Do Romney and Obama have signs of autism? Do Hitler, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Jim Carrey have Aspergers? It's a rhetorical question. Recently the press has circulated many articles portraying famous figures as having autism spectrum disorder. There is a curious preoccupation in today’s world that is massaged by the media. It is obsesses about the tentacles of autism. Playing “pin the tail” in a rhythmic motion, the press encourages the dance. It is the autism spectrum disorder waltz.
A New York Magazine cover article written by Benjamin Wallace, sports a seductive title: ARE YOU ON IT? If So, You’re In Good Company. From Asperger’s To Asperger’s. How The Spectrum Became Quite So All-Inclusive. The tenor of this article lays a difficult path for people living with autism. If it insinuates that so many talented and brilliant people are on the spectrum, then why is there a need for funding. If it implies that dangerous annihilators of mass destruction are on the spectrum, it incites fear. If it indicates that a president is a loner and is not interested in the thoughts of others, does it make him inflexible?
What Mr. Wallace does, is shower a plethora of notables with anecdotal diagnoses of Aspergers. How glorious it is to find humor in Mitt Romney, who seems "socially inept" on a good day; or to find justification for Barack Obama’s "narcissism". The author cites insinuations to their being "on the spectrum." Like fairy dust, he sprinkles references to autism on the infamous to the famous. Adolf Hitler and Jim Carrey are endowed with this formidable shingle. Moreover, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates get to play in the game. It's like a name game: “Tag! You’re it, you're computer geeks, you probably have autism".
Sadly, it is the individual that carries written documentation and diagnosis with this disability that will forever be singed by the implications. Aspergers and autism are accompanied with their own special pressures and devastation. It is counter productive sabotage to make such references.
Adjectives are meant to describe and qualify the definition of a word. School children are taught about “painting words” which give meaning to a person, place, or thing. An adjective is a concrete reference. When a child with autism is mainstreamed into a middle school class that is learning about Hitler; how can this reference be helpful?
So now, via the information in Mr. Wallace’s article, Aspergers is found in various talents as well as the stirrings of one of the most insane killers of our times. But quirky as Hitler may have been, so are Romney and Obama; just give them a label. As a society, we sink into an abyss if we perpetrate this thinking.
Joe Scarborough sabotaged autism, when he decided to log in on the Colorado shootings in a movie theater. He gave damaging opinion relating the killer to a diagnosis of Aspergers: "Most of it has to do with mental health. You have these people that are somewhere, I believe, probably on the autism scale," said Scarborough, whose own son has Asperger's syndrome. "I don't know if that's the case here, but it happens more often than not. People that can walk around in society, they can function on college campuses, they can even excel on college campuses, but are socially disconnected.”
While Mr. Wallace traces the history of autism, stating that “autism emerged from a catchall called “childhood schizophrenia”, and Aspergers, in turn, was carved out of autism”; the mere crux of this article brings public sentiment back to the dark ages.
Dave Cullen, author of Columbine best states in a NY Times article how perspective is sculpted by misinformation. To be fair, Benjamin Wallace’s article adds snippets of valuable quotes from professionals in the field; however the overwhelming message delivered by his words is one of assigning labels that cast a dispersion on autism. He infers that this autism/Aspergers thing is one of unpredictability and enigma.
There is a small paragraph near the end of the article that quotes Dr. Catherine Lord, director of the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain: “There are clearly people with ASD who marry, but they are not many. More and more people with ASD have jobs, but the majority are underemployed, or have jobs that don’t use their capabilities as much as possible. So these references to Einstein and Jefferson are not helpful”. Her words sting, due to their painful truth.
And so for the thousands of unemployed, homeless, frightened,anxiety ridden individuals living with autism, reader beware. There is no quick fix. People with autism and Aspergers may have special talents, savant memories, and extraordinary high IQ scores. Nevertheless, they can be stuck and need the society's support, not a circus curiosity.