This is What Asperger’s Looks Like

During the sexual harassment discussion, one commenter said certain elements of SF/F fandom simply lack social graces, and you’re going to run into these drooling Asperger types.  It’s not their fault. All you can really do is avoid them and try to warn others.

I’m not linking to the comment, because several people have already confronted the commenter (including an excellent post by Mrissa here).  I’m certain it wasn’t intended to be hurtful.  It’s the kind of comment I’ve heard many times, and I know it’s not malicious.

But it hurts.

I’m having a hard time being my normal, “reasonable” self about this.  My son was diagnosed with Asperger’s early this year.  He’s high-functioning, but there was no question about the diagnosis.  It’s been months, and I’m still adjusting and learning.  But I know one thing — my son is Fucking Awesome.

Let me show you one example of what Asperger’s looks like:

That’s my son Jackson in his Halloween costume, vanquishing one of our neighbors.  (Everyone knows the gorilla is the natural enemy of the Italian plumber, right?)

Jackson does struggle socially.  I remember picking him up from preschool last year, asking how his day went, and fighting tears when he said, “Nobody wants to play with me.”  Most days I’d find him playing by himself in a corner. He has meltdowns when routines get broken without warning.  He can also be overly physical and affectionate sometimes, and we’ve had to work with him on that, but he’s learning where the boundaries are.

He struggles physically as well.  He’s 5 and a half, and still can’t ride a bike.  He’s in physical and occupational therapy every week.  He runs laps in the house most nights.  Lately, he’s started whipping his hands around as a form of self-stimulation.

He’s Fucking Awesome.

He’s in kindergarten now, and he’s making progress.  He’s starting to learn how to get along with other kids.  We visited some friends a few weeks ago, and he spent four hours playing with their five-year-old, with only a few minor, typical squabbles.  I don’t know how to explain how much that meant to me.

The harasser from WFC?  That was someone who knows to behave one way in public and another when he has a woman alone.  That’s someone with social awareness.  Hell, many abusers and harassers have very advanced social skills.  I remember the first time I sat in on a batterer’s group, and how terrifyingly charming these guys were.  These are not people who simply lack social skills or don’t know how to behave due to autistic spectrum disorders.

I’ve heard it before.  Cons and fandom are full of Aspies who can’t communicate save through Monty Python jokes.  Really?  Because Asperger’s Syndrome is an actual diagnosis, with fairly strict criteria that include more than simple social awkwardness.  Like sensory issues.  (Jackson sometimes asks me to squeeze him, because the physical pressure is comforting.)

I had a rough time in school.  My social skills sucked.  But I didn’t have Asperger’s.  I was just a geek.  Smart and awkward and doing my best to get through the day without having my books knocked out of my hands.

I’m not sure when or why it became “cool” for people in fandom to self-diagnose as Aspies, or to misuse that label as shorthand for the awkward, unwashed masses, but I wish it would stop.  It’s hurtful.  It reinforces attitudes and false stereotypes that make life harder for those who actually have autistic spectrum disorders.

My son has Asperger’s.  He’s not some filthy, drooling fool.  I don’t believe he’s going to grow up to become a harasser.  He’s a brilliant, energetic, loving little kid.  He remembers passages from books and movies, and can recite them word for word months later.  He loves superheroes and Mario and Transformers, and watching animated LEGO videos on YouTube.  He’s excited about coming to his first convention with his Daddy this month.

And he’s Fucking Awesome.