Do We Really Want to “Cure” Asperger’s/High-Functioning Autism?

Is it possible that everyone has a touch of Asperger’s (AS), also called High-Functioning Autism (HFA)? Think about it: all the features that characterize AS and HFA can be found in varying degrees in the “normal” population. For example:
  • A lot of people can engage in tasks (sometimes mundane ones) for hours and hours.
  • A number of “normal” people have outstandingly good rote memories and even retain eidetic imagery into adult life. 
  • Collecting objects (e.g., stamps, old glass bottles, railway engine numbers, etc.) are socially accepted hobbies.
  • Everyone differs in their levels of skill in social interaction and in their ability to read nonverbal social cues. 
  • Many individuals are visual, three-dimensional thinkers.
  • Many people can pay attention to detail – sometimes with painstaking perfection.
  • Many who are capable and independent as grown-ups have special interests that they pursue with marked enthusiasm.
  • Most men - and many women - prefer logic over emotion.
  • Pedantic speech and a tendency to take things literally can also be found in “normal” individuals.
  • The capacity to withdraw into an inner world of one's own special interests is available in a greater or lesser measure to all human beings.
  • There is an equally wide distribution in motor skills.

Other “autistic” traits that many “typical” people experience include:
  • Clumsiness
  • Don't always recognize faces right away 
  • Have a speech impediment early in life
  • Eccentric personality 
  • Flat, or blank expression 
  • Highly gifted in one or more areas 
  • Intense focus on one or two subjects 
  • Likes and dislikes can be very rigid 
  • Limited interests
  • May have difficulty staying in college despite a high level of intelligence
  • Preoccupied with their own agenda 
  • Repetitive routines or rituals 
  • Sensitivity to the texture of foods 
  • Single-mindedness 
  • Unusual preoccupations 
  • Difficulty understanding others’ feelings 
  • Great difficulty with small-talk and chatter
  • Has an urge to inform that can result in being blunt or insulting 
  • Lack of empathy at times
  • Lack of interest in other people 
  • May avoid social gatherings 
  • Preoccupied with their own agenda 
  • Social withdrawal
  • Can often be distant physically and/or emotionally

The list above is by no means exhaustive.

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It is possible that some people are classified as having AS or HFA because they are at the extreme end of the normal continuum on ALL these features – or one particular aspect may be so marked that it affects the whole of their functioning?

The argument could be made that the difference between someone with AS/HFA and the “typical” individual who has a complex inner world is that the latter DOES take part appropriately in two-way social interaction, while the former does NOT. Also, the typical person, however elaborate his inner world, is influenced by his social experiences, whereas the person with AS/HFA seems cut off from the effects of outside contacts.

So, now a new question arises: Is it possible that AS and HFA are simply reflections of object-oriented individuals (i.e., those who have a preference for ideas, tasks and objects) versus people-oriented individuals (i.e., those who prefer social interaction over all else)? If so, does this preference make for a “disorder”?

Also, if we should view AS/HFA as a disorder, whose problem is it? Is it a problem for the person with the disorder, or for the people who have dealings with the affected person? If “normal” people have difficulty with AS/HFA individuals, but AS/HFA individuals are O.K. with themselves, then it would seem that the “typicals” own the disorder.

What if we stopped viewing AS and HFA as abnormal? Many individuals on the autism spectrum embrace their condition. Rather than seeking a “cure,” they seek respect for “neurodiversity.” They want to show that autism does NOT mean “limited,” rather it is simply a different way of thinking and viewing the world. Individuals with differently wired brains have always existed – some of them geniuses because of their autistic traits, not despite them.

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

Neurodiversity is the idea that neurological differences (e.g., AS, HFA, ADHD) are the result of natural variation in the human genome (i.e., an organism’s complete set of DNA). This represents a new way of looking at disorders that were traditionally characterized as medically or psychologically abnormal.

Neurodiversity is a viewpoint that is not universally accepted, although it is increasingly supported by science.  This science proposes that disorders like AS and HFA have a stable prevalence in human society as far back as we can measure.  We are realizing that developmental disorders emerge through a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental interaction – not the result of injury or disease. 

Talk of “cure” feels like an attack on the very being of many AS and HFA individuals. Some hate that word for the same reason other groups dislike talk of “curing gayness.” Thus, shouldn’t the accommodation of neurological differences be a similarly charged civil rights issue? If their diversity is part of their true nature, shouldn’t they have the right to be accepted and supported “as is?” 

Neurodiverse individuals have contributed many great things to human society.  If those contributions were truly influenced by neurological differences, then an attempt to “cure” such differences would seem to be extremely damaging to humanity.

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  • Anonymous said… This is an excellent article! In my experience the window of 'neurotypical' is getting narrower and narrower. I have to chuckle when I hear all the labeling and categorizing of people these days - aren't 'labeling' and 'categorizing' hallmarks of Aspergers and HFA? What does that say about our society? People with Aspergers and HFA don't need to be cured. Neurotypicals need to be less rigid in their thinking regarding the wonderful range and diversity of the human brain:)
  • Anonymous said…I know I may be biased, partly due to the fact that I am Autistic. Yet I see many things on that list that apply to me and I don't see some of them as being entirely positive. Autism is generally identified as a multitude of these factors acting as either deficits or the brain's attempt at compensating for these deficits. If one is low functioning the factors contributing towards their Autism may almost be crippling. I am high functioning and I was torn to pieces before even attempting this post, yet I ferl strongly enough to attempt to advocate for those of us who tend to live with society's expectation that we should be the second coming of "Rain Man". Yet even as I undertake a course at Uni for Disability Studies, and don't see the academic value of this article, I do see where it is coming from. I do however, have to ask a question, can't these factors existing in almost everyone, be simply accredited to Human Diversity? Why must we glorify Autism and state (dangerously), that everyone has a degree of Autism in them? Because that in my perspective, sensationalises the stereotype that we all possess superhuman abilities. Sorry for the spiel, I do respect the article, but it is an important idea to raise.

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