Was it him or was it them? Another story of Aspergers

In category In The News

There’s an article in the SMH about a young man who has overcome very difficult school years.

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Good for him – he’s done well.  But why was it his fault that he had such a hard time at school?  Why isn’t anyone asking what is it about schools that fosters a group mentality that enables one child to be bullied by the mob?  Were his difficulties and loneliness really because “he had Aspergers” or were they an escalating result of being the class outcast?  Was it him or was it them?  Were his symptoms really a disorder, or were they a quite reasonable response to the horrible treatment he received at school?

I don’t know the answers to any of those questions.  It would be as presumptuous of me to claim to know the answers to the individual case of someone I’ve never met as it is for experts to claim that they can posthumously diagnose that Einstein had Asperger’s Syndrome.  But I will question the story told and its interpretation of events without in any way doubting the difficulties this young man experienced or his achievement in overcoming them.

Stories are the basis of the Asperger’s Syndrome industry.  There is no scientific, physical, provable aspect of this so-called disorder.  It is all based on stories that people tell in order to explain, accept and adapt to their situations.  The dominant story these days places the focus fairly within the Aspergic nature of the person.

What if this news story was written a different way – a story about a young man who was victimised and ostracised at school which resulted in a lack of opportunity to form friendships, which undermined rather than built confidence, and who never got the chances that others do to practice social skills; yet later finds a safer environment where people are more civilised and so, overcomes his difficulties and excels at the things he is interested in.  But wait, you say, the story also needs to explain why he didn’t fit in at school.

There are lots of reasons people of all ages don’t fit into a group. It can be race, culture, background, values, religion, wealth, experience, interests, ability, knowledge. The list goes on but it is the nature of the group that determines who will fit, not the nature of any given individual. And with those last five factors – wealth, experience, interests, ability, knowledge – having more can be as much a problem as having less.

Within schools, the group a child is expected to fit into has only two defining characteristics – age and gender – and the pressure to be part of the group is intense. So for the child who doesn’t fit the age/gender box, life at school will quite likely be excruciating.

Consider the “Aspergic” child and the stories we hear.  Talks like a little professor (ie doesn’t fit the age box, too much ability, wrong accent), loves trains (ie wrong interests, too much knowledge), doesn’t get their jokes and they don’t get his (different experiences, difference cultures, different abilities) and so it goes on.

What is considered Aspergic depends on what is considered normal.  And who gets to decide that and why?  Right now there is one dominant story of Asperger’s Syndrome to explain a social phenomenon and I find that story trite and unconvincing – let’s hear some competing stories and interpretations of what’s going on in these people’s lives.

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