12 Jul 2019

Disorder? Condition? Disease?

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6 mins

Everyone is unique, but I am different Autism. ASD or Autism Spectrum Disorder. That’s what it’s called. Logical that it is called that way, but I actually do not agree. Autism is a “pervasive developmental disorder” according to Wikipedia and all the specialists and scientists you speak about Aspergers call it a disorder, so they’re right, right?

Yes. They do, but I don’t agree with the statement. Calling it a disorder actually means that it is solvable. This is not true, Aspergers is not something that can be remedied. It is a profound difference in the brain, a different way of thinking. In my opinion, it is not a condition. Earlier I spoke about the positive sides of autism 123/5000 and seeing Aspergers as a “disorder”, illness or condition does not help accepting what you are.

I am not thereby saying that Aspeger gives no restrictions. That certainly gives it. But it’s not a disease. At least, if you think of it as a disease, you deprive yourself of an opportunity to see yourself in a positive light. And that often happens. When people search for Aspeger on the internet, it appears everywhere that it is a disorder that it gives limitations and that it takes a lot to live “normally”.

What is normal?

Normal is a common denominator. Normal is the average. Briefly; normal does not exist. Normal is determined by the majority of people. What is normal for one person is abnormal for another. This sounds logical, but people don’t really think about it. Normal is determined by the society in which you live. Where it is normal for people in the Netherlands to have freedom in, for example, religion, it is something strange for people in other countries.

Are Dutch people therefore different? For foreigners they are! But do Dutch people therefore have a disorder? Or an illness? Perhaps in the eyes of some people in other cultures. But we don’t have that. Once again; normal it is actually determined by the society in which someone lives.

Aspeger is being different

Aspeger is another way of information processing. Aspeger is another way of incentive processing. In short, Aspeger is “different”. Different from neurotypic people. The term neurotypic is used by many autists and care providers to describe people without Aspeger. And there is already a hint of thinking differently about Aspeger; brains with Aspeger work differently than typical brains. It is also clear I think that that captures it well; Aspeger is different. But no disorder.

Calling Aspeger a disorder, most people immediately have a negative view of Aspeger. People with Aspeger are therefore immediately seen as “someone with problems”. However, I propose a different way of thinking about Aspeger. A way that has helped myself to explain and accept Aspeger.

Society as a factory

Imagine: a large factory hall with all robots that perform their tasks in it. Each robot does its own thing and performs tasks as entered in their program. In this example, I consider that most robots speak English. Their manual is in English and their communication with each other is in English. However, if you look around the hall you will soon discover that there are some robots in between that work less quickly, or at least it seems that way. They perform their own tasks without problems, but their communication with the robots around them is difficult. It appears that these robots come from Japan and speak Japanese. Their manual is also in Japanese.

The Japanese robots run into many different problems due to the fact that they speak a different language. We solved this problem in the factory by installing “translation equipment”. This ensures that English is translated into Japanese and vice versa. This makes the robots work together almost flawlessly and the plant is effective. As long as the translations go well, the robots work well together. Occasionally there appears to be a bug in the translators, which causes things to go wrong, but this can be corrected with an adjustment to the translators.

Back to reality

In my opinion, this analogy refers to the social problems that an autist experiences when dealing with neurotypic people. Unfortunately we do not have “translation equipment” (would sometimes be very nice). What we do have are people who are trying to get an understanding of Aspeger. And social workers, specialists, scientists and most important autists themselves! Of course there are several problems that stand in the way of autists, and I certainly don’t want to dismiss them! There are problems that can even get in the way of a happy life. Some of those problems actually have nothing to do with social contacts. But incomprehension from outside certainly contributes to the difficulty with your Aspeger diagnosis.

Calling Aspeger a disorder gives people the idea that something is wrong with them if they are autistic. That they are somehow less than the people around them. And I try to make 1 thing very clear with this story; being different is not the same as being less !!

Self-image with Asperger

Don't judge a fish climbing its tree Many people with Aspeger have depression. One of the things that plays a role is low self-esteem. Feeling less than the people around you. This is, I think, due to the urge in people to feel one with the group around them. People with Aspeger are not the same as the people around them. They are different, feel different and think differently. However, if you keep comparing yourself to people around you, you are actually comparing apples to pears.

Here next to a quote from Albert Einstein; “If you judge a fish to climb a tree, it will believe its whole life to be stupid.” And I think this is very appropriate for people with Aspeger.

By zooming in on the problems, we sometimes forget that Aspeger is more than just problems. And I think that by showing people with Aspeger more and more that Aspeger also has good sides, we can help more. This also applies to the other side; as an autist, I try to explain to people what Aspeger is doing to someone. I try to gain an understanding for Aspeger in my own way.

By explaining to people around me what Aspeger entails, what it does and how it works, I hope they can show more understanding for me and other autists. Moreover, I try to open the dialogue with people without Aspeger; mutual understanding and acceptance.

I am different

I know I’m different. I know that it is sometimes difficult to understand for people who are not autistic. I also know that, because of my different way of thinking, it is sometimes difficult to get along with me. But that works both ways; I sometimes find it difficult to deal with “you”.

But I know that I am different. And I’m proud of that!


I am talking here in particular about Asperger and not about non-verbal classic autism. A consequence of the DSM 5 is that the forms of autism are all placed together, a subject for another post.

Thanks for reading
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David Westerink
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I am David, born in 1984 and I'm autistic. I write blog posts and advocate for autism acceptance. I'm willing to talk to anyone about anything.

I have my own podcast (in Dutch) about autism and neurodiversity! Checkout the AutCast!

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