Why Is It Harmful To Name Asperger’s Syndrome A Disorder?

After stating that Asperger’s Syndrome is not a disorder (which I am still claiming), I received a lot of negative criticism from certain groups of people. I noticed that not everyone fully understands the connotations of such claims.

First of all, I am not trying to devalue autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. I acknowledge the existence of both. I am merely trying to establish more positive view of it. I am opposing to the term “disorder”. The pure meaning of the word is implying that when we call something a disorder, we are saying that this particular notion is in a certain way problematic or, to simplify, wrong.  In other words, I am not underestimating Asperger’s, I am strongly against demonizing it by calling it a flaw. Also in some languages, my native language being one of them, Asperger’s Syndrome is described with words that would be translated into English as “disturbance” or something that is in dictionary described as “an occurance that is not in coherence with normal or correct operation”. Therefore I object to that sort of naming. If anyone feels ok with calling themselves “disordered” after this little analysis, well, then they are probably entitled to that sort of denomination (feel free to be offended, if you are one of those people).



Secondly, now that we have explained the terminology, let’s have a look what happens if we accept it without a critical look. Language has a strong impact on society. The use of language influences on societal perception of things. In order to make a change in the way society perceives something, we have to enforce the use of correct terminology and language. If we, aspies, want to be recognized as equal parts of community we have to act accordingly and that begins with the choice of words we use when talking about our condition.

Now let’s explore what are possible effect of calling anything a “disorder” the way most people understand it. For example, one of the manifestations of Asperger’s syndrome is so-called social anxiety (again, the terminology is highly derogatory). Aspies often feel uncomfortable in large crowds of people. If we take on a presumption that this is a symptom of a disorder, we are immediately forced to overcome it. We have to expose ourselves to that discomfort, we have to go and spend time in large crowds just for the sake of it even if we have no business there. It would be against the therapeutic conduct if we just found the way around it. On the other hand, if we accept this merely as a trait that we have, we are perfectly fine handling it in our own way. In most cases that would be simply avoiding situations that are causing discomfort if possible, or just reluctantly do whatever needs to be done if there is no way around it and be happy when it is over. 

Let’s compare this situation to a similar one. Imagine a short person. Not a person with achondroplasia, just a person who is shorter than the average human being. That person faces a lot of challenges in their everyday life. They are unable to reach objects on the top shelves in stores and have to ask either a shop assistant or a fellow buyer for help. In other words, due to their body characteristics they are unable to perform a simply everyday task without assistance. Yet no one will argue that a person is disabled for being 5 feet and 2 inches tall. Because hight is considered a diversity.

I can easily imagine people fiercely arguing that both examples have nothing in common. They do. They are very similar. In the first case we are talking about the diversity of brain and it’s impact on everyday life, while in the second case we are talking about the diversity of body structure and the way it affects us. If we argue that AS is a disorder instead of neurodiversity, we also have to accept the stance that being of any other than the average height is also a disorder.

However, in the end it is up to each individual. If you feel disabled, then you probably are. You are entitled to your own feelings. Speaking for myself, I am aware of my obstacles in life, but I do not feel disabled or disordered. I am aware that my brain is functioning significantly different from the brain of neurotypical people, but I will never claim that they are “normal” and I am “flawed”. We are simply different. I want to be given the same opportunities in life as every other person. It is still up to me what I do with them. But the chances of these opportunities being granted lessen significantly, if I choose to present myself as a priori impaired. 

 

2 thoughts on “Why Is It Harmful To Name Asperger’s Syndrome A Disorder?”

  1. OMG, This article appears as if I just wrote it. I have been fighting for this ever since DSM5 dropped the label. Long live AS of DSM4 era.

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