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 – Is it really our duty to educate you?

Artwork by San Base

Many within the Autism community seem to feel that we have a duty to help educate ‘professionals’ by exposing our own personal experiences of Autism to them with in Autism specific forums.

Personally I’m not at all sure that I agree with this premise, as it all too often holds the potential to place  those of us with Autism,  in the unenviable  positions of feeling over exposed.

Which for many, can also amount to making us feel vulnerable.

The belief that it’s up to any one particular minority group to educate the wider community in order to create the understanding that they have the right to be treated as equals, is an issue that many other minority groups have faced.

And just like those within the Autism Community, many other minority groups have also had to cut their teeth on the harsh reality that not everyone who’s interested in you, is genuinely trying to help or understand you.

For example, back in the late 70’s, early 80’s, a male a researcher who was interested in researching gay males, pretended to be a gay man himself in order to win their trust,  and acted as “lookout” for them in bathrooms and public venues, whilst at the same time recording details of their interactions with each other.

He  then began following them back to their cars, taking down their number plates and with the help of a friend in the DMV, used that additional information to track down their real names and addresses so that he could turn up at the homes of these men, some of whom were married, and proceeded to blackmail them in order to gain more personal information about their lives, habits and preferences, all in the name of  his “groundbreaking” new research.

Since then, it has been widely recognized by governing bodies, that lying, deceiving or in any way attempting to befriend or pretend to be a member of a minority group in order to attain personal information, is not just morally and ethically wrong but also potentially emotionally, psychologically and in some instances, even physically harmful.

Yet despite this, there are still members within the Autism Community who seek to enable and even justify the actions of professionals who routinely intrude upon the privacy of those within our community, by saying that ‘we as Autist’s need to teach professionals the truth about Autism’.

Yet I believe it is wrong for everyone within the Autism Community to constantly be made to feel as if it’s up to “us”  to teach those who are often in positions of power over us, the truth of Autism via the revelations, either intentional or otherwise, of our own personal experiences.

This belief presents many within the Autism Community with a false sense of security because it implies that all ‘professionals’ are trustworthy individuals who are  not only capable of viewing and understanding individuals with Autism as they wish to be viewed and understood, but are also willing to fly in the face of past theoretical frameworks, in order to genuinely present new research.

Yet, the truth is, those of us within the Autism Community, have no way of knowing for sure, whether or not said ‘professionals’ are intending to do either of these things.

Time and time again, it has been shown that those researching Autism often can and do, come up with new twists on the same old theories that many of us have found to be repugnant, simply in order to make a name for themselves.

Whenever such instances occur, we feel betrayed, lied too and let down.

And it is only after the fact that we realize all too late, that we’ve either misinterpreted their ‘professionals’ interest in us, or understand that they’ve misrepresented their intentions towards us in the first place.

Which ever way it goes, it’s always left to those of us who are not too afraid, or who have not been made to feel too vulnerable, to speak out.

Many of us lose friends along the way in doing so, as it can be difficult for others to understand exactly why and how another person may feel betrayed by participating openly within what they had assumed to be an Autism only group.

So insidious has the automatic acceptance of the “right” of ‘well meaning professionals’ to lurk within our groups for the purposes of ‘educating themselves’ become, that many no longer question it.

Yet I don’t believe that research ‘professionals’ have anymore  “rights” to interact with ASD specific groups than a gynecologist  would automatically retain the ‘right’ to interact within feminist groups, simply because they contain women who may discuss their private anatomy.

I think it’s time we took on board the lessons that have already been learned regarding the pitfalls of allowing professionals to engage with us so easily and without restrictions of any kind at all, on the internet.

I think it’s time we stopped thinking about Autism in terms of our perceived duty to try to educate our way into acceptance and equality and instead focused on protecting the “rights” of those within our community to feel safe, to remain free from harm and to not be taken advantage of by others when participating in online ASD groups.

We, as a community, need to keep in mind, that not everyone with Autism is either fully informed of the participation of ‘professionals’ within ASD groups, nor aware of the potential consequences of sharing highly personal information within such groups, should anyone within them hold any alterior motives for doing so.

Wouldn’t it be far easier for those who wish to engage with ‘professionals’ on the internet in order to ‘teach them the truth about Autism’,  to actually do so in groups that are openly and specifically  designed for that purpose?

Rather than allowing ‘professionals’ access to any and all ASD groups without question?

Wouldn’t it be easier, if we as a community, made a stand and decided that ASD specific groups should remain exactly that, ASD specific.

Just a thought.

 

Artwork by San Base