I’ve got a little secret for you: I don’t give a crap about your diagnosis.
I should probably expand on that a little bit. What I mean to say is “unless there is going to be some actionable item that does not include the concept of ‘awareness’ at the end of your sentence, telling me about your diagnosis is not going to change my day”. Ditto for your political affiliation, your race, your sexual orientation, your height, your weight, your age, your religion (or lack thereof), or your eye color…because at the bottom of it all, I don’t give a flying fig about your labels.
I stumbled across an article today that discussed the recent explosion in ASD diagnoses (that’s “Autism Spectrum Disorders”), and for a bit while I was reading, I thought I might write about how yes, it seems like everyone and their cousin is being diagnosed as being “on the spectrum” nowadays. And more precisely, I thought I might write about how I don’t actually care very much about it: if you need that label so that you can get access to necessary supports, like counseling or therapy or special schools, then go for it; but if you’re just tossing it around to explain away your weirdness, then go explain it to someone else–all god’s children gots a place in my choir, so I don’t much care what flavor of weird you happen to be, as long as you can play nicely and share the toys.
But as I sat and thought about how to phrase my opinions on this (y’know, with a careful eye toward offending as few of my loved ones as possible), it occurred to me that really, this isn’t just about ASD for me. This is about labels in general.
I admit: I don’t understand a lot of things about how the world works. I don’t understand why people ZOMG MUST HAVE the latest iteration of the shiny gadget. I don’t understand why Katy Perry is popular. I don’t understand how paparazzi are a thing, or how America’s Next Top Model is in its 19th “cycle” but Alcatraz got cancelled (now we’ll never solve the mystery!), or why it’s suddenly fashionable to have a sensitivity to gluten (my apologies to those of you who actually do have a gluten sensitivity). And chief among the Great Mysteries of Life to me is why we seem so darned determined to strap on as many labels as we can possibly carry.
I mean, I get it to a point: sometimes we need labels so that, as previously mentioned, we can have access to supports that we need in order to function and so that we can minimize our accidental jerkface-itude toward each other. It’s just polite, for instance, to know what your guests can and cannot eat before you have them over for dinner and realize that they’re stuck nibbling on nothing but coleslaw while everyone else chows down; and if a friend has a medical condition that might require me to leap to their aid via epi-pen or pill or emergency call, then I’d like to know about that so I can be helpful if necessary.
But beyond that it just seems bizarre to me. My father-in-law, for instance, is a retired doctor who is also a practicing Catholic and staunch Republican. I am none of those things, and in some cases, I’m his polar opposite. According to our labels, we should be having no-holds-barred bare-knuckle fistfights every time we’re in a room together. But we get along just fine–he also happens to be hilarious, and enjoys experimenting with baking bread and making cheese, so as long as we steer clear of politics after he’s had a tongue-loosening drink or two, we’re totally cool. And an especially dear friend of mine probably has Asperger’s (if he’s been formally diagnosed, I don’t know about it)–but this is totally non-actionable on my part, as all I really care about is that his weirdness dovetails nicely with my weirdness, so we can have a lot of fun talking and singing and laughing and making nerdy pop culture references and geeking out about good coffee, and if his Aspie-ness means that he has to pay a little extra attention to how he interacts with folks, well, that’s probably not such a terrible thing. Who couldn’t do with a little extra mindfulness?
And I dunno, maybe I’m unusual in my tolerance. Maybe it’s one of my particular weirdnesses that I do not give a single flying crap about why you’re weird, as long as our weirdnesses can coexist peacefully. But if we assume that most non-actionable labels are there so that people can adjust their expectations of us, then perhaps we all need to reconsider how we interact in the universe. I mean, what would it say about me–and about your understanding of me as a person–if you felt obligated to tell me, for example, that you’ve got this list of labels that all add up to “sometimes I struggle with social interactions”? (Helpful hint: I struggle with social interactions too. We can sit in the corner and be weird together if you want.) Were you afraid that I might look down on you if you didn’t burst through the door and start singing a medley of show tunes while simultaneously small-talking every person in the room?
And if that’s the case, what can I do to change that so that you’re more comfortable? And what can we as human beings do to change it?
I guess the bottom line here is this: I get it that society expects a lot of things (some of which I’m more ready to accept than others–screw you, social expectation that I will have an opinion about Honey Boo-Boo). And I get it that sometimes you need the magic passphrase to unlock the secret door that lets you into the club with all the perks tailored to your needs.
But here at the Buffalo Moon Ranch, we don’t play that way. Around here your diagnosis–and any other labels you feel obligated to emblazon across your forehead–is irrelevant, unless it happens to come with some action items for me. So frankly, I reckon the world would be a better place if we all just put our labelmakers away.