Who the Frag Am I?

February 10, 2010

On Language: Autism vs. Asperger’s

Filed under: Autism — wtfmi @ 5:52 pm

When I think I can get away with it, I tend to use the word ‘autism’ or ‘autistic’ to describe myself, rather than ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’. There are two main reasons for this:

  1. My research so far has led me to the opinion that ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’ is a description of an area of the autism spectrum. I am generally more interested in emphasizing the similarities along the spectrum than the differences. That’s not a political statement, necessarily; what I mean is that I tend to need to say something about the similarities more often than I need to discuss the differences.
  2. ‘Asperger’ is a hard word for me to say. The ‘sp’ combination, followed by a truly ugly ‘er-ger’, is just distasteful. ‘Autism’ and ‘autistic’ are easy words for me to say. ‘Autistic’ is actually quite fun: the sharp t’s and hard c; the bell curve of linguistic stress; the mutated repetition of the last two syllables. For a long time, I simply wouldn’t say words if I didn’t like the way they felt in my mouth. I had to get used to it in some situations, but when I can I will always choose the fun words.

You’ll note, though, that I qualified my statement with, “When I think I can get away with it”. And there are times when I can’t.

Sometimes I need to specifically refer to the area of the spectrum that is associated with, shall we say, less obvious challenge in passing for neurotypical. ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’ is a shorter way of conveying what I mean, especially to an audience who might need me to explain the concepts lurking behind ‘obvious challenge’, ‘passing’, and ‘neurotypical’.

Sometimes I know that a person very explicitly doesn’t share my opinion that ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’ is on the autism spectrum. In order to avoid pointless disagreement, I will use ‘Asperger’s’ while I am talking to that person. My psychiatrist is, unfortunately, one of these cases.

And when I am describing a person, I try to use the language that they use to describe themselves.

A couple other language notes:

  • I tend to drop the word ‘disorder’ in relation to autism. But because ‘autism spectrum disorder’ is the accepted medical language, I can’t always avoid it.
  • I also try to be sensitive about when I am using people-emphasizing language and when I am not. For example, ‘a person with autism’ is a person; an ‘autistic’ is a statistic. Because I really like the word ‘autistic’, though, I also tend to use ‘autistic’ to refer to myself regardless.

And a final note: I am describing how I speak because I think it illuminates some interesting aspects about how I think about autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. These are not prescriptions or proscriptions for others; it’s none of my business how you use your language.

Of course, I say this here. But when it comes to conversation with actual people, especially strangers, I’m lucky to have any control over what comes out of my mouth. *grin*

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