Friday, December 3, 2010

Just autistic is fine, thank you.

A while back I wrote a piece referring to an an interview I did with about disability and bullying. All the recent controversy about the upcoming DSM V and the sunset of terms like PDD-NOS and Aspergers brings that peice to mind. Personally, I don't much care how people refer to my status on the spectrum, I usually say I'm an Aspie, which is an abbreviation for my diagnosis, "Asperger's Syndrome," which is a form of, guess what--Autism. That makes me autistic, no getting away from it. Just like my severly language delayed autistic son. I'm not saying that our lives are similar. No doubt about it, his challanges navigating a language-saturated world outweigh mine, and are not balanced out by all the services he gets to which I had no access. But it doesn't mean our shared condition is seperated by a wide a gulf as the mutiple terms imply.

Anyway, forgive the recycling, but here's that piece:

As the parent of a kid with a disability, usually I can identify with other parents in the same boat. Once though, there was this guy--I'm sure he's a decent sort and didn't mean to--but oh brother, did he tick me off! We were watching our kids, both autistic, participate in an adaptive sports program. We were bragging goodnaturedly to one another about our boys' athletic prowess, when he recalled an earlier time when his nonverbal boy was targeted by bullies. I empathized with this father's pained helplessness as he described his son's hardships. I agreed with his observation that kids can be cruel. But my sympathy for the father evaporated when he half-smiled, shrugged and said that that was simply the way of things. Kids like ours, who have differences, will always be picked on by "normal" kids. He picked on "dfferent" kids when he was a child, and then said he assumed that I did too.
I did not. Like many adults with Asperger's syndrome, I am now fairly indistinguishable from adults who do not share my condition, but my childhood was peppered, no it was awash, with mean-spirited Kids-Being-Kids and their fellow travelers. The gang leaders got a kick out of kicking me, calling me names, just generally being the bullies they seemed destined to be, but the kids on the sidelines, the ones who didn't join in, but were too afraid to opt out, those were the ones who made the dynamic possible. Real bullies love and need an audience.
Don't worry, I didn't lecture this father, obviously his son's difficulties had taught him something about empathy. But I didn't engage with him any further, because there was no way he would ever understand that an well-spoken autistic adult like me STILL has far more in common with the nonverbal son than with the former-bully father. I did, however, introduce my little boy, who has a bit language, to this father's devestatingly handsome teen-aged son. I described the young man's accomplishments, telling my son to watch and learn as much as he could. My son followed his new hero around for hours. That's the way this young man shoud have been treated all of his life, and I hope he will be treated that way for the rest of it.  

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