Asperger’s: Disease or Difference?

Not too long ago, I was talking to a friend from high school and said, “I know everyone thought I was weird back in school.” He replied, “Ken, I never thought you were weird. I think we all knew you were different. We just didn’t know why.”

That sums up the “Aspie” in a nutshell. Everyone knows he’s different, including him. But they don’t know why. He may be seen as slow, undisciplined, maybe even retarded. The reality is, his brain is simply wired differently than that of most people. Because of this, he may struggle with things others take for granted, and may take longer than others to learn some things.

However, this also means he can probably do things others couldn’t do to save their lives.

A classic example of this would be Temple Grandin.

While watching “The Temple Grandin Story,” it occurred to me why her differences were both a blessing and a curse: Because nobody had a brain that worked like hers, nobody else could understand her, and so oftentimes, she was dismissed as an eccentric or kook. But by the same token, because no one’s brain worked like hers, nobody could do the things she did.

Similarly, I struggled with a lot of things that came easy to my classmates in school. But I could also do things they could never do, such as figuring math problems in my head.

At one point in my life, I thought my entire way of looking at things was off-balance, out-of-whack, and just plain wrong. I struggled to think like others. But eventually, I came to realize my perspective on things wasn’t wrong, it was simply different. Too often, the Aspie doesn’t understand how others think, and others certainly don’t understand how he thinks. As a result, he gets ridiculed, possibly harassed, bullied, maybe even dismissed and not taken seriously.

But just because the Aspie is different, that doesn’t mean he isn’t intelligent.

In fact, he might just be smarter than you. He’s simply trying to adjust to life in a world that wasn’t made for him. And trust me—if most of the people in this world were Aspies, the world would be a very different place. Not necessarily better or worse, just different.

Suppose you were built like a mesomorph. That is, you were short, but stocky, with rather short limbs. Now, suppose you found yourself trapped on a planet where almost everyone was tall and thin, and into running. Because you were not built like everyone else, people might assume you’re an overeater, undisciplined, etcetera. But because of the way you’re built, you’d have an edge on most other people when it came to strength, and you’d be able to do things most of the tall-and-thin crowd couldn’t do to save their lives.

That Aspie is a mesomorph in a world of tall-and-thins. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the way his brain is built—it’s simply not built with this world in mind. That’s why I refer to Asperger’s Syndrome as a difference, not a defect, disease, or flaw. Having Asperger’s sometimes makes it harder for me to live in this world, but it also has its good points. Some of those will be discussed in future blogs.

by Ken Kellam

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Ken Kellam III was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in his late 30's, and has worked with Autism Treatment Center of Texas since 2003. He is currently the administrative assistant to the clinical director. He also helps facilitate three different self-advocate groups, and in the Spring of 2015 was presented with the "Angel Award" by the National Autism Association of North Texas for the works he has done with these groups. He has also done public speaking on the subject of autism/Asperger syndrome, and has spoken to various educational and parental groups. When not involved with autism, Ken has led the singing at the same church since 1988, and has also been the fill-in preacher at this same church. In 2006 he was called on to sing the National Anthem at the Autism Society of America's national convention in Dallas, and performed the same song at ATC's rodeo fundraiser. He also enjoys writing, and formerly wrote articles for a website dedicated to reality television. In 2011 he got married for the first time, and his wife Rachel works for ATC in Adult Services. Ken graduated from Oklahoma Christian University in 1987 with a Bachelor's in Mass Communications, and once worked as a radio traffic reporter, interactive announcer and writer, and news producer in Dallas. He views Asperger's as a difference, not a defect, and has come to appreciate the positive aspect's of Asperger's.

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3 thoughts on “Asperger’s: Disease or Difference?

  1. I think you are “just right”, Ken! I have never had a diagnosis but, as someone who has been working with and advocating for those affected by autism for years, I often wonder if people might misinterpret my enthusiasm for the diagnosis. I mean, I have never thought of it as a bad thing – maybe because a diagnosis was hard to come by when I first started. But, more recently, I know it is because I am excited to begin uncovering and growing the gifts of those who get a diagnosis – putting the puzzle pieces together. It’s just one of the reasons I think I might get my own diagnosis one day – I totally “get it”! Some people characterize it as “Differently Gifted”, but I prefer to think of it as “Gifted Differently”, if you know what I mean…