About That Asperger’s Post…

30
Posted January 7, 2013 by JIMMY FOWLER in Blogs
Human brain on white background

Before I’m lynched by an angry crowd of Asperger’s/autism advocates, let me clarify: My intent with last Friday’s “Blotch” post wasn’t to offend anyone living with the spectrum of conditions associated with autism. I have no experience with those challenges, which also means I’m unfamiliar with the daily frustrations they no doubt generate. I take no pleasure in the thought that I’ve added to those frustrations.

However, I believe many of the letter writers misunderstood and/or mischaracterized the post, which was intended to poke fun at people who like to casually diagnose themselves with pop psych versions of a serious condition. I was pointing out that the phrase “Asperger’s Syndrome” has filtered into the public discourse as a vague, catch-all explanation for shyness, social awkwardness, and communication difficulties. Officially returning the syndrome to the autism spectrum, as the DSM-5 is about to do, means that the “Asperger’s” label should no longer be tossed around lightly — it is once again a “very real and unromantic” condition, as I noted.

(Others have made the claim that Asperger’s has been wildly overused and even over-diagnosed –– two New York Times op-eds published last year made this point far more credibly than I ever could. And, unsurprisingly, those pieces angered a lot of Asperger’s/autism advocates).

As far as mentioning Adam Lanza in my post: It was widely reported that the Newtown shooter had Asperger’s. I noted that this may or may not have been true, and suggested that his association with the condition would make it no longer appealing to any nitwit who would casually claim the label. To say that I lumped Lanza in with all Asperger’s patients is, in my opinion, absurd.

The passion and frustration with which Asperger’s/autism folks responded is totally understandable. But I stand by the original point —  the phrase “Asperger’s Syndrome” has been popularly overused and misused to the point of folly.


30 Comments


  1.  
    Asche

    This poor excuse for an apology actually makes the initial article so much worse. You’ve painted all people with Asperger’s as rude, cold and illiterate people which you believe is why social outcasts find the diagnosis so appealing. Completely sickened.




  2.  
    Paula Palmer

    You’re a therapist are you? A social scientist? Well versed in autism? No, no you’re not, but I do think you are ignorant and hateful. We’re members of the autistic community and we’ll let you know when we’re offended by improper characterizations, we don’t need you to fight our battles for us. In the meantime, until then, shut up.




  3.  
    Sybil

    so sad….he obviously does not “get it”.




  4.  
    Kiley Quinn

    Err… if you have no experience with autism, why write anything about it at all? I’m sure there are some other interesting topics to write about.

    It’s probably not worth explaining, but I feel compelled to point out that there really are a great number of undiagnosed adults with Asperger’s syndrome (which first entered the DSM in 1994, long after regular autism, despite first being studied at the same time much earlier in the century) which is why the rates for children look alarmingly high. A lot of adults who “diagnose themselves” by recognizing their lifelong differences in the symptoms get official diagnoses after their children go through the lengthy processes first.




  5.  
    Jill

    If you don’t understand it, why write about it?




  6.  
    Melani

    In your response you state, “I was pointing out that the phrase “Asperger’s Syndrome” has filtered into the public discourse as a vague, catch-all explanation for shyness, social awkwardness, and communication difficulties.”

    The above is only true among those who have no thorough knowledge of Asperger’s and therefore shouldn’t be making blanket statements about it in the first place. I know of no one who was given the Asperger’s diagnosis due to a case of shyness. Asperger’s encompasses so much more, which you have excluded from your writing. Hence, you are just one more person responsible for perpetuating myths regarding Asperger’s.

    I encourage you to read and learn about a topic before you write about it. You will save yourself much embarrassment. And you will prevent additional harm to others who are not deserving of such treatment.




  7.  
    Anna Dawson

    So basically your point is, “I have no experience or knowledge of this subject, but I’m going to ignore that and reinforce stereotypes and misinformation. Oh heck, I’m going to insult a whole section of society, too!”

    First rule: Write what you know. Stay away from writing pieces you’re not willing to research enough to have a formed, halfway intelligent outlook upon.




  8.  
    Bob Castleman

    Mr. Fowler, in his own ironic way, is falling right into the same pit of ‘disease de jour’ that he wishes to discredit. Were it not for the loud protestations of autism advocates, the veritable flood of media coverage of “The Autism Epidemic”, the ugliness of a school shooting spuriously linked to Asperger’s, the topic of this blog post would have no legs.

    But Asperger’s and autism is “hot”. It sells products, it attracts research grants, it snares eyeballs in the blog-o-sphere. Unfortunately, like so many bloggers, the attempt here to distill a complex issue into the few paragraphs suited to the attention spans of our media saturated culture neither illuminates the ignorant nor dispels stereotypes.

    There is always a kernel of truth in such abbreviated descriptions of a subject as deep and wide as autism. There is indeed a group of people that latch on to Asperger’s and autism as justification for their immaturity and selfishness. These people do themselves no good and, further, harm those that must deal with the daily frustrations of a neurological difference that can be disabling even for those most articulate and intelligent.

    As one such articulate and intelligent person, with just such a formally diagnosed Autism Spectrum Disorder and the incumbent challenges it presents, it is my wish that bloggers would opine less and educate more. Our new age of ubiquitous information gives us little excuse for uninformed opinion flippantly tossed into the void, chasing the current hot topic, snagging “likes” and page views. A little time spent digging through the mountains of information no further away than a good search engine would reduce the heat and generate light.

    But I suppose it wouldn’t attract enough clicks.




  9.  
    Shane

    Mr. Fowler,

    I am a functional, successful adult – a licensed, master’s level professional therapist (well versed in the DSM-IV-TR) currently working as the director of a rather large state program – who is a “self-diagnosed” person with Asperger’s (soon to be Autism). After my son was diagnosed with Autism, I began to study the spectrum of disorders with a father’s zeal. The more I digested, the more I began to recognize familiar territory. I began to recognize life-long patterns of behaviors in unfamiliar situations. While on vacation in Florida, I found myself fluttering my fingertips across my thumb unconsciously when I had to approach an unfamiliar clerk at an unfamiliar Walgreen’s (aren’t they all the same?).

    Over the last two years, a creeping realization has come over me. I began to follow a familiar thread through my 35 years – that grad school lab job I lost because I didn’t understand the unspoken social rules, the unintentional interruptions of my coworkers as they spoke, the obsession with computers (hardware, software, and everything in between), the inability to maintain more friendships than I can count on one hand that dates back to at least first grade, the difficulty operating on the same frequency as “regular people” (do “regular people” differentiate “regular people” as an other?), the still-present awkwardness of sexual tension with my wife of 10 years, the brutal and rigid honesty that hurts feelings without understanding that I’ve even done it, my ability to process information at uncanny speeds, on and on and on – it all leads to a single golden thread that makes sense.

    And I fought the internal battle: “Is this a chicken-egg paradigm?”, “Am I only seeing this because I (god forbid) want to?”, “Is it fair for me to speak up as a successful adult on the spectrum so that I can dispel some myths and give parents some hope?”, “How is it possible that no one recognized what makes so much sense?”.

    I graduated in 1996. No one was looking then – not for this. Sure, they IQ tested me, they put me in gifted classes, and then they let me sit in the corner and study college textbooks because they didn’t have any materials for people like me. I rarely had girlfriends. I rarely had friends – not because I didn’t want them, but because I didn’t know how their world worked. I didn’t know how their brains thought. I didn’t know what they liked, because I didn’t know how to analyze them. They weren’t computers. They didn’t have code. They didn’t do things predictably, or by understandable rules.

    For most of my life, it went this way, and then my son was born. Then he started showing signs, and as I started to understand them, I understood myself. I talked to my psychiatrist about it recently. I asked her to reconsider my long-standing General Anxiety Disorder diagnosis within the framework of Asperger’s, and she told me, “Well, it makes a lot of sense, but why does it matter now. You’ve made it this far without knowing what it is that explains what you are, why start now?” What she doesn’t understand is that I need a sense of understanding, and a way to comprehend what has been so hard about my life. Not only does it offer a reason why it’s hard for me to stand in a noisy, crowded, electrified room, but also offers me a sense of belonging and community in an isolated world.

    So, no, Mr. Fowler, I didn’t seek “Asperger’s” because I was socially awkward. I was born this way. It’s as ingrained in who I am as the color of your eyes or hair. It’s as much a part of me as the moles on my skin. It is what makes me valuable to my bosses and the children and families I serve, and it’s what I will always be. My self-diagnosis of Asperger’s wasn’t casual. It was a major turning point in my life, and one that I wish people would have been able to do when I was a child. Maybe then people would have been able to learn better ways to help me, and I wouldn’t have had to navigate my life with the delicate touch of a bull in a china cabinet. And, it would have helped to know that I had Asperger’s so I could have alerted my children’s pediatrician that there was a familial risk factor so we didn’t have to wait until 4 and 8 to find out.

    Words matter, Mr. Fowler.




  10.  
    Aspergerswoman

    So you think social problems are all there is to Aspergers? What about the sensory sensitivity, dyspraxia, dyslexia or hyperlexia, difficulty multitasking, executive functioning problems, poor short-term memory, ADD…? A person can be socially awkward without having AS, but to fake all the rest of it in addition to social difficulties is impossible. Aspergers is made up of much more than social difficulties alone. One must have a bunch of other characteristics too. It’s doubtfully as over-diagnosed as you think. When you’re being assessed for it, they get you to answer hundreds of questions, some of which rephrase previous questions so that you can’t fake it. If you’re faking, you’ll get caught out by giving inconsistent answers and you won’t be diagnosed. Lazy blogging is dangerous especially when it targets people who are already stereotyped in negative and unaccurate ways already. Take some responsibility when you’re writing to such a public medium and do your homework next time you’re going to tackle a serious issue, or else leave it to those who know what they’re actually talking about.




  11.  
    Sheila McDonald

    Those with Asperger’s aren’t separate from autism itself…they are autistic but with early verbal. Pretty much that is it. The other receptive, expressive, and processing issues still exist…the new ‘label’ just means that the name is dropped but these people will still be on the ‘autism spectrum’ because they are still autistic. AND likely those kids who are shy, awkward, etc are also on the spectrum and just not properly diagnosed. It takes a skilled psychologist to find those underlying LD’s that create the autistic profile especially where the person is highly intelligent which is usually the case. The more intelligent a person is, the more it masks underlying disabilities and therefore overall disorder in a complete profile.




  12.  
    Regina

    If you don’t to offend people, just don’t.
    As someone pointed out, you say that Aspergers became the “excuse” for people who are too shy, or whatever you call it. But then you go on to stereotype them as “similar” to mass murderers. See the problem here?
    If you don’t understand autism, don’t write about it. If you believe self-diagnosed Aspergers are only trying to find an excuse, talk to some, ask them why, what changed, how they feel, how they felt.
    Otherwise, stay away from topics you don’t understand, writing what offends people and then non-apologizing for it.




  13.  
    Troy

    The problem with your comments is that they shed doubt on those diagnoses. If you had a child with autism you would know that we are riddled with doubts as most of our children look just like everyone else’s. Even with a valid diagnosis from professionals, my wife and I still are shamed by people in the supermarket who look at us with those, “why don’t you do something?” looks. We are in a constant state of second-guessing. These types of articles fuel the fire of our own doubts since to most outsiders, our daughter’s defiant outbursts look just like disrespect that should be disciplined. Early on we attempted that discipline for hours on end and it did nothing. My point is that to the untrained eye, it may look like the label we worked against for years that you might qualify as a “pop psych” diagnosis. It’s not so easy to discern.




  14.  
    Becky Jarrell

    Sir. You make me sick. If you didn’t do any research then you SHOULDN’T have written an article. Your apology it trite and meaningless. I can’t believe you are gainfully employed, but it shows me that the FW Weekly is NOT someplace that I will ever be visiting again and I will be raising my voice against it. Whether you intended to stick your foot in your mouth or not you have and your half assed apology, sir, means jack until you realize that maybe you should STICK with writing about what you know:

    “I have no experience with those challenges, which also means I’m unfamiliar with the daily frustrations they no doubt generate.”

    It’s sickening that you would even think about writing an article about a subject on which ONLY your opinions are the base. Really. Really. Really.

    I can’t believe how disrespectful you really are, maybe you should be transferred to the opinions page… or maybe you should rethink your audacity and resolve to STOP writing about subjects on which you do not have a respectful amount of research.

    you casually dismiss things that are vitally important to a LOT of people and that, sir, is COMPLETELY unforgivable.




  15.  
    Mister Chillax

    I don’t really care one way or the other, but it seems that all the commenters are missing the point. Back when Rain Man movie came out, the dumb public began using Tourettes to describe every eccentric person they knew. The bipolar became the flavor of the month to apply to anyone who freaked out about something. Now this blogger is talking about how asperbergers is the new phrase that is, as the writer says, “intended to poke fun at people who like to casually diagnose themselves with pop psych versions of a serious condition.” Some people just like to get mad.




  16.  
    Obama's Seat

    Funny, but I don’t recall anyone describing Warhol as having Tourette’s.




  17.  
    Daniel J. McGraw

    These missives accusing Mr. Fowler of being “ignorant” and “hateful” are in themselves the very same thing. Having worked as a journalist for many years, my view is that Mr. Fowler wasn’t being that way at all. Maybe “inquisitive” is a better word. But many people don’t like that either, especially if the inquisitiveness doesn’t conform with their opinion.

    Mr. Fowler was writing about Asperber’s Syndrome as it related to recent news reports and from a persepective that was “outside the bubble” of those who have the disease and those who may care and deal with people that have it. He was giving those people a perspective that I thought they might want to know, namely that some people perceive that Asperger’s is the disease of the week and those people who perceive it that way miss the seriousness of those who have it. I would think people very involved with Asperger’s on various levels might want to know what the public perception is regarding this disease, and use that information to develop a strategy to change public perception, get more grants for studying treatment, and to get the word out there as to what this really is (instead of just basing it on the “Boston Legal” character). But the key point here is that one has to get outside of their bubble and look at things from an objective perspective. Some people cannot do that, even if it is in their best interest to get outside their bubble from time to time. From the posts I’ve read here, most are incapable of doing that.

    The bigger issue is the manner in which this was posted. Journalism is based on being inquisitive, but to do that correctly takes time and money. Mr. Fowler could have written a very good report on public perception of Asberger’s and include how people who have Asberger’s feel about that perception. Might have taken a week or so. But the media doesn’t work that way anymore. I’m sure Mr. Fowler is encouraged to post things on this blog to fill the space and get views. But the expectation of the FW Weekly ownership is to have writers do that without being paid extra for doing it. So these quick, off-the-kuff, one hour or less research and writing opinion pieces are favored over real reporting. Eventually, the result is obvious: you get what you pay for.

    If you don’t like my views on this, post your response. But don’t claim I am “hurtful” and “ignorant” because my view doesn’t align with yours.




    •  
      Paula Palmer

      You’re categorizing this as journalism, we’re calling it hate speech.




      •  
        Hmmmmm

        It’s not journalism or hate speech, it’s blogging. Welcome to the 21st Century.




        •  


        •  
          Daniel J. McGraw

          And one more thing. Don’t think just that blogging is out there by itself in its own category. It is merely the physicality on which words are written RIGHT NOW. If Moses were to go up to the top of the mountain today, God would send the Ten Commandments to his I-Phone. Welcome to the 21st century, as well as the centuries that came before (scratching on cave walls, papyrus, guttenberg printing press, smoke signals, morse code, fax machines…). Hmmmmm.




          •  
            Hmmmmm

            Moses would get his ten commandments on his I-phone and relay them to the masses. Then he would go the bar and drink with friends. They would talk about the commandments and discuss their true feelings and crack some off color jokes because that’s what people talk about in bars. Later Moses would blog about his thoughts and probably piss people off because he couldn’t resist throwing in a couple of off color jokes and salacious commentary because its a blog post not a sermon on the mount or an investigative article or even a typical news story. It’s just Moses riffing in an unguarded, glib manner that can lead to non-politically correct statements. That is not traditional journalism.




            •  
              Daniel J. McGraw

              Moses “riffing on the commandments” at a bar would not be journalism. Journalism would be a third party finding out about how Moses got the commandments, his view of what they mean, the response by others who might be affected by them coming from this God, and what the future might hold. Based on what you posted about Moses in the bar, I think you have a very limited sense of what journalism is. Basically, it is finding something that interests the person, then he/she finds out what they can about it, and then put that out in whatever format is being used. It is about content. Blogging is a word inented that has nothing to do with content; it has to do with how the information is distributed. There is not a formal way of doing journalism, nor are there topics that journalsist should stay away from. But I do know what it is not. It is not merely having an opinion on something, posting it, and have whoever wants to read/post to it. There has to be some semblance of trying to find out why something is the way it is, how it affects people, what makes things tick. This can be funny or serious, help people or not, maybe just be a good read. It is all about content, not the way it is disseminated. And in the end, it is all about quality. But it is very hard to do any quality work in a world that can only read three sentences at a time.




      •  
        Daniel J. McGraw

        Journalism if you like it, hate speech if you don’t. I tend to think there might be something in between. Something that, let’s say, encourages civil discussion. But it takes two side to do that.




  18.  
    Daniel J. McGraw

    Excuse the typos. It’s Asperger syndrome (tough to understand for, tough to spell as well for some).




  19.  
    Leilona Catanzaro

    The goal of our community is the educate, spread awareness, and stop misconceptions. We come on strong, but this is what we do for ourselves and our babies. I am a honey badger mom. My son is hard-wired for struggle and I will not stand for blogs like this smearing the name children who have ASD. Most people would know that Aspergers is ASD. Calling it the diagnosis of the week is a very sheltered perspective. I laughed at the first paragraph, it was harmless. However, the last paragraph of your piece was sickening. Anyone who is undoing all that early intervention programs and non-profit organizations try to do with mainstreaming deserve the full affect of us angered honey badgers. We deserve an apology.




  20.  
    Leilona Catanzaro

    The goal of our community is the educate, spread awareness, and stop misconceptions. We come on strong, but this is what we do for ourselves and our babies. I am a honey badger mom. My son is hard-wired for struggle and I will not stand for blogs like this smearing the name children who have ASD. Most people would know that Aspergers is ASD. Calling it the diagnosis of the week is a very sheltered perspective. I laughed at the first paragraph, it was harmless. However, the last paragraph of your piece was sickening. Anyone who is undoing all that early intervention programs and non-profit organizations try to do with mainstreaming deserves to be told so. We deserve an apology.




  21.  
    Brian Jensen

    I don’t think I’ve ever met a Pop Psych Aspie, and I’ve been participating in the DFW Aspie community for nearly two years. I suspect that the PPA is similar to people like welfare queens and fake nerd girls; groups that don’t exist or exist in insignificant numbers that people use to uphold their bigotry. Only now, instead of sexism or classism, people use this to uphold beliefs about the illegitimacy of certain disorders.





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