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.


  1. 2 comments.
    1. Wedge is hardly a minor character, he blows up the second death star and gets to party with Ewoks!
    2. As someone who deals with Aspergers often, I hate seeing it taken out of context. You are not alone. Keep up the writing this article was good. I had the same reaction watching Glee this season (where they introduced an aspie character) but they seem to have let it drop.

  2. THANK YOU FOR BEING A FELLOW WEDGE APPRECIATOR. Seriously, nobody gives him his due anymore. (There are nine novels about him. I am very much enjoying them.)

    I'm glad you agree with me, too! It's really awful to see something like this taken out of context so severely. It hurts parents of kids with Asperger's/autism, the kids themselves, anyone who cares about really just hurts everyone who's touched by Asperger's/autism at all. It's really frustrating.

  3. What if you're generally high functioning, but *CAN'T* tell when you've upset somebody? I usually don't know until somebody else months later has told me 'You know that one time that you did ______, you really pissed so-and-so off, that's why they don't talk to you anymore.'

  4. That's another good point - people refuse to understand that people on the spectrum are sometimes unaware that they've made people upset. They assume that they purposely act like jerks and then cover their tracks by saying, "Oh, I have Asperger's." It's not like that at all, and it drives me crazy that that's the general assumption out there.

  5. Kudos on an excellent reply. I've enjoyed teaching and working with people with Asperger's for many years--I couldn't have worded the response any better. The latest gentleman that I've been working with would most definately be mad at himself for making a social faux pas, the other young gentleman would conditionally appologize yet not realize what he did wrong. Thanks for the insight, and hope you don't mind me learning more from you--coyotetooth

    1. It definitely varies from person to person, you're right! Either way, though, most people genuinely on the spectrum do feel bad when they mess up, even if they're not sure what they did. This is why I get frustrated with those people who decide they have Asperger's because they don't like people (stupid assumption - we like people and just don't know how to handle them). If they got an actual diagnosis, they'd probably come out as sociopaths instead and they'd realize their assumptions about Asperger's and autism are totally unfounded and wrong.

  6. Yes, yes, and yes!........Imagine everything you've just stated but, then being looked down on "AT" Cons by Artist Alley artist's for requesting WW II inspired Commission's of your favorite character's. Usually, it's Naruto as a Japanese American Nisei Soldier in the 442nd.........This is guaranteed to get me looked down on.