Being Seen as Retarded: The Problems of the Conflation of Both Ends of the Spectrum

This is a picture of me and a girl who was going to be my date to the Winter Formal at Wando High School. Obviously, she was a cheerleader and that seems like a social win but there was a basketball game at the same time as the dance and she said she had to do it. All of her friends were at the dance (although I wouldn’t know until later since I didn’t go) so that was a lie and she was horrified that I showed up at the game to see her. As I saw it, the chivalrous thing to do would be to come to her if she couldn’t go to the dance. Thus I unwittingly foiled her plan to successfully stand-me-up.

There is an entire political movement on the high end of the spectrum and the primary aim of that movement, more than anything, is to delineate us from the low end of the spectrum. If Autism Speaks, renamed itself, Low Autism Speaks, then they wouldn’t offend the large number of autistic people who currently loathe them. It is not politically correct to mention, sometimes, and before I was banned from the Daily Kos (and possibly a factor in my banning) I was morally lectured by a speech therapist who said it was chauvinistic that I should see myself as superior to low-functioning autistic people. Many Asperger’s people have had the experience of being classified as “retarded” by our peers and by authority (who got very offended that I used the R word) and I spent a year and a half of high school in a class with clinically retarded people as their equal, not their mentor or anything else.

Talk about being offended, that speech therapist has never known what it is like to be seen by society and treat like one has an intellectual disability. I have. It has far-reaching social effects because when one is seen as “retarded” one is far less likely to be able to have social life. Bullying increases and it may be even worse because one has the social status of a “retard” but one is high-functioning enough that it lacks the guilt of hurting someone with an actual intellectual disability. To occupy that grey area between intellectually disabled and high-functioning is to be able to integrate with society but being largely unable to do so since society segregates the intellectually disabled from itself since they see someone like me as having the social classification of “retarded”. I would say that the intellectually disabled should be integrated more but obviously they can never be integrated as much as someone like me.

This is the primary problem with activists for autistic people. The lack of delineation between the two sides of the spectrum. One side needs to be accepted and a little support while the other has serious conditions to be treated and will never fully integrate. The same charities can’t do both or, if they do, they can’t do both with the same subsidiary of their charity. There are no non-profits that I know of that focus on the problems of high-functioning autistic people and other high-functioning disabilities. That needs to change since we have a wide assortment of problems that the others don’t and those problems are largely being unseen and unaided by society. There are large numbers of people who don’t understand the nuanced and difficult problems that I have to face.

Memorizing social rules, mastering syntax and conversation, conditioning oneself to tolerate sensory overload, and figuring out what eccentricities I’m going to surrender to society and which ones I will resist society to keep. I have William’s Syndrome traits of friendliness and being outgoing owing largely and ironically, to my autism. I’m going to keep being friendly and talking to strangers and if a girl thinks I’m hitting on her, that’s her problem. Having to endure the vicious punishments for not seeing society’s invisible code of conduct. Also, the positive things like intelligence, creativity, and memory and, in my case, friendliness. Living in a world where you can manage the macro but on the micro, you’ll always be uncanny in one’s differences.

The public knowledge of the higher end of the spectrum is feeble and, although increasing, is relatively little. When someone says “autistic” the image that comes to the mind is of a low-functioning person. So long as that is the case than life is going to be more difficult for Asperger’s people whom have to go through life with burdens and blessings that society is mostly ignorant of and therefore lacks the institutions or the faculties to help us. The lack of delineation between us and the lower end of the spectrum not only offends us, it also causes real problems. I hope in the coming years, as science and awareness increases more will be done to delineate between the two sides so that the help we get may be tailored to what we need.

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