This post was inspired by a police officer that went through my training last week and asked, "I see the media talk about autism and Asperger's but there's always a savant gift, this isn't true, is it?" The media often, whether in news stories or depictions of fictional characters with autism/Asperger's, will often use the word "will" instead of the much needed "may."
There's a big difference between the two words and it's within these words that understanding must take place. Let's start with the facts from Wikipedia: Asperger's is a form of autism characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication alongside restricted and repetitive interests.
What you read above is the "will" of Asperger's per the diagnosis. However, after that it opens up to a world of "may." A world of "may?" Yes, let's start with point one of difficulties: social interactions. I've heard some parents tell me that a professional told them that their child can't possibly have Asperger's because, "he can talk." That right there is the start of the confusion between may and will. Some people with autism are nonverbal, some are not. Some people with Asperger's can be very shy, and some may actually be talkative to a level that could annoy those around them. I know this because, when I was in kindergarten, I would go on and on about specific weather stats that no one knew, nor cared about, but I went on and on anyway. However, each person's ability to understand the social dynamic varies and the possibilities are endless on how it could play out.
Thesecond point plays very much into the first one and I want to skip ahead to the interests as this is one that seems to confuse people. According to that fact, a person with a ASD will have, "restricted and repetitive interests" but what does this mean? Does this mean a person will have just one interest forever? Does this mean a person will have an interest a year? Can a person have two interests? Three? I've heard some misguided experts give questionable answers to this, in my opinion, as to state that a person "will" is to categorize all people on the autism spectrum as the same. When it comes to the criteria of diagnosing then yes, it's a requirement, but after that the way it plays out can be radically unique. One person may have several interests, but those interests are the only thing that matters. Another person may have an "interest of the week," so to speak, while another may have one sole interest for all time.
If you've heard my presentation then you know I state, rather boldly I might add, that the most important thing you can ever remember about autism is that, "if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism." That being said, using the word, "a person with Asperger's will..." is countering the, "if you've met one..." Let's look at it this way; if we go back to the officer that asked the question, he later referenced news stories and television shows, such as "The Big Bang Theory," in that all people on the spectrum must be good at math/science because that's the way it is shown. I even heard an interview once where an "expert" said, "people with Asperger's will be good at math and science." Can a person be good? Most certainly! Can they be exceptional? Absolutely, but the dangers of saying "will" is that the person who isn't good in those, well, what will they think of themself? Another time it was art and that, "people with autism will excel in art." Can they? Oh yes, but then you'll have a person like myself which managed a grade of F in first grade art, and trust me when I say I deserved the grade.
Don't get me wrong, there are times when the word "will" is proper as in the aspect of being diagnosed. From that point on, however, the playing field is infinite in possibilities. One thing I do say in presentations, which when I began I must admit I did use the word "will," is that I say, "We on the autism spectrum may..." It is vital to understand this and, in my opinion, adopt this language because those already associated with the autism spectrum, I hope, already understands this. The hurdle we face is with those unaffiliated with the autism spectrum. It could be rather confusing if a person heard, "All people with autism will hate bright lights, and loud sounds." That would mean, if they came across a person who craved such things, that it can't be autism because of the concrete nature of the belief of "will."
Moving forward I am going to be even more conscious of the world between will and may because it's a wide, vast chasm and could be the difference between confusion and understanding.