Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Politics of Fitting In

I was close to tears last year when I read a section of a book for parents of kids with Asperger's syndrome. This section advised parents to make sure their kids "blend in," reminding them that kids with AS are not affected by peer pressure. It went so far as to tell parents that a sixth grader won't stop watching Winnie the Pooh just because of his age, nor will he realize that kids don't bring umbrellas to school on a rainy day.

Before you start typing a response that begins with, "Well there is another side to this," I just want you to reread the above paragraph, replacing all instances of "Asperger's syndrome" and "AS" with "Down syndrome." Speechless, aren't you? I am sure you can imagine the uproar that would ensue if there were books that advised parents of kids with Down syndrome to "fit in" socially or academically. And why should kids with intellectual disabilities be exempt from this expectation? Because their IQs are below a certain level? Okay, if that's the case, then perhaps there should be an MQ-- maturity quotient test-- for kids with AS to take to excuse them. Oh, but wait. Kids with Down syndrome also have physical features that alert people of their disability, and kids with AS don't. Fine. Give kids with AS a T-shirt to wear that alerts others that they think differently and have different tastes.

No matter how you cut it, this pressure to make anybody-- whether or not they have a disability or anomaly-- is immoral. From my personal experience-- and from what other Aspies have told me-- all they ever wanted in life was to be accepted for who they were. By advising them to conform to what amounts to herd mentality, the authors of this book (and many others that give similar advice, especially to girls, by the way) are basically throwing up their hands and saying, "Okay, nobody is going to accept you for who you are, so you need to change who you are." Although my parents did not intend it, that was the message I got from them, loud and clear, when I was growing up with undiagnosed AS and pressured to "fit in." This further shattered my self-esteem, which was already severely damaged from bullying at school. I felt that I was being told to answer to the bullies. Besides, if a kid is told how important it is to fit in in silly ways-- like what movies to watch, what clothes to wear, and not to carry umbrellas-- why should this same person say no to cigarettes and drugs?

What we as a society need to do is raise consciousness and educate the world about Asperger's syndrome. If we don't, our schools will be run by bullies and so will the rest of society. Change starts with you, and it starts now.

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