Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Asperger's On The Internet: Negative Perceptions

I'm a geek. I'm very open about being a geek. I go to anime conventions to sell my fanart and I'm currently reading a Star Wars novel starring a very minor character best remembered for blurting out "Look at the SIZE of that thing!" at the first Death Star. Of course, this means I enjoy taking part in my fandoms, and that includes reading sites like Fandom!Secrets. It turns out, though, that this might not be the best idea lately - things are getting a little weird with Asperger's in the fandom world.

Namely, a lot of people don't believe Asperger's is real.

There's a major flaw with this way of thinking, as I as well as many other people have been professionally diagnosed with something that was officially listed in DSM-IV. It's definitely real. The problem, though, is that a lot of people in fandom assume that everyone with Asperger's is like a few outliers in the fandom universe. These outliers have hurt the cause of Asperger's in popular culture a lot more than they realize. And here's the major problem - a lot of the outliers are self-diagnosed antisocial people who may not actually have Asperger's and simply use it as an excuse for behaving inappropriately.

Here's TV Tropes on Asperger's Syndrome. Note that TV Tropes handles Asperger's maturely. But then look at Uncyclopedia. It actually hurts a little bit. It's not the worst example, but it's a little sad to see it handled in such a way.

Now here's the one that really stings. Look at Encyclopedia Dramatica. This just makes me flat-out angry.

I'm noted for my ability to laugh at myself, especially when it comes to my Asperger's. I find this to just be a gross over-generalization of a few people on the internet who are doing the worst thing possible for Asperger's: using the disorder as an excuse to act like assholes. A lot of those people who do that are self-diagnosed. There's nothing wrong with self-diagnosis if you believe you have genuine signs of Asperger's. The problem is that some antisocial people have begun assuming that they have Asperger's because they don't like being around people, and they then use this self-diagnosis as an excuse when they don't behave with regard to social standards on the internet.

When I first found the article on September 23rd, this is what I wrote on my Tumblr:

So here we go.
1. This article claims that everyone who discusses having Asperger’s on the internet is using it to get attention or sympathy. As a self-advocate, I can tell you that’s not the case. I try to explain my differences from non-ASD people whilst at the same time believing in coexistence.
2. I think this article exists on Encyclopedia Dramatica because too many people have been acting out and then blaming their ASDs. If an ASD person makes a social mistake/comes across like a jerk, they often don’t realize it. The higher-functioning ASD people who do realize it will either a) acknowledge they made an error and apologize or b) blame their ASD and absolve themselves, thus setting a poor example for the rest of us. I love those of us in group A.
3. I don’t think my disorder, however mild, should be considered an excuse for my behavior if I make a mistake, especially given that I am high-functioning enough to make an effort to socialize and assimilate into mainstream society. Some people are so far down the spectrum, however, that they are unable to do so, and this article mocks them, as well. Hand-flapping is an early sign of autism - it’s not common in people with Asperger’s in comparison to how often you see it in autism.
4. If you’re high-functioning enough to realize you’ve made people upset, you shouldn’t use your ASD as an excuse. That leads to the negative stereotypes in the article.
5. I know Encyclopedia Dramatica is trying to be funny, but I don’t think they did a good job of it at all. I’m pretty good at laughing at my Asperger’s and this actually hurt me to read.
Moral of the story?
~ Your ASD is not an excuse if you can function high enough to think to use it as one.
~ Negative stereotypes about ASDs are very strong because some ASD people use it as an excuse for bad behavior.
~ Both the mocking and the excuse-making have to stop for ASD people and non-autistics to see eye-to-eye.
Okay, I’m done being angry for tonight. I just really couldn’t let this slide.
 Originally, I had a knee-jerk reaction to this post. I got angry. I realize now that it wasn't entirely aimed at most people with Asperger's on the whole - it was aimed at the people who claim to have Asperger's and use it as an excuse to act like jerks. Those people may or may not actually have Asperger's. That's a biiig problem for those of us who want to self-advocate, especially online. The issue is that because of these negative perceptions people have due to these folks on the internet, Asperger's isn't often taken very seriously. I'd love to tell people how certain fictional characters have made me feel better about myself and my Asperger's, but I'd end up hearing from trolls that my Asperger's "isn't real" and that I'm "probably just a jerk who lives in my parents' basement and is using Asperger's as an excuse." I know they wouldn't listen to reason, because trolls just try to stir up trouble, so there's no point in trying to reason with them - that's why we always say "don't feed the trolls" on the internet here.

This depresses me, to be honest, since the people I know on the autism spectrum are the kindest, most genuine people I know. Things like this remind me that we're still far from being truly understood.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Writing Therapy

This is Dustin Thatcher, one of my two main characters.
I like writing. I make no secret of that since I have about ten million blogs that I update on a fairly regular basis in between drawing cartoons and watching Old English sheepdogs. One of them is about a novel that I'm working on, Londinium. The thing about the book is...well, I've been trying to get myself to write the thing for seven years now. Seven years. College got in the way for a while, and then I became a much better writer than I was in high school, so what I had written is currently being re-written.

You know what, though? Rewriting things feels fabulous. Getting back in touch with my characters feels fabulous, too. They're old friends of mine. And you know what? They were my friends when I didn't have any friends. Basil and Dustin, my main characters, have been around since December of 2004. This year, I've resolved to actually tell the world their story.

You can follow my quest to tell their story - as well as read some fun research nuggets I dig up - at Londinium's official blog, which is here. The healing power of writing is vastly underrated in this world. Having these two and their friends around for all these years has gotten me through some really rough times in my life. I'm so honored to be able to repay them in this way.