Friday, December 7, 2007

The New York Times Does Asperger Syndrome

The New York Times has a story on Asperger Syndrome, Asperger’s Syndrome Gets a Very Public Face. The story focuses on Heather Kuzmich, who competed on the show America’s Top Model with much success and has now become a bit of a celebrity.
While overall the article took a positive stand to Aspies, the author, Tara Parker-Pope, still insisted on describing Asperger Syndrome as a “neurological disorder” and as a “disability.” This is a wonderful example of a journalist coming into a story with preconceived notions and holding onto them even when they fly in the face of the facts. Heather, as the article points out, is a talented art student, is on the edge high fashion and has a knack for connecting with the camera. She was voted favorite model eight weeks in a row. So what is Heather’s problem? She had difficulty relating to the other girl’s on the show, who were at times quite mean to her. But is that a problem with her or with the other girls on the show? Heather did nothing wrong, it was the other girls who mistreated her. It is they who have a problem; it is they who need to learn to be more tolerant and accepting of other people’s differences.
Aspies are not disabled in any way. It is not that we lack social skills it is just that we socialize in very different ways. For NTs (neuro-typicals) being sociable is an ends in of itself. For Aspies it is a means to achieve specific ends. It is no fault of Heather’s that she did not do much socializing. Why should she have needed to? Our way of dealing with the world may make us appear aloof and standoffish but it is also far more rational. It is not we who are disabled; we are the reasonable ones here. While Aspies, like everyone else, are not perfect, we have an advantage over NTs in that we are much better at thinking in terms of set rules. This gives us an edge in our moral reasoning. We live in a world dominated by True/False, Right/Wrong. Also, since we do not put such a high value on society, we are not so easily trapped into playing social power games and trying to knock other people down the social hierarchy ladder.
I am not saying the Aspies are better than NTs. That being said, do not dare to stand in judgment over us and cast dispersions as to our abilities lest we turn around and start judging you.
Congratulations Heather for showing the word what people with Asperger Syndrome can accomplish. If only the New York Times could catch on.

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