What if they had been diagnosed autistic?

In his book Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism, author Roy Richard Grinker mentions chess legend Bobby Fischer (p. 63) as someone who may have been an undiagnosed autistic. When I read David Edmonds’ book Bobby Fischer Goes to War: How A Lone American Star Defeated the Soviet Chess Machine, I thought the same thing. (For more discussion on the subject check out the Bobby Fischer talk page on Wikipedia.)

I can’t help wondering, if Fischer were indeed autistic, how would his life – and the history of chess, among other things – have been different if he had been diagnosed when he was young? If he had been provided the treatment and services that are typically demanded today for Asperger’s diagnoses, would he have had the impact he did? Would he have been able to have that impact, or would that ability have been “treated” out of him?

You can extend this to any of the great minds that people sometimes say were probably autistic, like Newton, Einstein, Van Gogh. You could also look at those who have been diagnosed with Asperger’s as an adult and think back on how things may have been different, for them and their contributions, if they had been diagnosed younger.

There is no doubt (in my mind, anyway) that the increase in diagnoses of autism, especially Asperger’s, is due in large part to a better understanding of what Asperger’s is and an increased desire of parents to understand why their kids are “different”. Many are being diagnosed now that might not have been diagnosed before, and demanding (and receiving) treatment they may not have received before.

Today, most people – parents, really – who seek an autism diagnosis do so because they want to know what’s wrong and how to “fix” it.  I can’t help wondering what these individuals – and the world – may be missing out on because we want to catch and “fix” their differences early in life.

Of course, a diagnosis doesn’t have to lead to a “fix”. What if a diagnosis were used to let parents and autistics better understand why they are the way they are? That is something they could use to help themselves as they shape their own future.

Just imagine what that world might look like.

(note: this is an edited version of my April 2008 article What if they had been diagnosed autistic? I was inspired to rewrite and repost it based on yesterday’s blog post at about.com:Autism)

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4 thoughts on “What if they had been diagnosed autistic?

  1. I’ll take the other side of the coin and say how many MORE Bobby Fischers can we ‘make’, when we recognize Aspergers early enough and teach and treat them differently?

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  2. Ah but this retro diagnosis game is always the usual suspects innit, that is because it is not to do with anyone’s true historical status, it is to do with the popular iconography, I mean Einstein and that hair, he wasn’t normal was he?

    Why do we rarely read Immanuel Kant for instance? You can feed him in and come up with any number of so called “disorders” in fact his orderliness puts him in the frame for a couple at least.

    The guy had headaches and the common academic grunt (yes even your PHD psychologist is common compared to Kant) who can’t understand a word of what he said, puts together the notion that he had headaches didn’t he, oh no never a hangover, never the unfinished Kronenburg (reference to an old beer commercial there) it couldn’t even be migraine, it has to be a brain tumour screwing with his cognition and making him write nonsence.

    Well what bollox. An infinitessimally invisible infestation of worms is probably writing this for me as you see.

    Now then folks play the game, what can we diagnose Pope Benedict with….
    Heck it is not normal to hold the attitudes he does is it?

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  3. I think the reason they aren’t dx’d… the Fischers… the class nerd when we were growing up is that they don’t see the point in it.

    If you are an independant adult… why would you ever be diagnosed with autism. I was told I probably have Asperger’s by one of my son’s dev peds… so what?? It doesn’t impact my life any… so why do I require a label.

    Label’s are to get services… period.

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  4. “What if a diagnosis were used to let parents and autistics better understand why they are the way they are? That is something they could use to help themselves as they shape their own future.”

    That’s exactly why I sought the correct diagnosis for my son. To help me understand how to encourage my son to maximize his potential. That’s my job as a mom, whether it’s for my ASD child or my NT one.

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