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I have Asperger Syndrome. I grew up in a world where the majority of people I spent my days with were just nothing like me at all. I was in the minority and that was often hard, but while I could see I was different and it was my differences causing the problem, I never considered myself to be inferior. In fact, after I was finally diagnosed, it still took some time for me to appreciate the full extent to which I had been disadvantaged all my life, because as it had been all I had ever known, it had always just seemed normal to me.

I have always considered other people to be very strange. They seem to have the most astonishing lack of empathy for a start, as evidenced by their cruelty and their often judgemental natures. Their intellectual capacity sometimes seems seriously impaired. They are not capable of thinking independently. They have very little imagination. They have shocking deficiencies in memory. Most disturbingly of all they seem obsessed with following complex rituals governing communication and interaction with arbitrary, illogical and unfair rules. Communication with them is frustrating... impossible even. I both fear them and pity them. They always seem so distant...  out of reach. I have got to know a few of them who seem 'higher functioning' than the others, and consider some of them friends, though in some cases these relationships can seem one sided on my part.

From my perspective, it is other people that are 'autistic', not me. I have read all about autism and Asperger syndrome and I can understand on an intellectual level what makes me autistic to other people, where the difficulties and misunderstandings are, and what things I am not so good at, but I still feel normal to me. I know the problems that being the way I am causes me, but the way I am still feels right to me. I would not want to be different... I can't even imagine being different.

I have begun to think that maybe what this means is that some of the symptoms of various so called 'conditions' and 'disorders' are real characteristics of having a certain type of brain wiring, while others are simply a matter of perspective... a trick of the mind. Everybody uses their own mind as a basis for their understanding of others. The more another persons mind differs from your mental model of a mind based upon your own, the more puzzling, distant, and troublesome they will appear to you. That doesn't actually make that other person any of those things, but it will be almost, but not quite, impossible for you to perceive them any other way. Surely it is inevitable that things like humour, expression, empathy and even understanding will appear impaired or absent from the perspective of one who cannot imagine or conceive of what it is like to be inside your mind.

Of course, this isn't just relevant in regard to people with a diagnosis of something or other. Every mind is unique, and it may not be a matter of if they are different or even how they are different, but simply by how much they are different from you. To be the perpetual victim of misunderstanding is a disability indeed, but it tells you nothing about who or what you are. If a label such as autistic spectrum disorder needs to be applied, surely it applies as much to the situation as to the person.

Labels like disease and syndrome are concepts made up by people to describe reality, but reality is just what it is... one thing or another, and it leaves it up to us to decide what is good and what is bad. Surely when it comes to differences of the mind only an individual can say whether the hand they have been dealt in life was a good or bad one, no one else is even remotely qualified, and even then a persons feelings may change with time, experience or alterations of circumstance.

Psychologists and psychiatrists base their qualification to judge, measure, and understand the minds of others on being very familiar with a mutually agreed model of normalcy based on lots of peoples minds, instead of just relying on their own experience like most people do. They try to judge things objectively, but they cannot help but be biased, because the very minds  they are judging with, their own minds, are themselves limited by their own perspective. They are only human... flawed and imperfect. These people should not have the final say about who and what we are and what we can and can't do, and we shouldn't be leaving it up to them.

For me embracing neurodiversity is not about saying that it is good to have certain conditions or disorders and that everyone who has them should be happy and proud etc. The problems of being certain  ways are very real, and there is no reason why anyone should feel obliged to be happy about them. People have to deal with stuff whatever way feels right for them. Instead what I am trying to say is that decision should be yours and shouldn't be made for you, not by your parents, not by your teachers, not by a psychologist or psychiatrist, not be your government, not by an abortion clinic, and not even by the autistic community itself.

At present society is trying to herd everyone that doesn't fit because of their neurology into one big category, and all those thousands of people cover such a huge range of experiences that it is balanced like a see-saw, sometimes tipping toward the idea there isn't anything different about us at all and sometimes tipping toward the idea that we are so invalid and useless are lives aren't worth living. This is clearly a pointless waste of time that isn't getting us anywhere.

We need to start looking at people as individuals, but we can only safely do this in a society that embraces and accommodates neurodiversity and accepts it simply as part of what it means to be human. Until we get there, labels like 'autistic spectrum disorder' are our last line of defence against the march toward ever increasing uniformity and conformity. Right now, labels give us the chance to develop an identity, understand ourselves, and to seek out the quality of life that people who manage to be more 'typical', take for granted. Right now having a label is the only way to get any kind of accommodation or understanding.

Ultimately though I think if we continue to need these labels in the long term we will have failed to get a society that is inclusive and fair to autistic people and other neurological minorities. A label in itself is an act of discrimination... a back door to prejudice. Our society and the systems and institutions  within it should automatically be flexible enough to accommodate neurodiversity without you having to turn up with a glorified sick note to force them to make a token gesture toward meeting your needs.

From my perspective I am not broken or defective... I am just me. I would rather not have to be treated like I am disadvantaged. I don't want pity or special treatment, I just want to be able to get on with my life like everybody else, but on a more level playing field.

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