According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Aspies (those with Asperger’s Syndrome) are now huddled together under the umbrella term “Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Labels come and go as researchers, parents, psychologists, and psychiatrists alike all study us obsessively to try and understand our brains and make sense of all our quirks. Two words, however, seem to cling to us like a sheet of toilet paper stuck to the bottom of someone’s shoe– disorder and disability.
Disability by definition is a mental or physical handicap that effects the body’s ability to move, the senses, or the ability to complete activities. I struggle to go to the grocery store when it is busy or when I have to go somewhere I have never been before. I want to cover my ears and hide from loud noises like car alarms or sirens, and I could easily have a meltdown when I forget to cut the tags out of a new shirt. Little things which most people who are neurotypical wouldn’t even notice during their day cause me to completely lose focus or make it impossible to function. I have to work twice as hard to accomplish things that don’t come naturally to me like they do for people who don’t have an ASD. I may be at a disadvantage to function within a society built for people who don’t process the world like I do, but I am NOT unable. So why do able-bodied and able-minded people confuse our disadvantages for impossibilities?
The word “disability” has slowly devolved from being just a setback to being a brand on our foreheads of broken, unable, and impossible or worse yet lazy or stupid. We aren’t any of these things. We are warriors trying to fight our way through the constant flood of sensory overload, social confusion, and miscommunication. We are in disorder.
ASD itself uses the word “disorder” rather than disability to describe those who struggle with similar symptoms. One of those symptoms is taking language literally, and that is exactly why I prefer to use disorder rather than disability to describe those of us on the spectrum. While we do face a disadvantage, the main reason we aren’t like our neurotypical peers is because our brains are in a state of disorder. Imagine having a a terrible migraine where every flash of light, every clang or click or thud of sound, even a light touch or a hug can make you want to scream and hide away somewhere away from all those terrible sensory triggers. Now imagine instead of a throbbing headache all those things cause confusion, meltdowns, chronic fatigue, and a fear of repeating those triggers. That is the disorder that is an Autism Spectrum Disorder. It isn’t that we have a disability as much as it is we have to work twice as hard to do the everyday, mundane stuff because we have disorder in the way our brains process data.
Whether you chose to refer to a label within the realm of an ASD as a disorder or a disability or both, remember there is more to a person than a label. Each of us are unique in our own way even if we share a similar set of symptoms.