Earlier this week, on a current affairs show in Australia called The Project, a rock journalist talked about Craig Nicholls, the lead singer of the rock band The Vines, who was arrested after an incident at his parents home last weekend. Craig has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.
During the interview, the journalist referred to Asperger’s as a ‘disease’ that Nicholls was suffering! The Project Social Media team was quick to tweet out an apology to fans about the use of the word ‘disease.’ It’s a shame that most of the people who watch the show, are not on Twitter!
Later that same night another news headline about Asperger’s Syndrome. This time in Great Britain, Gary McKinnon a young man diagnosed with Asperger’s has been fighting an extradition order to the US, under charges of espionage and computer hacking. The extradition order was overturned last night by the British Home Secretary. Ten years ago Gary was arrested for hacking into 97 US military computers at the Pentagon and NASA and he has been fighting extradition ever since. The US government called it the biggest breach to their security, Gary said he was just looking for evidence of aliens!
When my son was first diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in 1997, nobody had ever heard of it. People didn’t know how to pronounce it…some called is Ashburgers, Asburgers or Arseburgers! Some pronounced Asperger’s with the ‘g’ sound as in the name ‘Gerry’, others pronounced it with the ‘g’ sound as in the word ‘Gary.’ (No wonder people struggle to learn the English language!!) Personally, I think many people back then thought we were making the whole thing up – and that Asperger’s was used as an excuse to be translated to mean ‘bad parenting!’
Fast forward to 2012, and the whole world has changed. Asperger’s now makes front page news. But, is all this focus actually good for our children diagnosed with Asperger’s? Will people begin to associate ‘Asperger’s’ with people who break the law, or are violent? Will people begin to make the wrong assumptions about Asperger’s syndrome and will it impact on our children in a negative way?
Now I believe that our mission has shifted. Instead of making people aware of Asperger’s, we also need to highlight the ‘good’ things that ‘most’ people on the Autism Spectrum do. Everybody from Bill Gates to Albert Einstein, Steven Speilberg to Henry Ford. As well as people like my son and his friends who are just good, hardworking young people, who despite their diagnosis (or perhaps because of it) are delighting the world with their quirkiness and changing the world because of their achievements.
Over the next few days you may come across conversations about either Craig Nicholls or Gary McKinnon and perhaps there will be reference to the fact that their actions are caused because they have Asperger’s.
If you do, please remind those who are so quick to make assumptions – that Craig and Gary are simply two people out of a world of seven billion people. Coincidentally, they happen to be two of the one in 110 people of those seven billion who are now living with Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism in their lives…and the majority of those one in 110 people are doing just fine!
Sally Thibault is an Asperger’s Expert, Author, Counselor, Speaker and Media commentator. She has featured regularly on National Television, Radio and Print publications. She works with Universities, Parents, Teacher and Specialists to understand the challenges ASD children and their families face particularly during the school years.
Follow me on Twitter for all the latest updates on Asperger’s, Autism, Bullying and Parenting Children in the Social Media Era