Asperger’s Syndrome – Could the concept of Superpowers be causing more harm than good?

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There’s been a lot of talk about the increasingly popular idea that people with Asperger’s Syndrome possess some kind of superpower.

Indeed, many people seem to genuinely believe it.

Search any website on the topic and you’re sure to find groups of people who freely name their superpower and then describe in minute detail the extraordinary things that whatever their particular superpower of choice may be, enables them to do.

To me, such talk of there being any form of an Asperger type superpower is ultimately harmful as it reflects the misbegotten and much argued against concept that those with Asperger’s Syndrome view themselves as being, in many ways, superior to everyone who does not have Asperger’s.

It wasn’t all that long ago that we were fighting against the claim that all people with Asperger’s Syndrome were arrogant, detached, cold, sub-human, robot type intellectual beings, who were capable of memorizing complex physics equations , but who were also seen as being every bit as humorless , heartless and as incapable of feeling empathy as a toaster is.

Fortunately, we’ve come an awfully long way since those days.

As a society, we are now able to openly acknowledge that individuals with Asperger’s are extremely loyal and loving people who are just as capable of feeling empathy and sympathy as everyone else.

We also know that individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome give as much care and devotion to those whom they love as the rest of the population do.

We simply could not account for the fact that there are so many happily married and/or dedicated and loving parents with Asperger’s if the opposite were true.

Yet it seems that correcting the many myths and multiple misnomer’s that once served to create the image of individuals with Asperger’s as cold, heartless, intellectual machines, is simply not enough for some people.

Now, we are being encouraged, if not told, to believe that we must all tow the party line and admit to having some kind of hidden, yet terribly important, superpower.

A superpower that only those with Asperger’s Syndrome can have.

A superpower that serves , once again, to prevent us from being seen as existing within the realms of common humanity by re-framing us as having powers that go beyond the scope of an average human being.

Given that we’ve spent years fighting for the acknowledgement that we are human beings who just happen to be differently neurologically wired, as opposed to being weird, cold and sub-human beings with a superiority complex, I find it incredibly ironic that there is now a movement out there that is openly seeking to regenerate the whole ‘superiority’ angle by declaring that we have superpowers.

Apart from the fact that such claims are all pretty much bunkum, to what end does it serve to seek to over emphasize a whole range of weird and wonderful , mystical, new age types of manifestations or hidden talents within individuals with Asperger’s ?

Okay it may be good for an individual’s level of self-esteem to believe or feel as if their talents are valued, but as for the rest of the en mass movement toward claiming superpowers as an Asperger’s only thing….. Well I just don’t get it.

Yes we have empathy for others and in some cases we can be overwhelmed by the empathy we feel due to not being able to process it and understand it for what it is, as quickly as others do, but why on earth are some people striving so hard to rename this difficulty in storing empathy and in not being able to release it, as a superpower?

Why are some people now saying that someone who is good at storing information, regardless of whether or not they actually want to store that information, now has an information storing superpower?

Or that someone who has a photographic memory now has a photographic memory superpower.

Should someone who can play a piece of music after only hearing it once now be said to have a music playing superpower?

Should someone who can sing in a pitch perfect tone each and every time they sing, now be given the title of having a pitch perfect superpower?

Does someone who can draw a perfect skyline based solely on memory have the superpower of drawing, memory or both?

You’ll have to forgive me but not so long ago, we simply called these unique attributes skills or talents.

We certainly didn’t call them superpowers.

And we certainly didn’t ascribe to the belief that only those with Asperger’s Syndrome could do such things and thus hold such superpowers.

There are many people out there who are good at storing information that don’t have Asperger’s Syndrome. Take pub trivia nights for example or quiz shows like Sale of the Century or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. You cannot seriously tell me that every single person who’s ever won big on any of those shows has Asperger’s.

(Here’s a hint, a contestant with Asperger’s would likely by so nervous or stuck in the midst of experiencing sensory overload due to the bright lights, movement of cameras and audience noises, that they’d have to be working extremely hard on just hearing and processing the questions, let alone getting out all of the answers required to win in that environment).

There are also numerous people who can play music by ear, draw pictures from memory and sing pitch perfectly every time, without ever first holding the prerequisite of having Asperger’s Syndrome in order to have their talents recognized without turning them into superpowers.

As far as I’m concerned, the minute we claim that the skills and talents that have always been apparent within a sub-set of the general population belong only to one particular sub-group, and we then name those skills and talents superpowers, we are falsely claiming a degree of superiority over every other group or individual, no matter how talented, that are not of our chosen ilk.

I believe that anytime a sub-set of the population declares itself to be the holder of superpowers; they are in a very real way, also declaring themselves to be superior to every other group and are therefore actively seeking to set themselves not just apart, but above, all other groupings within society.

I believe that in making the claim toward having superpowers and therefore superiority over the rest of society, some within the Asperger’s community are indeed trying to set themselves both apart and above society.

Which to me makes no sense at all, as up until now, the emphasis for many within the Autism Community has been on creating acceptance via the understanding that we are all, each and every single one of us, equal as human beings, no matter what our neurological status may be.

So please, think about what it is you are actually saying when you say that [insert type of skill here]  is my superpower because when you actually claim this as an individual with Asperger’s, you are effectively adding to the erroneous myth that each and every person with Asperger’s either is or considers themselves to be gifted and talented beyond all normal human measures.

After all, isn’t that exactly what a superpower?

So I ask you, is this really just a harmless way of making individuals with Asperger’s feel better about their unique traits, skills and talents, or is it something that could potentially cause more harm than good in terms of the concepts of equality and acceptance for all within our society?

Autism from an adults perspective – “It’s a horrible feeling of vulnerability and helplessness to know that the non-autistic world sees you as seriously impaired”.

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Bitterness is a trap Aspies and Auties can easily fall into; it’s entirely understandable, but it doesn’t help the healing process. There is something that can be quite embittering for many of us on the autism spectrum, something appallingly undermining. For a start, there’s the stigma, the social taboo, the fact that to some people, you are now an embarrassment, and some of them show it.

On the inside, it’s a horrible feeling of vulnerability and helplessness to know that the non-autistic world sees you as seriously impaired, and there are a million and one ways it will try to make you feel as if you are not a fully functioning human being. At best, you know you’ll never be quite “normal”; and in a herd-mentality society that subsists on the fragility of social acceptance, this knowledge can a times indeed be a bitter pill to swallow.

This feeling of being vulnerable, confused and a bit lost, still happens to me every day, even  after more than forty years of dealing with it.

I was not diagnosed as having Asperger’s syndrome until adulthood, but well before that I did not produce appropriate emotional responses on meeting other humans, and that led to a disastrous cascade effect – I lost contact, became withdrawn, and fell off the cumulative ladder of social-emotional learning.

To this day, I have significant degree of impairment with social-emotional skills. I can’t be sure I am reading people’s signals accurately. Indeed, often I know I haven’t, even before they become guarded and then pissed off – I’m not at all sure I fully understand what they are saying, especially if they are “being polite” or trying to imply something rather than saying it straight out. I need direct, literal communication: and on this cagey, dodgy planet I seldom get it, which means that much of the time I can’t be sure that I did in fact “get it”.

I often have to ask for clarification, which can lead people to think that I am a “please explain” duh-brain; it also leads to conflict because they think I’m just being awkward in not accepting what they think they have said, or not coming back with what they deem the appropriate emotional response.

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At such times, my underlying high IQ is not obvious to the casual observer. This can all add up to a very embittering feeling of insecurity – the feeling that I am condemned to a position of permanent and humiliating disadvantage, of seeming to be a bit of an idiot.

Bitterness can set in when living with autism or Asperger’s syndrome. But is it possible to leave the bitterness behind, to work through it to a sunnier place? I hope so. I’m still working on mine: here are some ideas I’ve found helpful.

The first point is one that actually elongates the process rather than shortening it. I have often been told that I need to forgive, to let go, to move on. That is true: but it is utterly pointless trying to do that unless we have first fully, honestly and laboriously worked through all the negative feelings, all the grief we have about not fitting into this world. It is vital and indispensable that anyone who is on the autism spectrum has the absolute right to go through our own grieving process in our own time, and let go of it all only when we are REALLY ready to do so.

Forgiveness is not an instantaneous action, a simple stroke of volition. It is a difficult emotional process, and it simply doesn’t work if we try to jump stages. It is easy to say we must forgive, let it go. Yet we cannot forgive until we have let the anger up to the surface and expressed it. And don’t ask whether or not your feelings are reasonable – feelings are never reasonable. They are not meant to be reasonable: feelings are feelings, not rational ideas. Don’t get the two confused, they are very different phenomena.

Thus, to get to the stage of being able to let go of our resentments, we must work through all the powerful stages of grieving – the denial, the depression and hopelessness, the slowly mobilizing anger, the growing reconciliation to our new, impaired daily reality, the radical reassessment of our goals, life experiences and interpretations. It takes time, often a lot of time – and we need to allow ourselves to do it in our own impaired time, not on a schedule suggested by well-meaning (or otherwise) helpers.

At all times, I try to keep one guiding principle in mind and that is that the fact that I am an Aspie does not make me less of a human being.

Nor does it detract from my indelible human rights – including above all the right to make a positive contribution to the betterment of the human condition in whatever ways I can.

I may be different but I’m still a human being and just like every other human being I will have my good days and my bad days and my own unique ways of processing past hurts.