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?

Beyond Human

Artwork by Patrice Muricano

Artwork by Patrice Muricano

There is a sense of  longing,

Which envelopes me,

On a regular basis.

It’s more than just,

The longing,

To be accepted.

It runs,

So much,

Deeper,

Than that.

It is the longing to be understood.

To be so completely and utterly known,

By the mind of another,

That no word,

Should ever,

Again,

Be,

Required,

To,

Explain,

Who I am,

How I am,

Or,

What,

I,

Am,

Beyond,

Human.

Autism – Absurdities and Atrocities

Artwork by JudasArt

Artwork by JudasArt

Voltaire once wrote: “ Those who can induce you to believe in absurdities, can induce you to commit atrocities.”

Nowhere is this statement more relevant than when looking at the many perceptions of the causes of Autism.

For example, consider the following two statements regarding Autism.

  • People with Autism experience the world differently due to the impacts of a disease process. This disease process can be cured. Therefore Autism is a condition that we, as a society, have a duty to either eradicate or overcome.

  • People with Autism experience the world differently due to neurological variances that are hard-wired within them at birth. Autism is not the result of a disease process which can be cured. Therefore Autism is an aspect of life that we, as a society, have a duty to seek to understand, respect and accommodate.

Which of the above statements do you believe to be the least absurd?

If you agree that the first statement is the least absurd and therefore, (in your eyes, most likely to be true), then chances are that you will do and try almost anything to either cure or rid yourself or your child of Autism.

The past 50 years have shown that attempts to cure “the autism” out of a child or an adult have had disastrous results.

Yet attempts to cure “the autism” out of a child or adult continue. Some involve relatively harmless and repetitive therapies that do appear to help assimilation.

However, some attempts involve subjecting children and adults with Autism to debilitating, humiliating and ultimately mentally and physically harmful forms of abuse.

Such as forcing persons with Autism to drink bleach, delivering painful punishments, such as kicking, punching, whipping or starvation, to persons with Autism for displaying undesirable behaviors or subjecting them to intense isolation and deprivation of liberty by locking them in rooms or cages.

All of which should be considered crimes against humanity and therefore seen as atrocities.

If you agree that the second statement  is the least absurd and therefore, ( in your eyes), the most likely to be true, then chances are that you will do and try everything you can to be better understand and accommodate for either your own or your child’s Autism.

Over the last 50 years the voices of those with Autism have continuously cried out for understanding and acceptance.

A key aspect of accepting the potential that children and adults with Autism process the world differently involves making the attempt to understand what those differences are, how they impact the individual with Autism and then accommodating for them respectfully.

Accepting and making accommodations for adults and children with Autism , whether that be providing them with safe, quiet places , pressure blankets, clothing without tags, or specialized educational programs, is both respectful and beneficial.

The practice of providing acceptance, respect and accommodation breaks no laws, perpetrates no crimes against humanity and therefore does not induce anyone to commit atrocities.

I prefer statement 2.

How about you?

P.S  I am aware that some may argue the possibility of a third statement in which Autism could be considered a curable disease whose sufferers should be treated with both consideration and respect whilst they are experiencing its disease effects. However, the propensity of those who support statement 1 toward the overall aim of ‘curing autism’ places many adults with Autism, who not only accept their differences but are increasingly proud of them, at odds with such beliefs.

The Price of Conformity

conformity

“I think the reward for conformity,

Is that everyone likes you,

Except yourself.” –

Rita Mae Brown

If this quote speaks to you then speak out,

Because the price that we are all paying,

For our continued silence,

Is simply way too high.

It’s time to teach our children,

That being different,

Isn’t the same,

As being bad.

It’s time to teach our children,

That it’s okay for them,

To be,

Exactly who they are,

In whatever way,

They are,

And that no,

One,

Particular way,

Of being in this world,

Is more valid,

Correct,

Or worthwhile,

Than,

Any other.

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.

Rising to meet the challenges of understanding ourselves as Autistics in a non-autistic world.

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A major challenge that is presented  to many Autists in today’s society is choosing just where it is they wish to stand within the Autism spectrum.

I can proudly claim my right to be an Aspie and not see this as a disability, or  feel the need to change at all to fit into a non-aspergic world.

I can meet with others over the Internet, find a job where I don’t have to socialize with others, and indulge my favorite obsessions without messing anyone else’s life around.

At the other extreme, I can humbly acknowledge my crushing disability, and make extreme efforts to learn compensatory strategies that will help me become as “normal” as possible to fit in with everyone else.

Neither of these extremes suit me, and I’ve taken a middle position on the spectrum, which makes sense considering that I have a spectrum disorder!

I’m not sure whether or not having  Autism is something that I should bother to analyze rationally by seeking a legally framed story of cause and effect to explain it away, or whether it’s just one of the unavoidable hammer-blows of fate?

Or even, perhaps, as some see it, a challenge from the gods, designed to shift me into a different mode of functioning?

I guess in a lot of ways, the difficulty of rising to meet the challenges of understanding ourselves, is no different for us auties and Aspies than it is for the “normal ones” .

The normals still have the luxury (or obstacle?) of being able to hold on to their comforting views of the world, of themselves, of the purpose of life: whereas we are foreigners in a strange world in which we are reminded a hundred times a day that we are visitors to this strange place.

But, could that become a strength?

We may be able to think outside the square – let’s face it, we have little choice, since the square may now be closed to us. My need for literal and straight communication meant I had to be skeptical about anything anyone said to me, go back to first principles and seek truth with logic – an unpopular quest in a social milieu where the admission ticket consists of already knowing and accepting the consensus view, however illogical or untruthful it may be.

Can we, whom the gods have chosen to bless with this challenge, make any positive sense of being on the autism spectrum, and painfully carve out a new direction? Was it a divine intervention to force us to learn a very different way of being to the way of most on this planet? Is it all karma for actions we perpetrated in a past life? Can we learn from our dire experiences some new compassion for the suffering many?


I haven’t yet completed the long process of making sense of it all, and it will probably take me some years.

But I have found that it helps to keep myself open to the possibility that I needed to learn something, probably many things, from the many unpleasant things that happened over the years – bullying, taunts at school, abusive father, social alienation, constant sacking from jobs to name a few. I hope to gain insights that will make me a better person in a spiritual sense, perhaps that the direction I had been headed in during my recent incarnations was in need of change, and that I needed to take on board some painful humility about the common suffering of humanity which will help me become a more giving, forgiving and compassionate person in the end.

I ALREADY AM A HUMAN BEING – Written BY Judy Endow

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“I do not know if you have ever thought of it this way, but it is a step up that today autistics have the opportunity extended to prove themselves human.

As bad as that is and wrong in ever so many ways it is a step up from 50 years ago when I was a kid and we were not even given any chances to try to convince anybody of our worthiness as a human being much less our intelligence. It is all so wrong and such a slow-moving shift it is sometimes difficult to remain positive.

This past week I read two news articles on the same day that made me wonder if anything at all is changing in the attitudes of the general public in terms of knowing and accepting autistics for the human beings we are – YES, AUTISTICS ARE HUMAN BEINGS. Even when we do things differently based on our different neurology WE ARE FULL-FLEDGED HUMAN BEINGS. We do NOT need to first be made to act neurotypical before you grant us the status of HUMAN BEING because WE ALREADY ARE HUMAN BEINGS. I get so weary of reading sentences embedded in autism related news articles that seem to be based on an assumption that we are not truly human, but perhaps can be made into a human being by being forced to behave like a neurotypical person. Here are a few examples:

EXAMPLE 1: This study “examined the relationship between loneliness, friendships and well-being in 108 adults with autism aged 18 to 62 years. The study found that people with autism who have a group of good friends are less likely to feel lonely, depressed and anxious than those without many close friends.”
From: http://sfari.org/news-and-opinion/blog/2013/adult-focus

MY COMMENT: If the presumption is that autistic people are human beings why do we need a study to show that autistic people, just like human beings, feel less lonely, depressed and anxious when they have friends?

EXAMPLE 2: “A diagnosis of autism does not eradicate the essential desire in people to need intimacy. The desire is present, even if the means to achieve the desire – such as confident eye contact, an appropriate smile, looking and not staring – requires intervention by sources that understand autism. The main problem reported for the current lack of tools to help autistic people romantically is funds.”
From: http://www.autismdailynewscast.com/romance-and-autism-dating-is-more-than-possible-for-people-with-asd/3880/ashleyisaacson/

MY COMMENT: Autistics have human desires because WE ARE HUMAN BEINGS. The means to achieve intimacy (or to achieve anything at all connected with our own quality of life enhancement) does not depend on funds to create programs with interventions that force us to act neurotypical.

It is burdensome to have to continually try to convince so many people that AUTISTICS ARE TRUE HUMAN BEINGS. I so much appreciate my autistic friends and allies especially on the days I feel down about the way I am perceived as not quite a real human being. This is why we so much need each other – so we can take turns holding the space for one another when it seems personally hopeless. And onward we go living our lives to the best of our abilities sometimes taking the tickets others extend to us to be part of their world.

And when people don’t willing give me a ticket to participate in the human race – well I hate to say this, but I have learned how to sometimes steal tickets and force my way in at times. I hate stealing, but sometimes it is better than being denied access. The devil part of me wants autistics to go to stealing tickets classes rather than social skills groups. It would be great to learn to take our place in the world being who we are rather than being made to act the part of who we are not as the only way to be allowed access to membership in the human race.

Inclusion is great when it happens, but it puts me in the position of being dependent upon your benevolence to extend it to me. Even though inclusion is meant to be a good thing, and it often is, inclusion also practically turns out to mean that you get to decide when, where, if and for how long I will be given the ticket to be part of humanity.

I am near retirement age and tired of needing to continually wait for society to bestow my own humanity upon me and to act as if that is really theirs to extend to me when in fact it is not! Because you see, regardless of what you believe or how you act – I ALREADY AM A HUMAN BEING.”

If you have enjoyed reading this piece of amazing writing from Judy Endow you can follow her on Ollibean here or please feel free to show your support by  visiting her web site at  http://www.judyendow.com .