Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

A few thoughts around myself and Asperger’s

with 2 comments

I am currently watching the third season of “Atypical”*. This brings me to a few issues around myself, diagnosis, speaking about such topics, etc.

*A series centered on a teenage boy with some form of high-functioning autism.

For starters, I am fairly* certain that I am a non-NT, most likely an Aspie, but I am not formally diagnosed. Not having a diagnosis, I am a little reluctant to bring the topic up in most context, because if I do make a big deal out of it and it later turns out that I am wrong, I could end up with a considerable amount of egg on my face. (But neither have I made a great secret out of it. There are prior mentions in some of my published texts, e.g.) That various non-NT diagnoses, be they official or “self-”, have been “fashionable” in the last decade-or-so is a further deterrent, as is a certain overlap in “symptoms” with giftedness and introversion (as e.g. according to the Ixxx and, in particular, INTx classifications of Myers–Briggs).**

*My amateur study of the topic is sufficiently far in the past that I have forgotten most, but among signs we have e.g. very high scores on several online tests, problems with annoying stimuli (to the point of flipping out), problems with eye contact, a monotone voice, and some lesser known quirks like a tendency, well into my teens, to walk on my toes when not wearing shoes. It would also explain some past oddities, like an unusually poor coordination as a child, especially when it came to hand-writing, in a more parsimonious way than without assuming “spectrum issues”. Also note some potentially supporting resp. conflicting remarks in a text on my baby book.

**Of course, as with any medical classification, the question arises when and to what degree the symptoms resp. the underlying cause is the important part.

On the other hand, I doubt the value of a formal diagnosis, because, again, there is a “fashion” aspect to them and because most non-specialist physicians/psychologists/whatnots will have only a very superficial knowledge and ability to make a correct diagnosis.

This doubt is one reason why I have never bothered with a formal diagnosis. Another is that the main advantages would have arisen at a younger age, e.g. in that I might have had some degree of special treatment or a less hostile environment in school.* This includes e.g. less exposure to noisy kids and not being berated for my poor hand-writing by teachers (or, in one case, having a teacher refuse to correct an essay due to readability issues). As a counter-point, had I been diagnosed back then, I might have ended up in special-ed, which could have turned out to be even worse than regular school.

*Here we have a considerable contrast to “Atypical”, where there are school counselors, support groups, and whatnots. In Sweden back then (school years 1981–1994), there was next to no awareness and the sole image of autism was basically of a near vegetable. (I.e. a very severe case by today’s standard, and some argue that this image is misleading even for the very severe cases.) Notably, I do not recall even hearing about Asperger’s pre-2000, and “regular” autism and Asperger’s do differ. It was likely even later when I encountered the idea of a “spectrum”.

Other reasons include that there is still some risk of an unfair stigma and that an adult diagnosis can be trickier than a child diagnosis, because many of the signs disappear over time, e.g. because the subject has deliberately developed lacking skills, gained through theory or experience what others might have naturally, or similar. A good example of the latter is a scene in season one of “Atypical”: A pretty girl approaches the protagonist to ask him for common study. He obliviously turns her down with the motivation that it would be pointless for him. Adult me had the same “face–palm” reaction that (I assume) most other viewers had; however, his reaction is very similar to what mine used to be well into my twenties. Another example is the below incident with my step-father—such deliberations would also have been strange to me well into my twenties, or even early thirties. A counter-example is eye contact: even today it rarely even occurs to me that I should make eye contact. (I have deliberately tried to change this, e.g. through writing myself reminders, but it has not helped one iota.)

Then there is the issue of using a diagnosis as an excuse, both as a reason why a (formal) diagnosis is less important to me and why I might not have spoken that much of it, even had I had one: seeing some aspects of me and my life in the light of Asperger’s can make it easier for me (or others) to understand, but knowing or not knowing does not fundamentally alter who I am and only very rarely will it affect how I approach something. Similarly, if e.g. Einstein or some other past, undiagnosed person did or did not have Asperger’s, HFA, whatnot, how does this change his works or the impact of his works? Mostly*, not at all: we might gain a different understanding of him by assuming or not assuming a diagnosis, but the theory of relativity remains the same. In fact, focusing too much on a diagnosis might be harmful, e.g. if someone says “I have Asperger’s, so no-one can blame me for not engaging in small-talk with my colleagues”. True, the room for blame might be small, but there might still be negative effects even without blame.

*Exceptions can exist, especially in the arts. For instance, I read Kafka’s “Der Bau” at around the same time as I researched Asperger’s, and this work might well be understood differently depending on whether the sometime speculation that Kafka had Asperger’s is correct.

A particularly interesting situation arose during my visits to Sweden: My step-father mentioned that my step-brother had (as an adult) been diagnosed with both Asperger’s and ADHD.* What do I answer? If he had the intention of opening a door to discuss my situation, I should probably have taken that door. As is, I reasoned that he probably did not: he might very well have some suspicions based on my past history or something that he might have read on my blog, but I do not believe that he reads it and my suspecting-that-he-had-suspicions is one “if” too far for my taste. Now, assuming that he had no such “door” intentions, what could the effects be if tried to walk through the door? Possibly, positive; possibly, negative; and the negative (a) seems likelier to me, (b) might have a larger impact. Notably, without a diagnosis, there is a risk of perceived “me too”-ism or “wannabe”-ism; notably, he mentioned this in a context of my step-brother having had problems with employment (and/or other “success” areas), and my greater** success with employment might then have come across as a put down of some sort. Correspondingly, I chose to leave my own situation entirely without mention. I certainly swallowed my first reaction of skepticism, as my step-brother had always struck me as out-going and sociable: not only is there no law that Aspies have to be hermits, but the most likely interpretation of such skepticism would be that he was making excuses for being a slacker*** or whatnot, which is not something that most fathers want to hear about their sons.

*Bear in mind that I have never discussed my own issues with my step-father and that I have only met said step-brother a handful of times, the last of which might have been twenty years ago. (He was already an adult, living in a different city, when my mother and step-father married. My move to Germany in 1997 limited the potential for contacts further.)

**I have definitely had many issues of an Aspie kind in my employment history, but I had done a lot better than he and the last few years up to my sabbatical (during which this conversation took place) had been very successful. Indeed, compared to some, I have been extremely successful. For instance, “Atypical” at some point claims that four out of five fail in college (albeit, with regard to autists, not Aspies).

***While this to some degree matched my teenage impression, that impression was based on very limited data and it need not have been fair to older versions of my step-brother, even had it been fair to younger versions.

Excursion on having a PC union card:
Discussions with the PC crowd is one area where proclaiming myself an Aspie might have been beneficial: it appears to often make a major difference to them whether someone has a “union card”, e.g. through being a woman, Black, “ethnic”, gay, transsexual, …, in order to be anything but their stereotype of a “vanilla” White man. Being an Aspie could conceivably have provided me with such a union card. Because I do not want to encourage that type of thinking in the PC crowd, I have mostly kept silent on the topic of Asperger’s. To boot, this is an area where a formal diagnosis might have been needed, to avoid accusations of being a poseur or some analogy of a “cultural appropriator”.

Excursion on penguins:
The recurring reader might have noted my repeatedly speaking of my old toy penguin, while the protagonist of “Atypical” is a penguin fanatic. This is likely a coincidence, as my strong connection to that one penguin probably stems from the early date that it was given to me. I have had some secondary affection for penguins in general, but that might well be caused by the toy. Similarly, that Linux is associated with penguins is likely a coincidence relative me. (Also, I suspect, relative “Atypical”, but there is more room for a connection there.)

Excursion on ADHD:
I am very uncertain whether I would have shared my step-brother’s ADHD diagnosis, which might need further consideration above. I have never been very well-read on ADHD, and I am vague on the changing takes on co-morbidity, mutual exclusion, and so on. I do note that my ability to concentrate can vary quite wildly depending on task, circumstances, and my current mood, but that need not be remarkable even in the overall population.

Excursion on “people first”* language and similar nonsense:
While I strongly believe that no aspect of life, e.g. a medical diagnosis, should define someone, “people first” language and similar ideas are idiotic and ignorant. A statement like “he/she/it is [a/an] X” does not imply that this is all there is. On the contrary, this is a standard phrasing in English. In my case, e.g., the following and many other statements simultaneously apply and each give a portion of what I am: I am (probably) an Aspie. I am a Swede. I am an author. I am a blogger. I am an immigrant. I am an emigrant. I am a libertarian. I am a book lover.

*I.e. that statements like “he is autistic” are evil and that we absolutely, categorically must use awkward phrasings like “he is a person with autism”, because the former would reduce someone to a diagnosis (or some other, similarly weak, motivation).

Moreover, “I am an Aspie.” would say more about me and be more closely tied to my inner workings than e.g. “I am a blogger.”, making it absurd to reject the former and accept the latter.

Similarly, without articles, that I am tall, bald, and handsome does not define me, so why should a claim like “Y is autistic” or “Y is blind” be seen as an all-encompassing definition of Y’s very being, as the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? The very idea says more about the adherents of “people first” language than about the rest of the world.

Like much of PC language, “people first” amounts to those too stupid or ignorant to understand how language works demanding changes to standard use just to solve a problem that only exists in their own minds.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 5, 2019 at 12:57 am

2 Responses

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  1. […] a recent text on myself and Asperger’s, I mentioned two penguin coincidences. Doing so, I missed a third: Wuppertal, my city of residence, […]

  2. […] a recent text, I have spent some time refreshing my knowledge of and thinking about Asperger’s, ASD, etc.* I am […]

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