On an Asperger’s mailing list I’m on, there was recently a small amount of talk about whether AS is a benefit or disability. One person complained that it seemed the same people who averred that AS is a benefit also wanted to have access to AS disability services, and claimed that it couldn’t go both ways. That AS is either a benefit or a disability, but it can’t be both. That is actually a beautiful example of the kind of black and white thinking that aspies are known to have, but that is not the point of this post.
I pondered that a little bit, and I decided that insisting on believing one or the other was too limiting for what AS really is, or what it can be. Ultimately, I think it is both.
It would be difficult to deny the difficulties that AS causes people. Autism spectrum disorders tend to be defined by deficiencies – by focusing on what aspies or auties lack. It’s true, I do lack things. I have intense difficulties with socialization, and have had those difficulties my whole life. I faced social ostracizing as early as elementary school, simply because of how different I was, and how difficult I found people to be. I get overwhelmed not only by people, but by bright lights and noises and smells and the constant barrage of sensory stimuli that happens when I am out in public or in a group of people. That’s just life for me, and I’ve learned to avoid my triggers.
On the other hand, I think AS is a benefit in some ways as well. When I say that it is not that I want to claim that AS does not involve difficulties, because clearly it does. Instead, I want there to be more focus on the good things that AS can involve, on not defining it purely by deficiencies. While it’s true that my tendency to obsess can cause me problems, overall I rather like my obsessiveness. It means I can learn things quickly when I want to, and overall it can just be fun to randomly obsess about one thing or another for periods of time. Lately I have been learning how to spin yarn. I only actually practice for small amounts of time every day, but I think about it a lot. A whole lot. I watch videos, and then I replay those videos in my head over and over and over again. I ponder how my previous practice spinning went, and play with ideas of how to do it better next time. I mentally play with how to position and angle my hands to think of new things to try. And most importantly, I really enjoy all this. Eventually it will probably taper off and my brain will find something else to work over, but if all goes well I’ll end up with a new hobby to work on, enjoy, and improve.
Much the same thing happened when I first started horseback riding. For probably around a year, horseback riding dominated my thoughts. It has tapered off at this point, but it is still something I do every week and enjoy with great intensity. In fact, now that I think about it, I think ‘intense/intensity’ might be a better word than ‘obsess.’ In general when I do things, I do them really hard, and I like that about myself. My ability to focus and learn and do the things that fascinate me are all benefits that I hope to learn to better capitalize on.
So ultimately, if a person were to ask me if AS is good or bad, I would have to answer ‘both.’