When is it okay to tell someone you think they have Asperger’s? That’s a complicated question, and one I’ve been asked a lot by advocates and allies.
Fortunately I’m a rigid, black and white thinker, and there’s not a single complicated issue that I can’t respond to in a single sentence.
If I think someone has Asperger’s, I don’t tell them. Ever.
This is because I don’t see Asperger’s as being just a disability or merely a diagnosis. For me, it’s an identity. It’s a culture. It’s a way of seeing and experiencing the world.
For me, assigning someone to a particular culture is a violation. Asperger’s is intrinsic to a person’s sense of self, and it feels too intimate to suggest that possibility to someone. Asperger’s is at the very core of who a person is. It’s a reality that people should arrive at privately and organically.
Of course, that’s easy for me to say from my vantage point. I’ve been safely diagnosed since I was thirteen. I get money from the government as a result of my diagnosis. I got accommodations in high school and university. Whenever anybody notices I behave strangely I have an explanation.
So it’s easy for me to say that people should have the luxury of arriving at this conclusion in their own time.
Asperger’s- especially when undiagnosed- is often accompanied by mental health issues. Depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive symptoms and anger are all common. For some undiagnosed Aspies there is a deep sense of frustration and loneliness due to their understanding on some level that they’re different, but not knowing why.
If you know someone like that, and you care about them, you might feel a sense of responsibility to let them know that they might be autistic.
However, being disabled often comes with a lack of autonomy and dignity. I can’t help but feel that being assigned a disability- even by a well-meaning friend- might contribute to that problem.
If your friend or family member really is suffering, you might try to find a dignified way of letting them know. Or, even better, a way of letting them figure it out on their own terms. You might read a book or an online article about Asperger’s and talk to them about it. Tell them you found it interesting, and why. Tell them that the writer’s description reminded you of your friend. After that point you should probably drop it.
This is only a suggestion, of course, and it’s not the route I’ve chosen in my own life. I’ve had two close friends with undiagnosed Asperger’s. Neither of them know they have it, and I’ve never suggested the possibility to them. Both of them have struggled with loneliness and mood disorders. I’ve listened to them, as any friend would, and provided emotional support and guidance. But I’ve tried to provide them with as much autonomy as I can. The idea of informing them that they have Asperger’s (and they do, there’s no doubt) feels far too invasive to me.
In spite of their problems and the circuitous, messy paths they’ve followed through life, both of these friends have found success and happiness.
One of them has a child now. I know that autism is genetic, and that this child might very well have some form of the disability. I wonder about their future, and whether they’ll have adequate support.
What I know for sure is that this child has parents who love her unconditionally. My undiagnosed Aspie friends also have people like that in their lives.
Maybe that’s all any of us really need, and all we’re obligated to provide. Every person has an intrinsic right to be given compassion, care, and dignity. And I do believe that sometimes the most compassionate, caring thing to do is to not let people know the whole truth. All undiagnosed Aspies really need are people to give them love and support.