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Aspies, Relationships, and Neurotypicals: What does real empowerment look like?

March 25, 2010
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"brain" by natalia & gabriel on Flickr

When I first saw an article on EmpowHER (a website we’ve linked to before as part of GFLL) pointing out that Adults Can Have Asperger’s Syndrome Too, I was glad to see an acknowledgment of the existence of people like me. But when I read the article, I found that the author had not quoted any Aspies or even linked to any sites where the words of Aspies might be found, such as the blog Square 8.

As important as “nothing about us without us” is to the disability rights movement, however, this turned out to be the least of the problems with the text. That dishonor goes to the discussion of Aspies’ relationships. It starts with a quote from Katherine Tsatsanis of the Yale Developmental Disabilities Clinic:

Almost by definition, an Asperger’s person would not form an intimate relationship, get married and have children. They don’t form connections. The desire, the drive and the social knowledge is lacking.

The counterpoint to this is provided not by testimonies from Aspies who are in or have been in relationships but from a group called FAAS, promoters of the so-called Cassandra Affective Deprivation Disorder which essentially makes the claim that neurotypical partners of people on the autistic spectrum will feel lonely and emotionally deprived to the extent of developing a mental disorder. It not only pathologises these partners but also implies that autistics are inherently emotionally abusive. The idea that Aspies are always responsible for problems in any relationship may make it even more difficult for Aspies in abusive relationships to get help when they seek it. This is how we are portrayed when others are allowed to speak for us.

Now, I do want to acknowledge that the problems with this article are not isolated. It is less the fault of the author than of broader social currents that lead to Aspies, and all people who are not neurotypical, being treated more as problems than as people and not being allowed to speak for ourselves. Still, reading my life and my experiences framed in this sort of way is particularly hurtful when it comes from a website dedicated to empowering women.

I realise that it is difficult to undo the many years of social constructs and training to which we have all been exposed, but it is the only real route to empowerment. For yourself, yes, but that’s not as important as the affect it will have on those whom your power and voice impact. The lesson for everyone who wants to discuss social justice is this: make sure you hear the voices of people unlike yourself before you write about them. They are the experts on their own lives. (I almost said go to the people themselves instead of the experts—an example of the outposts in my own head.)

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4 Comments
  1. Colleen Hodgetts permalink*
    March 25, 2010 9:24 am

    Thanks for this article Elizabeth. It’s a great reminder to all of us working towards true empowerment for everyone. “[M]ake sure you hear the voices of people unlike yourself before you write about them. They are the experts on their own lives. ” What a fantastic quote!

  2. Julie Bartkiewicz permalink
    March 25, 2010 9:57 am

    Very strange to generalize an “oddity” isn’t it?

  3. March 25, 2010 2:39 pm

    “essentially makes the claim that neurotypical partners of people on the autistic spectrum will feel lonely and emotionally deprived to the extent of developing a mental disorder.”

    -I asked my neurotypical husband about this, and he says he is neither lonely nor emotionally deprived. He also doesn’t feel like being with me caused him to have any mental disorder.

    It is so ridiculous that people would want to make pronouncements on my way of being without knowing the first thing about it.

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