making a face that looked like you were about to take off their head for the last half an hour.

It's not about "finding it hard to fit in". It's not like getting pimples. It's not like listening to different music from your peers and wearing heavier makeup, or even catgirl costumes. It's not about you perceiving the alienation of yourself. Asperger's Syndrome patients can't actually perceive how messed up they are compared to other people. That's the paradox of being an AS sufferer. They can feel frustrated that their attempts to socialize aren't being met with open arms. They can accuse other people of not being empathic towards them. They can shut themselves away out of fear they might be reproached (for talking to other people). But they don't have the wiring to look at themselves and self-criticize. They don't look at themselves and go, "I'm so weird. I can't fit in with other people. I care about making myself work for others." They will look at themselves and go, "I'm so weird. Everyone else is so fucked up. Why the fuck don't they care about me?"

They never stop.
They never think about others.
They can't perceive alienation on the inside.

Which brings me back to my original point: Patients with Asperger's Syndrome typically ruin the mental, emotional, physical and possibly the financial wellbeing of the people closest to them.

They don't care about the people in the wake of their nuclear fallout. They will only ever see their right to cause nuclear fallouts. They will only understand how to use, and never give back.

They are the ultimate assholes.

Asperger's Syndrome is an illness that creates assholes. Real assholes. Not assholes who will one day realize the error of their ways when the father who worked his fingers raw to send them to therapy their entire lives finally collapses in front of them in a stress-related heart attack. Not assholes who will weep over their mother's grave when she finally kills herself after psychiatrists, antidepressants and support groups combined could not save her from feeling alone -- raising a child who will never, ever say, "Please."

If you get your kicks out of making your spouses feel like strangers in their own home; if you get your kicks out of making your children feel like you are the parent they're never going to have; if you think it's awesome that you are going to grow up, and find that everyone hates you and you have no idea why, well... my god-shaped hole, you're one selfish fucker.

But you'd also not have Asperger's. A person with Asperger's Syndrome would encounter all these illogical, emotional responses, and not even know it.

So grow up. Take your fucking online quizzes, and grow the fuck up.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 4th, 2007 09:33 am (UTC)
*grins* Yeah, it's like product placement. Or maybe products do catch up that fast with mental problems, because it's so easy to imagine you have one, instead of you know, change!

Of course, re: depression and Asperger's, therapy can really suck for these issues, and you can still get help and find the help just uber frustrating. I keep wanting to stay stuff about willpower and "deal with it", but then again, I know it's not that easy. So. :/

PS: It is AWESOME to see you around again!
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 6th, 2007 03:51 pm (UTC)
I appreciate seeing your posts around, at any rate. You still have one of the most interesting lives I have seen and wish to live vicariously through! (Though I really haven't said much, and feel bad about that.)

And yeah, there are people who'll take quizzes, think they might have a syndrome, and believe in "struggling". And there are people who've been to doctors and end up struggling anyway. So it is a matter of balance. Still, when all is said and done, getting at least a medical diagnosis of what you think you might have is, to me, a start. When I first went to therapy for depression, my psychiatrist thought I had anxiety. People only believed I was suicidally depressed when I ODed on the medication I was given for anxiety 2 weeks later. Life is like that, unfortunately. :(
Dec. 4th, 2007 03:49 pm (UTC)

I have now heard from at least two friends I trust about a growing movement of people online who believe they might have Asperger's Syndrome.

ahh, I'd blame the current cycle of America's Next Top Model.
Dec. 6th, 2007 03:52 pm (UTC)
I don't watch the show, so I'm not sure here -- how are Asperger's and Top Model related, if I may ask?
Dec. 6th, 2007 04:53 pm (UTC)
one of the contestants has a mild case of Asperger's
Dec. 6th, 2007 08:03 pm (UTC)
Dec. 4th, 2007 03:58 pm (UTC)
Why would anyone "want" Asperger's, or at least want to claim that they have it?

I suppose one part of it is probably wanting to have a pity party for themselves - a new level of Internet attention-whoring.
They don't want the disease but they do want the sympathy that comes whenever anyone says, "I am sick".

In the case of these Internet "Aspies" (good god I hate that term so hard) it also allows them to be as assholish as they want to be on the Internet, no real responsibility needed. "It's okay everyone, he's not really a dick, he's just got Asperger's!"
Dec. 5th, 2007 05:15 am (UTC)
Well, let me play Devil's Advocate here.

Imagine you're a geeky outsider. You have goofy fixations people have commented on, or you just feel slightly ashamed of. You may have mild social anxiety, like panic attacks in public or stressful situations or whatever.

You come across a quiz like, "Do YOU have Asperger's?" Maybe you take it as a joke, maybe you are actually curious, maybe you just love taking online quizzes.

The quiz has questions like; "Have you ever dropped anything?" and you think, "Well, sure, occasionally."

It takes a lot of little questions like this, like, "Do you sometimes not look at peoples' faces when talking to them?" or "If there is an interruption, can you switch back to what you were doing quickly?"

Or questions involving social anxiety. Do you not like change? Do you find it hard to make new friends?"

Presto. Your average geeky person scores, "You have Asperger's Syndrome!" with a long list of exactly the symptoms they supposedly have. It all makes sense. And now you have a reason for being the way you are.

A small section of people will then use that as an excuse to be creepy to people online. But most will be happy to know they finally have a reason for being a bit of an outcast.
Dec. 6th, 2007 04:16 pm (UTC)
Therein lies the problem at the heart of online quizzes touting a new disorder to love. Many of the questions are leading, however unintentionally. Asking someone, "Do you sometimes not look at peoples' faces when talking to them?" is a fair question enough on its own. But you'd have had to have direct experience observing an autistic person to really know just how extreme this trait is on a person with the disorder.

Many Joe Average Geeks do not have that point of reference. And if you're taking a quiz for a syndrome you may not have even heard about prior to that except in passing -- as many people invariably do, the risk of assuming too much is high.

On the bright side, there are other increasingly varied and viable ways to explain being an outcast, while feeling like you belong to a group of like-minded humans. (Think about that -- we're an odd species, wanting to be individuals and yet be part of a group of individuals too.) How do we explain dolfie fanciers, comicbook slashers, anime con-goers... the list moves from the very obscure to the very mob-like. It is possible to find alternative outcasts to suit your needs, rather than borrow an autistic syndrome. Perhaps, after the trend is over, many people might find something else to do.
Dec. 11th, 2007 10:09 am (UTC)
The whole "I'm an Aspie too!" problem really does predate the online quizzes, though--it's just that it's hitting that mainstream popularity rush right around now, after a couple of years of circling the "20/20" / "Primetime Live" type shows.

I saw folks trying to latch onto this as early as 2000, as a way to retrofit their social ineptitude into something more acceptable. "It's not that I need more practice socializing, it's that I am biologically incapable of talking to real people so I shouldn't be expected to."


As with ADD, I expect it will soon hit a point where everyone hears the term, rolls their eyes, and chooses to ignore unless it somehow proves to be actually relevant within five seconds of being mentioned.
Dec. 6th, 2007 04:04 pm (UTC)
"Aspie" as a term pisses me off too. It's an illness, not a cute top. As I once put it to a friend, "It's not even like a pair of nice legs on a girl you'd otherwise find too ugly to [do rude things to]." So that I may fill my bad analogy quotient for the day. :)

It's just that, unlike depression, having an autistic-spectrum disorder is entirely the wrong sort of syndrome to borrow for sympathy. I mean, as mental disorders go, it's probably a lot more sympathetic to your cause to say you're alcoholic than it is to say you're autistic. Firstly, the former has at least the chance for a cure -- which may appeal to some folks, as they want a syndrome with no cure -- but some of us like our veneer of redemption. Secondly, I wonder if a lot of this has to do with how we've been going politically correct about "special people" over the last couple of decades. From a sheer reductionist standpoint, going around saving the most varied members of our gene pool, the ones that require the highest amount of care, effort and resources because they won't survive without these things, is a desperate waste of resources. A three-legged chicken in the barnyard is not special to other chickens, or probably even the farmer. It's FOOD for all. But I have been told I'm pessismistic. :)

I think it's the real idea that you can be "special", otherwise known as ... rather low on basic human functions ... and thus, held up as the noble freak, that appeals to people who'd want to be autistic. It's just -- I mean, with depression and alcoholism, at least you're not directly admitting to having lower-than-average intellingence. It's pathetic what we humans have sunk to for attention.
Dec. 11th, 2007 10:11 am (UTC)
Oh, but Afi, the people laying claim to Asperger's are the same people who talk about being PROUD of being autistic, and how it's a spectrum of neurological functioning and not necessarily impaired or wrong functioning, and all this you're saying, gah, it's all so neurotypical of you to ignore their special gifts...

In other words, how dare you not indulge in their illusion of being precious and unique snowflakes!
Dec. 4th, 2007 06:30 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this. I'm a psychology graduate and it's a real shame we never got to tackle autistic disorders more intimately (especially Asperger's... heck, I don't remember it being mentioned in my Abnormal Psych class!). So, while I may not be practising my degree, I still do like reading and studying about disorders, especially in the perspective of people who have experienced them first-hand.
Dec. 6th, 2007 04:22 pm (UTC)
Thank you for reading me. I find it a bit surprising that autistic disorders weren't discussed (even as a specialty course) at your college. Is this common?

In the way of things, I'm not entirely happy I've had the opportunity to experience an autistic-spectrum disorder firsthand, but at the same time, I'm still glad that I had the chance to experience it, if only because it is a kind of knowledge. It's also a good form of self-comfort. I have the opportunity to study the kid, after all. :)

(PS: I like your icon. It's provocative, yet cute! Possibly one of the more obscene computer icons out there, without being actually obscene!)
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )