Saturday, November 06, 2010

Disability - or maybe not?

If I look at it from a realistic, not a perfectionist perspective, I am not nearly disabled enough to deserve the treatment that disabled people do. I mean okay, I am neither a scientist or a soldier, but I am able to hold down a job, (hopefully) finish college, and do all the self-care stuff I need. Having Aspergers means to me mostly little things, such as being single, being looked at as weird sometimes, elevated cold resistance, fluctuating energy levels (kinda like bipolar, only that it does not affect mood, but the urge to be awake and move around, regardless of emotions), intense interests, being baffled by certain human customs, etc. - not a crippling condition. Yes, I have other problems too (namely, being lousy at math and finding my way around, being a woman, and bad eyes), but still, these are common things which, if we take the general population into account, ought to exclude me only from reproduction, not life as a whole. In an ideal world, of course, it would be different, but the whole point of eugenics being necessary is that we do not live in such a world. (That said, I would not refuse the opportunity of being a donor if the law would allow it. But that is a somewhat different business.)
And even if I still had Aspergers but in addition I was a math genius (like many Aspergians are), and/or had a healthy male body with 20/20 vision (even if completely unable to discern colours - indeed, that could even be an advantage), there would be no reason whatsoever to get rid of me for the sake of economy or future generations. And yet, according to most manuals including the DSM, and the training of medical personnel, I would have not only a disability, but a mental one, which should unquestionably mean early liquidation. Now do not get me wrong, I personally would not object to that, because I do not fear nonexistence (why should I, really?), but if everybody with Aspergers gets the same classification, and therefore treatment, would not that be dangerous for the human species as a whole? This is, in some sense, the „would you kill Einstein?“ argument - indeed, there are many Aspergians who contributed, and continue to contribute, to human knowledge and technology, and in some areas it is precisely the Aspergian traits that make them able to do so in a major way.
That being said, I am fully aware that I am one of the lucky ones. If autistic traits coincide with lower intelligence or significantly impaired verbal skills, that can paint quite a different picture. Also, if early development among neurotypical peers maims the personality structure irrevocably (causing very strong anxiety for instance), it can render the individual unable to work. There are many different ways for someone on the autistic spectrum to be, and only a portion of these ways are compatible with a full life. However, that does not mean that autistic traits should automatically mean disability, and therefore liquidation. It means that each individual should be assessed individually, not by a somewhat arbitrary category they seem to belong to. The question should not be, therefore, „Is Aspergers a disability?“, but rather „Is this particular person disabled?“
For people are not statistical averages. Especially within the autism spectrum, with the „islets of ability“ and general unevenness of talents, there is no uniformity in the level of usefulness either. This type of assessment takes more time and effort for sure, but it is not dangerous in the long run and can even yield spectacular results, if used consistently.

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