Autism and Aspergers Syndrome

Autism is one of those mental illnesses that’re favoured on TV, together with multiple personalities disorder, depression and brain damage brought about by some mysterious fever. Children, and sometimes adults, are portrayed as being autistic, and looking rather cute at it too. But does this really resemble autism in reality?

I’ve a cousin who’s been diagnosed with mild autism, I believe. I’m not too sure of the specifics, but he definitely doesn’t act like the kids on television. I’ve heard that some children with mild or even moderate autism get over it as they grow older, which I think he does. But when he was younger, he didn’t talk or socialise much with people and the psychologist said his learning progress was slower than others. And so he entered school a year later than other children. He liked doing things by himself and could get violent when he didn’t understand what others were saying, and his talking was also slurred. However, he’s really normal now and can chat up a storm. However, he doesn’t seem to like talking to people still in a proper conversation. Or rather, he talks but doesn’t really listen, so you can’t engage in a dialogue with him. And he’s 11 years old now.

The first time I learned of autism was probably after reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. I forgot why I even started reading it, but I was about 9 years old when I did, I think. It was a great book, and I like the whole idea of a case being embedded in it. I liked mystery books then and having a case to solve made it sound even more appealing. But while there’re commercial stories and television programmes to teach us about autism, not much is known of Asperger syndrome.

Asperger syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder, which means it is a pervasive developmental disorder similar to autism. Sufferers have significant difficulties in social interaction, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests. It is different from autism because it preserves linguistic and cognitive development. Children with Asperger have no learning difficulty. People with Asperger syndrome will laugh at jokes that’re at the expense of others, because they lack social empathy, and say very awkward things. I’ve known somebody with Asperger for a short while on the internet, and he was already in his teens so his condition was quite under control. However, he still unnerved people by saying very inappropriate stuff and behaving a bit too affectionately with girls, which distanced him from everyone else and in the end he still could not fit in, try as he might.

Some of you may remember my having mentioned Asperger before, when I was talking about Big Bang Theory. People have commented that Sheldon resembles some symptoms of Asperger, though the show’s producers said they didn’t have any mental condition in mind when designing the character.

Nowadays, some people with Asperger syndrome have fought for the notion that they’re just different, not wrong. Some internet sites such as Wrong Planet are communities for Asperger syndrome people who refuse to be treated to get together and celebrate their difference. In a way, this also reminds us that mental illnesses do have varying degrees of adaptability to daily life, and that we shouldn’t practise discrimination on such people, just as we don’t oppress people of a different race or gender.

But if we accept them as being just as ordinary as we are, will this downplay the emotional difficulties they face from reduced empathy? Should we acknowledge their differences or respect them as one of our own?

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