Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Asperger's Disorder is just that - a disorder.
Or is it?
A new wave of people determined to own - and enjoy - their Asperger's status has emerged, and the wave has many clinicians questioning our tendency to pathologize. As we enter a new age of appreciation of diversity, from race to types of intelligence, why, when it comes to Asperger's, are we stuck with diagnoses and tests, therapies and interventions?
One clear answer to this complex question is the notion of distress. An adult with Asperger's (or something close to it) who is in distress as a direct result of the disorder should have access to help. Not help erasing his unique characteristics. Not help being like everyone else. Rather, help enjoying the strengths of Asperger's and minimizing the depression and anxiety that can come with being different.
"That's ridiculous," I hear in the therapy office from some clients, "what good can come of having a developmental disorder?"
But enjoying the strengths that come with the package of neurological differences we call Asperger's is not a new concept. For instance, in their 2001 bestseller Now, discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton, Ph.D. set out to identify styles of information processing that affect the workplace. The result was a spread of over 30 different relating and information processing styles. This was not necessarily a new concept. What was new was how these different styles were judged: not according to a black and white system of good and bad, but as all strengths to be cultivated, utilized and enjoyed by employees and employers alike.
For instance, one theme, the "Analytical", is a familiar style to many Aspies. "You see yourself as objective and dispassionate. You like data because they are value free. They have no agenda....It is hoped that your analysis is never delivered too harshly. Otherwise, others may avoid you..." (page 86). Depending on one's perspective, this strength can be perceived as a skill set, a style, a character flaw, an indifference to people, and on and on. It is up to each individual person with Asperger's to train his or herself to focus on and enhance strengths.
A second theme described is the "Deliberative", another style which resonates with many Aspies. "You are careful. You are vigilant," the writers assert, "You are a private person. You know that the world is an unpredictable place. Everything may seem in order, but beneath the surface you sense many risks. You like to plan ahead so as to anticipate what might go wrong....If some people don't like you because you are not as effusive as others, then so be it." (page 94). Depending on one's perspective, this strength can be judged as responsible, anxious, obsessive- compulsive, non-spontaneous, and on and on. Again, it is up to the individual with Asperger's to see the beauty in this strength and invest in it.
We all want to find ways to identify, enjoy and share our gifts. Have you identified yours? Are you enjoying them? Sharing them?
Author: Cary Terra, M.A., LMFT