Sharing: Autism Isn’t Just A Medical Diagnosis—It’s A Political Identity

This is so, so great

JUNE 27, 2016  BY

At around the age of 6, I was utterly fascinated by the stickers that came attached to pieces of fruit. When at the shop with my mother, I would rush over to the fruit section and gaze, riveted, at all the fruits that we rarely or never bought—basically anything except apples, bananas, and oranges—until it was time to leave. For those fruits we did buy, the stickers would be duly plucked, arranged, and pasted in a precious little book that I either carried around the house or kept hidden under my bed.

In addition to such idiosyncratic interests—and I had many others, over the years—I was also odd when it came to socializing. I didn’t join in with many of the shared games other children played, and even if I tried to, I never seemed to understand the things they grasped intuitively. I was a happy child—my fruit sticker collection was an endless source of fulfillment—but to others, I always seemed a bit eccentric. Teachers often indicated that I must have had bad parents, that I was lacking intelligence, or that I simply didn’t care. Fellow students tended to shun me, or sometimes ridicule me.

I later learned, however, that I wasn’t indifferent, stupid, or even merely weird. I had a “disorder.” The psychiatrists’ diagnostic bible, the DSM, had recently given my behaviors an official designation: “Asperger’s Disorder,” which was in the DSM from 1994 until it was rebranded mild “Autism Spectrum Disorder” in 2013. Pursuits like my fruit sticker collection fell under the category of “restricted interests,” one of the major diagnostic criteria, and the other—”qualitative impairment in social interaction”—explained my loner nature. Based on these traits, I and thousands of other children in the 1990s and 2000s were deemed to have Asperger’s.

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