Like it or not, Aspergers is a label.
Everything has labels, it's how we communicate in our world.
Of course, the problem is that people find it difficult to reconcile the label with the individual. At first, it seems that they should mutually exclusive. After all, how can you be part of a group with similar characteristics (label) but still be an individual.
In this post, I want to talk about how the label and the individual can live in harmony.
Tables and Chairs
Since Aspergers and Autism are difficult and intangible concepts let's look at a real world example;
Assume that the label of autism is the same as "furniture".
If that's the case, then Aspergers could be a table, while Kanners could be a chair.
Perhaps something more similar to aspergers, such as High Functioning Autism could be a bench. It's not quite a table but it's certainly closer to a table than to a chair.
Defining the Label
It's very hard to make a list of what exactly defines a table. It's not the number of legs because although most tables have four, some have three, and some have six.
This is true of Aspergers. If for example, the number of legs is Gaze Avoidance, then it's true to say that most people with aspergers seem to have issues with "looking people in the eye". It doesn't mean that if you don't have that problem, you don't have aspergers - it simply means that if you don't then you're a little different from the majority. Not all people with aspergers have gaze avoidance issues.
If we stretch the table analogy further, you can see that some tables are made out of wood, some are metal, some are coffee tables and some are dinner tables.
There are things that are pretty much common to all tables. They all have flat surfaces on them and they all have chairs around them - even coffee tables. The list of characteristics for tables is similar to the list for inclusion of aspergers syndrome. You need to meet a certain amount of the criteria to be considered an aspie.
Blurring the Lines
Then there's the fact that some things which are common to tables are also common to chairs. After all, chairs have flat surfaces too and you can often put things on them (not just sit on them). Chairs are also often in close proximity to other chairs. Chairs share a lot of characteristics with tables because they're part of the same group - furniture. Sometimes other factors make it difficult to distinguish a chair from a table - stools in particular are a good example.
This is also true of Aspergers compared to the more classic forms of autism. Sometimes aspergers looks like classic autism and sometime vice versa. Even more common is the confusion between aspergers and co-conditions such as ADHD.
It makes sense to say that furniture has a much greater chance of looking similar than non-furniture items, such as transport. It might even make sense to suggest that the label can place limitations on the range of uses to which an item could be put.
For example; it may seem quite easy to say that a table can never be used for transport. Of course, this simply isn't true. There are lots of trolleys which can be considered both tables and transport. Sure, maybe it will never compare to a truck, but it doesn't make sense to impose limits without trying.
One question which pops up frequently in forums (and which frustrates me considerably) is;
"What jobs won't my child be able to do if he is diagnosed with aspergers?"
The range of answers varies from place to place but there's always someone who suggests that "all public relations and customer facing jobs are out". This is a perfect
This is a perfect example of using a label to set limits on an individual - and it's not recommended. Setting limits on a child simply harms their self esteem. Many aspies work quite well in customer facing jobs because they're working in their special interest areas and because they work hard to overcome their limitations.
Another problem with labels is that they can sometimes lead to a loss of individuality. In our table example, we've ignored the fact that some tables have fish tanks in them, some have checkerboards on them and some have folding/extension capabilities. Handmade tables are 100% unique. This is true of people too but unfortunately we have a tendency to stereotype people into roles.
Everyone is an individual - particularly people with aspergers as a lack of social interaction can often cause them to develop on their own.
You can have the label and still be an individual.