The recent spike in diagnoses of autism […] has prompted some to suggest that it is an excuse for bad behavior or the latest clinical fad.
[…] the stamp of medical authority.
Increasing numbers of children are given increasingly specific labels, ranging from psychiatric and neurological diagnoses such as Asperger’s and attention-deficit disorder to educational descriptors including ‘gifted’ and ‘learning disabled.’
Today, autism has broadened into an almost catch-all social category. Anyone who is withdrawn or rigid or awkward might be suspected of being ‘on the spectrum.’
Remotely diagnosing famous geeks has become a kind of hipster parlour game.
Every generation has its defining psychiatric malady, confidently diagnosed from afar by armchair non-psychiatrists. In the fifties, all those gray-suited organization men were married to ‘frigid’ women. Until a few years ago, the country of self-obsessed boomers and reality-TV fame-seekers and vain politicians and bubble-riding Ponzi schemers made narcissistic personality disorder – diagnosis code 301.81 in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition – the craziness of the moment. And who among us has not proudly copped to our own ‘OCD’ or ‘ADD,’ deemed a mercurial sibling ‘seriously bipolar,’ written off an erratic ex as ‘obviously borderline,’ or nodded as a laid-off friend pronounced his former boss a ‘textbook sociopath’? Lately, a new kind of head case stalks the land – staring past us, blurting gaucheries, droning on about the technical minutiae of his boring hobby. And we are ready with our DSM codes: 299.00 (autistic disorder) and 299.80 (Asperger’s disorder).
[…] Such elasticity is nowhere so relevant as at the fuzzy, ever-shifting threshold where clinical disorder shades into everyday eccentricity. The upper end of the spectrum is the liminal zone where Aspies, as people with Asperger’s call themselves, reside.
But this is not a story about Asperger’s, autism, or the spectrum […]
It is, instead, a story about ‘Asperger’s,’ ‘autism,’ and ‘the spectrum’ – our one-stop-shopping shorthand for the jerky husband, the socially inept plutocrat, the tactless boss, the child prodigy with no friends, the remorseless criminal. It’s about the words we deploy to describe some murky hybrid of egghead and aloof.
While delving into discussions on neurodiversity, I came across fanciful lists of fictional characters headcanoned as autistic. Character X strives for justice: they are autistic. Character Y likes reading alone: they are autistic. Character Z is passionate and talkative: they are autistic. In fact, any character even slightly atypical/loner/enthusiastic is likely to be promptly declared as having autism. This is how I found out that the main characters in My Little Pony were autistic, because they all had significant interests and plenty to learn about friendship and social relationships. My god. Is autism supposed to be the sole reason people have any depth at all?
(translated by Axelle Ezhr)
[I]t has become fashionable in some circles to describe the spectrum as the very womb of modernity.
The same rose-colored impulse has driven an Aspie wave of revisionist psychopathography, in which such diverse historical figures as Thomas Jefferson, Orson Welles, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Andy Warhol, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart are supposed to have been residents of the spectrum.
The time-traveling diagnoses often feel like cloud-reading – the case for Darwin as Aspie, as set forth in Genius Genes: How Asperger Talents Changed the World, relies on diagnostic bullet points: his childhood as ‘something of a loner,’ his ‘obsession’ with nature, his routine of counting the laps of his nightly walks in later life.
People write characters based on personal experience, stereotypes, and personal ideas of what seems interesting. Unless you are a hermit, you’ve met multiple autistic people. (You may have thought they were ‘quirky’ or ‘very introverted’ or ‘stereotypical engineers.’)
You’ve read or watched media with characters based off of autism stereotypes. They’re ‘geeky,’ ‘awkward,’ or ‘free-spirited.’ […]
Some of these characters are stated to be autistic. Other times the authors dodge the question to avoid needing to write a well-researched and responsible portrayal. Other times the writers wanted to write someone ‘quirky’ and didn’t realize that their idea of ‘quirky’ looks very autistic.
You can read or watch media with autistic or autistic-coded characters. You can meet autistic people whether you know they’re autistic or not. And when you write about interesting people, you’ll probably aim for writing people who are a little unusual. […]
When you are an unusual person, especially if you are disabled, people will often tell you that they “want to hear your story”.
Often, it’s not really your story that they want to hear. Often they have a story in mind that they want, and they want it to come out of your mouth in order to validate their theories about people like you. […]