A comment under my previous article on Asperger Syndrome being a disability inspired me to write yet another article on the topic. The commenter, who was completely opposed to Neurodiversity (ND), said Asperger Syndrome is not a disability because it is not legally defined as such.
I am surprised that there is such a view out there in the autism community outside the ND movement that does not think Asperger Syndrome is a disability. Those who hold this view will claim that disability is a legal term. They will say that Asperger Syndrome is therefore not a disability because it is not covered by disability law. This view is incorrect. People with Asperger Syndrome are covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Act to receive accommodations in both work and in school. In contrast to some untruths I’ve heard, we also get insurance coverage; last summer I underwent speech therapy with another person with Aspergers to improve pragmatic language skills, covered by insurance. Some of us are also eligible for Social Security benefits for our disability, including Anne Dachel’s son:
"In fact, I learned that now there was a whole spectrum of autistic disorders and John's was called Asperger's Syndrome...Once he finished school, John became eligible for Social Security disability payments."
One contradictory element in such views is the claim we do not qualify for "most" disability programs as opposed to all of them and then make the argument that just because we can't put handicapped stickers in our cars that we are therefore not disabled. Yet, "disability" is a legal term, not open to interpretation. Someone is either disabled or they are not. If he qualifies for any disability programs, he is still disabled, regardless of whether or not he qualifies for “most” of them, much less if he has permission to park in a handicapped space.
I do agree however, with this view’s stance on “High Functioning Autism” being just jargon and not being a real term, however, since it is not included in the DSM's category of ASDs.
One interesting point made by believers of this viewpoint, however, is in noting the contradiction of using the term "high-functioning" with autism when the disability is defined by lack of functioning. However, Asperger Syndrome is also characterized by a lack of functioning, executive functioning, and communicative abilities, too, for that matter since communication is a form of functioning. I agree that our functioning problems may appear trivial compared to those with classic autism, but that does not mean only people as severely afflicted as them are disabled and have autism.
Words used such as "disadvantage" to define us rather than "disability" only serves to dilute the meaning of Asperger Syndrome, since "disability" is merely a kind of disadvantage. Poverty, oppression, and famine are also disadvantages, but not disabilities.
"Disadvantage" could mean unfortunate societal circumstances, like the NDs' argument that people with autism are disabled only based on their treatment from society, and that they do not have a real disability. Perhaps what they mean by "social model of disability" is that autism is disabling only because society recognizes people with autism as legally disabled.
As a disability that impedes functioning, Asperger Syndrome most definitely has a place in the category of Autism Spectrum Disorders. I can understand others’ resistance to that since the NDs try to use this definition to hijack the interests of everyone with autism. As a person with an autism spectrum disorder, I am unhappy with this, too. However, I wish they would realize that autism’s definition as a “spectrum” acknowledges that not everyone who fits this category is the same, and that it recognizes the grave challenges more severely afflicted children face, no matter what the NDs say. No changes in the DSM-V will change their minds.
However, many of those who say Asperger Syndrome should be classified separately basically say that we should not be considered autistic because a few of us happen to be NDs. A lot of parents who are against Neurodiveresity are also in strong disagreement with proponents of that viewpoint. Making Aspergers separate from autism would be a moral abandonment of those with Asperger Syndrome, will not stop the NDs and will not help people with classic autism.
Jake Crosby is a history student with Asperger Syndrome at Brandeis University, and a Contributing Editor to Age of Autism.
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