Being diagnosed with any form of ‘disability’ whether it’s physical or psychological can be extremely difficult in its own right. But for me personally being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome has seemed like a constant struggle for many years.
To put things into perspective, I knew for a long time that I was ‘different’ or as I like to put it, not able to slot neatly into the social circles that abide by expected social norms. Even as a university student, I have been cast aside, let down and betrayed by people that I trust purely on the basis that I am simply too different for the likes of others. I was bullied throughout primary and secondary school, and it was not until year 11 that I understood why. To make matters worse, the child psychologist who diagnosed me didn’t even take the time to really go through the fundamentals of Asperger’s syndrome and how it would affect my life. I believe that there are many people out there like myself who have been labelled with such “disabilities” and are juggling numerous unanswered questions even today: What is it? What does it mean? Can I be cured?
Some of the more common insults aimed at people with Asperger’s
Asperger’s syndrome is a social communicative ‘disability’ and most notably known as a form of autism. A general misconception is that Asperger’s syndrome is the same as autism, and I can tell you in an instant that it is not. Asperger’s syndrome is a part of what is known as the autistic spectrum, which is a spectrum that describes a range of conditions classified as neurodevelopmental communicative disorders, and therefore Asperger’s is an example of an ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder). The spectrum typically has two extreme sides, and people diagnosed with autistic conditions, according to the severity of their symptoms are categorised on one side, the other or in the centre. Individuals who ‘suffer’ mild symptoms fall on one side, those with more severe symptoms are placed on the other, and those who show both mild and severe symptoms fall in the centre.
And in relation to whether or not a condition such as this can be cured, I’m afraid to say that this is not the case. There are many factors that can lead to individuals developing an ASD, but it is not known what the exact causes for such conditions are. Therefore it is impossible to prevent or cure an individual diagnosed with a condition such as this. You may have noticed earlier in the article that I used speech marks for the words disability and suffer – this is because I don’t believe my condition to be a disability, yet behavioural psychologists and scientists have labelled these conditions as disabilities. To describe Asperger’s syndrome as a disability, or any condition for that matter, and to describe the person diagnosed with that condition as a ‘sufferer’ instantly creates a negative image associated with the condition. It implies that the person is not ‘able’ to carry out general tasks or perform and participate in typical day-to-day activities and social gatherings, and I can tell you now this is a very popular misconception. Whether I have an autistic condition or not – I am human and I enjoy normal human things like most people – I prefer to think of it as a difference. A different way of thinking, a different way of looking at things and a different way of interpreting things – but does that mean I’m wrong?
On Tuesday 10th December, The Guardian published an article concerning Britain’s Got Talent singer Susan Boyle who has recently been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, after media speculation suggested that she was suffering from brain damage. In many ways Susan Boyle can be applauded for her decision to reveal her condition to the public whilst considering the enormous social stigma and ridicule that could be attached to it. She is also a great example that people diagnosed with any psychological or physical condition can still go on to lead extraordinary and successful lives, and frankly, I take my hat off to the woman. I have always thought it important to raise awareness of such ‘invisible disabilities’ and there couldn’t be any better way than a celebrity in the public eye to do just that. After all, even some of the great geniuses from the last 4 centuries, such as Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton have been thought to have Asperger’s syndrome, and their achievements and theories will be landmarks for the years to come.
If you still feel you don’t know very much about Asperger’s syndrome and want to become more aware of it, symptoms of those with condition include limited or inappropriate social interactions, obsession with specific topics, challenges with non-verbal communication (such as facial expressions) and lack of eye contact or reciprocal conversation, to name but a few. Another common misconception people have is that everyone diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome is the same. This is not true. For instance, girls with Asperger’s syndrome are generally extremely different from boys with Asperger’s syndrome. The typical differences between boys and girls, such as hormones, thought processes and general interests if anything are heightened with individuals with Asperger’s syndrome. For example, girls with Asperger’s tend to be much better communicators than boys with Asperger’s syndrome. Of course this is not the same for all boys and girls who are diagnosed – but girls tend to have better literacy and verbal reasoning skills whereas boys tend to have better numerical reasoning skills.
I know on countless occasions I have said things that are incredibly stupid without having thought about it first, because of my Asperger’s. But at the end of the day, we’re all different – what’s life without a little variety?
By Naomi Dunn
(Note from the writer: If you have any questions at all regarding this article, or if you are interested in finding out more, please comment below).