29 October 2010

Autism Quotient

Floating around the internet recently has been the Autism Quotient test, a series of questions quantifying experiences and placing individuals on the autism spectrum.  Although never intended to be criteria for diagnosis, the quotient has become a tool for self-diagnosing Aspergers and high-functioning autism.  It was originally popularized by Wired magazine alongside an article titled "The Geek Syndrome".

While the 90s was a time where children were excessively diagnosed with (and medicated for) ADHD, the 2000s saw an explosion of youth on the autism spectrum.  Any social difficulty, exceptional passion, or mathematical talent was instantly blamed on autistic tendencies.  Over-diagnosis is a complicated issue.  Neuroatypical conditions are not and either-or, but rather, they lie on a spectrum, so a diagnosis means deciding where the line between "normal" and "disorder" lies.  In medical terms, this line is usually defined as "clinically significant", or significant enough to impact the patient's life.  Unfortunately, even this line is never clear.

As diagnosis of autism-spectrum conditions expanded, so did their popularity.  The publishing of the quotient a magazine like Wired represents this perfectly.  On the one hand, there is no doubt that people with autism-spectrum conditions would be naturally drawn to certain communities, such as "geek culture".  Mathematical and scientific knowledge and understanding of complex formulas and numbers would be appealing to someone with these conditions, and things like programing are consequently likely to be both interesting and easier (compared to neurotypical folk) for someone with autistic tendencies.  Additionally, social interaction via computers is significantly easier for folk with Autism-spectrum conditions, because it bypasses the difficult non-verbal and implicit emotional elements of face-to-face communication.  Still, the popularity of having these (and other) conditions in geek (and other) communities is unwarranted and dangerous.

Turning an important medical finding into a facebook quiz or a survey in a geek magazine delegitimizes the experiences of folk with autism-spectrum disorders.  Although I do not currently have Aspergers, I did when I was a child, and it has had a huge influence on my life since then.  However, when I mention my experiences, I am typically met with a proclamation of self-diagnosed Aspergers, and how tough life is for us poor weird folk.  I am always insulted by these comments: I am not weird, not do I think it's fair for me to appropriate the experiences adults with autism-spectrum conditions have.  Instead, I am someone who had difficulties with normal social interaction as a child as a result of being a neuroatypical child.

Such an appropriation, as well as other appropriative comments such as "I'm having music ADD!" are rampant in our society.  Constantly, people are appropriating conditions such as autism-spectrum disorders, ADD and ADHD, dyslexia, bipolar disorder, and even more severe conditions like dissociative identity disorder and schizophrenia.  This is not ok.  While it's easy to adopt a label of having neuroatypical characteristics for someone who is neurotypical, you don't actually know anything about the experiences of neuroatypical folk.  It is wrong to appropriate such conditions while in no way supporting neurodiversity in society and continuing to marginalize neuroatypical folk.

1 comment:

  1. Just to say, I get where you're coming from. I am an autistic adult (apparently, anyone who knows autistic adults can spot me a mile off). I'll admit now that I did joke that my girlfriend and my boyfriend were also autistic - but they've both since been diagnosed and none of us called ourselves autistic until after we were given the label by doctors.