Asperger's != Asshole

2 April 2013

Today is Autism Awareness / Acceptance day. I normally let it pass without saying anything. This year, though, I have a request.

Please stop calling my son an asshole.

When Jake turned seven, he was officially diagnosed with Asperger's. At the time, most people only had a vague idea of what the condition was. As it became more well known in the media, I joked that Jake had the 'cool' autism. When I shared Jacob's condition with others, they were usually fascinated rather than pitying. They asked questions about him, AS, and sometimes even did their own research to find out more.

There's been a shift in the past year or so. As more people learn what Asperger's is, it's become an adjective. It's become a synonym for 'asshole.'

My son is not an asshole.

He does have trouble reading people. This doesn't turn him into Dr. House. It creates a child that's incredibly lonely, that would love to play with other children on the playground, but who has no idea how to approach them. It creates a child that had to go through intensive training just so he could have a casual conversation. He threw himself into the training because he wanted to connect with other people. He wanted to not be alone.

His classmates were the same. I visited his class regularly, and these kids were polite, almost painfully so. They had their sensitivities, like hating fire drills or requiring the exact same lunch every day, but they were never cruel or unkind. They were sympathetic when one of the other students had issues. They never laughed or teased if one of their classmates had a meltdown. They waited, then welcomed the child back when he was ready.

That's not what assholes do.

Even if a person with AS doesn't get the treatment my son did, that doesn't make them automatically a jerk. I know many people who were diagnosed later in life, some well after they'd started their careers. They sought out places where they felt accepted, where they could feel kinship with others. Some had found it while some were still searching. I take comfort in these adults, since I can see my son in them. They're funny and quirky, they're loyal and focused.

They're hardly assholes.

At this point, there are some reading this that will insist that when they describe someone as being 'aspie', that they don't mean asshole. They mean awkward, or socially inept. I've never once, though, read an instance where someone used AS as an adjective in a kind light. They were trying to highlight how someone was rude, or uncaring, or, well...

An asshole.

Maybe you've met an AS person who was rude, and you now believe that gives you the right to assume that all AS people are rude. How is that any better than meeting a rude black person, or a rude gay person, and then making the same assumption?

The people who have AS, whether they suffer from it or have found a way to make it work for them, do not deserve to be characterized as rude, boorish, or inept. If you want to say someone is 'awkward' or 'socially inept', just say so. Use those words, and not "Asperger's."

Because that's something that only assholes do.


Related tags: autism


1 Peter Morlion says...

Well said!

Posted at 10:29 a.m. on April 2, 2013

2 Paul Hildebrandt says...

Thanks for raising Autism awareness. I appreciate the education.

When I saw my boys playing with an older boy who I thought had behaviorial problems I was tempted to pull them away. He gave a card to my son that my son gave to me. It explained that he had Autism. It was one of those "Oh duh" moments. I helped my boys understand that that meant. I appreciated the education then too.

Please be patient with the ignorant because sometimes we are slow to learn.

The card was something like this one:

Posted at 11:22 a.m. on April 2, 2013

3 Lyn Fain says...

Thank you for the thoughtful article. I have a comment, even though I will probably be skewered for it. I've worked extensively with AS adults and think the perception of Aspies being assholes comes mainly from people's interactions with ASD adults. By the time they reach their 30's, many AS adults have developed a huge reservoir of anger against people and a FU attitude towards society and this is often expressed in ways that do seem like they are being assholes. Another trend I've noticed is adults (with ASD and without) excusing bad behavior by claiming they have Aspergers.

Posted at 2:01 p.m. on April 3, 2013

4 Katie Cunningham says...

@Lyn: Your perceptions are probably skewed due to the fact that people with AS who have few issues do not seek out help. They fly under the radar. I know many in the CS community who are kind and wonderful, and who no one would ever label as AS.

Posted at 8:49 p.m. on April 3, 2013

5 Andrew Grimm says...

"Another trend I've noticed is adults (with ASD and without) excusing bad behavior by claiming they have Aspergers."

I was thinking the same. Richard Stallman came to mind.

Posted at 1:41 a.m. on April 19, 2013

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