Perpetuating Misconceptions

Last year, I took Michael Savage to task for some extremely incendiary and derogatory remarks he had about autism spectrum disorder. Now, a recent movie review by Rex Reed for the New York Observer furthers misinformation and misconceptions about the highly complex condition. The review is for a movie called Adam, which, according to the review, is a romantic comedy where the male lead has Asperger Syndrome.


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I’m going to admit that I know little of this film. I’ve heard my friend Sandy, who writes Aspie Teacher, mention it a couple of times, and it is through her that I even learned of this review. I do find it interesting, though, that of three sources I looked up this movie on – Sundance, Rotten Tomatoes, and IMDB – only one (IMDB) mentions Apserger Syndrome in the movie description. This leads me to wonder if Asperger Syndrome is ever explicitly  mentioned in the film, or, as is the case with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, an ASD label is imposed on the main character from outside sources as the most recognizable symptoms he displays.

That speculation is another topic, however, and I don’t know if my curiosity of the film is piqued enough to go find out. The real issue here is the way Rex Reed decides to educate his readers on the nuances of Asperger Syndrome.

…Asperger’s is an incurable neurological disorder similar to autism that turns outwardly normal-looking people into high-class idiot savants. I know at least two people with Asperger’s. They are incapable of thinking of anyone or anything outside of themselves…

…They feel incapable of explaining things and they cannot cope with people in general. Emotionally blocked, they say things that hurt and sting without meaning to be rude, and are weak at understanding, receiving or exchanging the emotions of others…

…It is lethal to get involved romantically with any person with Asperger’s syndrome, since they care nothing about other people’s feelings, needs or priorities. Almost without exception, they leave you perplexed, riddled with doubt and totally depressed.

I don’t doubt that different individuals with Asperger Syndrome display one, a few, or even all of these traits dependant on their level of functionality, but I do have a problem with casting such umbrella generalizations over such a complex condition. The general public is already terribly under-informed and misdirected about Asperger Syndrome. Sensationalist writing like this does our community no favors.

I recommend you read what Sandy has to say about this in her post Perpetuating Myths About Autism. Here’s a preview:

R and I are the best of friends, and there’s nothing that we’re not able to laugh at together. We’re a great team because one person can sense when the other is struggling and find a way to support them. R knows to be alert for situations that might cause sensory meltdowns for me, and I know that he needs a little extra prompting to keep up with meaningful interactions at home. Did we have to work to get here? Yes! Relationships are always work! But lethal, I would say most certainly not.

Also, check out the post Getting It Wrong: Why Bad Press is so Important on Spectrum Siblings regarding why addressing this issue is necessary.

I have Tourette’s Syndrome, and if you want to name the number one disorder the mass media has totally missed the boat on, it’s TS. To everyone but individuals with TS and their loved ones, as well as a few specialists, Tourette’s Syndrome is characterized by constant cursing, particularly the “f-word” or “n-word”…Anyone who I disclose my diagnosis to responds with either laughing or asking how often I curse.

Adam may in fact be an informative and fair film to the issues of autism and Asperger Syndrome, but the information in this review is far from that standard. People with autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger Syndrome, are a diverse bunch, with wide ranging challenges, abilities, and talents. One does not define the whole.