In this Cafe, poet and musician Yap offers a philosophical reflection on the experience of someone with Asperger’s

Source: National Autistic Society
Source: National Autistic Society

Syndrome, and looks at how this might shed a different light on the human condition, as well as on the possibility of continuing human evolution. We also look at some broader ethical issues surrounding how society views autistic spectrum disorders (ASD), and how these might force us to question the definition of “disability” more generally. Are conditions like ASD necessarily disabilities requiring therapy or cure?

Join us at The Gate on Tuesday 15 November, from 8.00pm. Entry is free.

One thought on “Next Cafe: Autism, Aspergers and Being Human”

  1. On the night Yap suggested that ASD (autistic spectrum disorder(s)) is one of the heralds of change that occurs when one species gives rise to another. That is, autism’s “context” is evolutionary.

    Maybe so, if we take “ASD” for granted. The term still needs unravelling. I argued that it isn’t anything like we vaguely believe it to be, not least because the term is entirely uninformative. Is it merely the name we give to summarise a list of observed behaviours? Such a list is called a syndrome, but then you can’t suffer from a set of observations. As I said on the night, no-one knows what they mean when they use the term ASD or its variants such as aspergers and autism.

    For how can an individual “have” ASD if ASD is a description of how that persons thinks and experiences? ” We don’t “have”, “show symptoms of”, “suffer from” or “have a condition of ” ourselves. Rather, it is we, as persons, who think and experience that provides the “context” of what we take to be suffering or of “having” something, some disease or other.

    So while Yap’s idea that the context of autism is evolutionary, there is yet a wider context that he did not take account of. That context is personhood. We, as persons. cannot have or suffer from ourselves.

    It looks like I am squeezing ASD out from any meaningful discourse, scientific or otherwise. ASD in its clinical guise is a non-thing; it is personhood that sets the context or framework for what counts as a clinical judgement. ASD, I said that night, was a social category, not a clinical category.

    There are two scurilous ways in which we can assert ASD to be a clinical “condition”:
    1) A condition, presumably, refers to a physical state. But then we are all subject to physical states. We can’t appeal to “symptoms” as a justification for a condition, as a symptom is justified in the same way as a condition. We need a new distinguishing criterion. What we must argue for is that certain physical “conditions” override personhood. This suggests that ASD is some sort of unique chemical or physical possession. This property is necessarily scientifically unsupported, and just a bit spooky.

    2) We can adopt a post-war eugenics where a person is shadowed by their real self, a self that is still perfect, but is now achievable. This allows us to blur the distinction between the actual person and their perfect image, and to place the image before the man, if we so decide. And so, the person declared to “have” ASD loses actuality and becomes their perfect image, lumbered with a broken, clinically accessible, physical form. This makes the “ASD” person the eternal patient, with helpers instead of friends, therapies instead of holidays, where home-life is a tick-box activity of tasks achieved, all in service of his perfect image.

    This is why I reject the current discourse of ASD. I am not alone in this. There are psychiatrists and those classed as “having” ASD who also reject the discourse of ASD.

    ….There is yet a wider context for ASD that I can’t say much about. How did the discourse of ASD arise? When did personhood become subject to (pseudo) clinical judgement driven, it seems, by some social need or embarrasment? I do not know. Has it anything to do with reductionist fashions in science and philosophy, where mind becomes seconded to matter? Whatever the rationalization that seems to justify the use of terms like ASD, we might do well to consider our own default blindness that mistakenly takes ASD to be more than what it is – a list of arbitrary, contemporary social categorizations grounded on socially undesirable behaviours, cast in the reductionist, uninformative language of the clinic.

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