Having, being, and individuality

It’s been a very long time since I’ve updated, but today, at 5:30am, I feel suddenly inspired to write a post.

Firstly, I want to write about the whole ‘I have autism’ versus ‘I am autistic’ thing. I see a lot written about this – a lot of people on the autism spectrum are against using ‘have’, arguing that it implies that autism is something external to them, rather than being an intrinsic part of who they are.

While I have every respect for those who hold that opinion, and I understand the thinking behind it, I have found I continue not to mind ‘have’ for myself. I will happily say ‘I have Aspergers’. I prefer not to use ‘Aspie’, because, while I have no problem with others using it for themselves, I find to my mind it diminishes it into something cutesie and cool – some ‘in-club’, rather than an actual diagnosis. My overall preference is actually neither ‘I have Aspergers’ nor ‘I am autistic’, but ‘I am on the autism spectrum’. Not because of the ‘am’, but because it draws attention to the fact that it is a spectrum. And I prefer ‘autism spectrum’ to ‘autistic spectrum’ because, as a friend once pointed out, the spectrum itself isn’t autistic! It is merely a scale to describe autism.

As for why I don’t mind ‘have’, well, I like to study linguistics, and I observe that ‘have’ and ‘am’ really don’t have these very neat, black-and-white different meanings. They both can be used in a wide variety of ways. I can say ‘I am angry’ and ‘I have a calm disposition’. If I examine which of those is the one that describes who I intrinsically am, ‘I am angry’ tends to describe an emotion of the moment, whereas ‘I have a calm disposition’ describes how I am in general, and is far more defining. Many people use as a reason for ‘I am autistic’ the fact that we say ‘I am female’, rather than ‘I have femaleness.’ But I’d be equally happy for ‘I have femaleness’. I observe that while English uses ’am’ to desribe age (‘I am 30 years old’, for instance), French uses ‘have’ – ‘j’ai 30 ans’ (I have 30 years). And both mean exactly the same. While there is part of me that wishes the verbs ‘to be’ and ‘to have’ were less messy, less ‘all over the place’ in their meanings and usages, I don’t think realistically that could ever be the case. So, for myself, I’m happy to say ‘I have Asperger Syndrome.’

I think this is important to point out, not to undermine those who are not happy to say that – their preferences should of course be respected – but to illustrate that we are all different. There is no archetypal autistic person, just as there is no archetypcal neurotypical person. While we have in common the way that our underlying brain ‘wiring’ works, we are still (of course) all very different in temperament, interests, preferences, etc. I really can’t emphasise this enough – it is so frustrating to meet someone who happens to know someone (or several people) on the autism spectrum and assumes from this to understand me and know exactly what my preferences are! ‘Oh, you don’t like hugs then’ is a very common reaction when I tell people I have Aspergers. Actually, I love hugs – if they are from someone I know and like and trust, and if they ask before hugging me, so I know to expect it. Yes, some people on the autism spectrum like hugs. The most important thing is never to assume. Ask the person.

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