Autistic or nonconformist?
Whichever label you apply, you’re still talking about someone who cannot handle social interactions effectively, who finds it difficult or
impossible to form and sustain relationships with others.
And that, by whatever name you choose to call it, is a serious problem. Interaction and relationships with other people are defining factors of the
human condition; Homo sapiens
is an intensely social species. Someone who cannot cope with this aspect of life is as crippled, in his or her
way, as someone lacking a leg. Indeed, I should say the amputee was far better off, in terms of being equipped for life, than a person who is
Saying an autistic person is ‘just not conformist’ doesn’t make their handicap go away. Pretending never makes real, except in fairy-tales and
This kind of repackaging is not unfamiliar to those of us who are older. In the Sixties and Seventies, an attempt was made to pass schizophrenia off
as a kind of ‘alternative’ (and therefore, we were encouraged to believe, somehow equally valid) way of looking at reality. This line was peddled
by several psychologists and psychiatrists, most notably R.D.
, and actually enjoyed some acceptance among the more out-of-touch members of the academic establishment and their equally out-of-touch
students. But looking at schizophrenia this way was no help to schizophrenics in overcoming the everyday difficulties they had in distinguishing
reality from delusion. In fact, by pretending to elide the distinction between the two, it made matters worse.
Autism, like schizophrenia, is a terrible handicap for which there is no cure. Pretending that it is somehow less crippling than it is, or that it is
simply an alternative, equally valid way of functioning, does not help. Better to acknowledge it for what it is, and do our best (which is admittedly
none too good) to find a cure, or at least a palliative for it.
A word to those who have been diagnosed with something called Asperger’s syndrome: this complex of behaviours bears some resemblance to autism, but
is certainly not the same thing. An Asperger’s sufferer may experience agonies of discomfort or embarrassment and miss out on any number of
opportunities for friendship, sex, love, etc., due to their inner-directedness and social ineptitude, but klutzhood, however extreme, is not the same
thing as social multiplegia, which is what truly autistic people suffer from. A syndrome (look it up) is not a disease but a complex of symptoms or
behavioral traits. An Asperger’s sufferer may be out there on the edge as far as normal social functioning is concerned, but they can still
function. Some of the most highly-valued contributors to society and culture have been Asperger’s sufferers – mathematicians, musicians,
chess-players, scientists. Sadly, those who suffer from autism are not known to contribute in this way.
edit on 2/5/11 by Astyanax because: of second thoughts.