A Note On Autism

Guest article by an autistic reader

This letter from an autistic reader was received by us June 12, 2002 in a response to our comments on autism on the Astraea Bookstore page. We sell several books by Donna Williams, an autistic multiple, and Jasmine O'Neill's Through the Eyes of Aliens. We did change our reference to Donna Williams' "autistic-like condition" and made it just plain autistic after receiving this letter.

The likely reason Jasmine Lee O'Neill refers to Asperger's syndrome as "autism" is because no clear dividing line between Asperger's syndrome and other autism have ever been found. I would take more issue with her statement that (despite having displayed all the traits of classic autism at some points in her life) traits like creativity and so forth have to do with Asperger's syndrome. Autistic people can be plenty creative.

Donna Williams does not have "an autistic-like condition." She is autistic.

A comment about the dividing-up of autism in general:

People who divide up autism do it because of their own prejudices. (Donna Williams would state they do it because of their hangups over "appear" and "be.") To divide us up into high-functioning, low-functioning, Asperger, Kanner, and the ridiculous PDD-NOS (DSM-speak for "autistic-like") is a sign of their conquest over us, not a sign of where the real differences between us (and there are real differences) lie.

Most often, the division is done in such a way as to silence us: They call us "low-functioning" when they want to do stuff to us against our will, "high-functioning" or "Asperger's" or "autistic-like" when they want to discredit our viewpoints. When so-called low-functioning autistic people (who bear a "surprising" resemblance in internal states to "high-functioning" autistic people, mainly because at times the differences can be infinitessimal) begin to communicate, they either try to drop the autism label or to say that they're not really communicating.

When you get two identical-looking adult autistic people together, you probably can't tell that one of them grew up labeled "severe low-functioning autistic" and started talking and interacting more at age 15 and another grew up labeled "gifted" and got an Asperger's diagnosis at the age of 40.

This is not to say there are not variations among us -- there are many, and some of them do have to do with various cognitive skills -- but to say that it does us a disservice to uphold the divisions between us that outsiders (professionals) created and would prefer to maintain to keep us powerless.

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