First of all – I have a brother who has Asperger syndrome, which is basically very high functioning autism.
Comparing his behavior to mine, though, I notice – in pretty much everything, what he does is just an exaggeration of what I do. There isn’t really any fundamental difference between us that marks him as having some sort of disorder and me as not.
Now, a while ago on the Wesnoth forums (January 2007?), there was a discussion of “aspies”. Basically, many people with Aspergers reject the idea that they have some sort of disease or problem that needs to be fixed. They say they’re just wired differently, or something like that… It’s an interesting movement, I think. I agree with it partially – we certainly shouldn’t say people with Aspergers or autism of any sort are at all subhuman. But I am wary of saying there is no correct or incorrect when it comes to how your brain is wired, because that seems way too relativistic for me.
Here’s what I would be comfortable saying – people with autism are are flawed in a different way than “normals”; aspies tend to not be comfortable enough with emotions, and that isn’t natural for humans, but aspies do have some advantage from their way of looking at the world, and we shouldn’t try to take that away from them.
Anyway, on that discussion on the Wesnoth forums, there were a bunch of links to quizzes meant to identify if you were an aspie or not. I took several of them, and tended to score in the “almost an aspie” category – a few points more, and I would be. Now, this just confirmed what I’d seen comparing myself to my brother – there isn’t some magical dividing line between having Aspergers and not. It really is a continuum, and you get people all along it.
This is, I suspect, true for a number of mental conditions. Obviously you either have Downs syndrome or you don’t – either you have an extra chromosome or not, there’s no in between – but with autism, ADD, OCD, etc, it seems almost foolish to try to say that these people have it and these others do not. At what point does a quirk become a syndrome or disorder? At what point does mere melancholy become depression?
I’m really not sure – if I was, this post would be structured differently. But I am suspicious of the practice naming these things and calling them disorders. I mean, I occasionally act Aspergian, and have been called “OCD” in the way it used colloquially – to just mean anything done that orders things unnecessarily. I have been depressed in the non-medical sense. And it seems off to me to say that if I just carried those behaviors out to a greater extent – if I did what I normally do, differing only in degree, not kind – I would be mentally disordered.
I’d welcome any argument against this. Perhaps it’s just naivety on my part.