In an opinion piece in the main national newspaper here in New Zealand, Paul Little has a rant about the changing fads of diagnostic labels. He predicts that “depression” will no longer be a condition by mid-century, then goes on to state:
“And now, Asperger syndrome turns out to have been, in many cases, a fancy name to describe people who are rude and can’t be bothered to change their ways. The new edition of the psychiatric profession’s bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, will not recognise Asperger syndrome as a condition. People showing behaviours formerly falling under this label will be seen either to have autism or to not have autism.”
In the piece, the writer shows no awareness of the fact that the autism label is itself being changed, and is likely to thereafter accommodate many of those who currently have an Asperger’s diagnosis. He’s also missed the relevance of the proposed introduction of “Social Communication Disorder,” which would have otherwise being supposedly rich fodder for his attitude towards “rude people,” and which is relevant to the changes to those with an autism spectrum diagnosis.
Putting that aside, I want to ask a question: Why does hate speech get so easily shared by a national newspaper? How is it considered acceptable that someone can take a very large group of vulnerable people, and declare them merely to be intentionally rude people?
The damage this does to these individuals can be profound. Not only does it further stigmatize this group of people, it perpetuates a pop-culture misunderstanding and goes further to claim that the misunderstanding has now being revealed as truth, when in fact it is very clear that the very people making the changes he so approves of, do not hold such a view as his and were not motivated by such a view in deciding to remove Asperger’s. Even cursory research into the reason for the changes to the diagnostic criteria, would have made that clear to Mr Little.
Is it true that some people claim to have Asperger’s to get away with being rude, as he goes on to claim in that same piece? I have no doubt. Those people are just like him though: They have misunderstood Asperger’s and are belittling the lived experiences and hardships of a people they clearly know very little about. Plenty of people pretend to have conditions they don’t have, does that mean the condition was never real for others? Of course not, and yet the writer seems to use this as proof that Asperger’s was always a farce (“for many” anyway).
I personally know of people with Asperger’s who are polite to a fault. This is because they are hyper-aware that they can misunderstand others and be misunderstood because of their challenges reading and reacting to social communication, so they over-compensate by always apologizing even when they’ve done nothing wrong, and second-guessing their every word and action in an effort to not accidentally offend others. Some even hide themselves away, preferring not to personally interact with others, because they fear the mistakes they’ll make. Is that what we think of as intentionally or indifferently rude people? Because that’s the Asperger’s I see everyday.
Not all of those with Asperger’s are like what I describe above, but that’s because they’re human beings with their own various pasts and experiences and preferences and making their own choices in life. Asperger’s does not dictate personality and does not shape every aspect of who someone is: It’s not as simple as “Asperger’s= rude.” To imply it is, is both cruel and ignorant.
I’m all for free speech, but I’m also all for people doing research and applying thought to a topic, before furthering stigma and hurt on a vulnerable group of people. Paul Little can say what he likes (apparently), and a major newspaper can share it with their readers, but so can I reply to point out the rather obvious and objective errors in such a piece, and so can you, because the piece allows comments.
Feel free to let him know that the rudeness (and ignorance) on display, is all his own.