What’s the difference between “having” Asperger’s and “being” Asperger’s?

There’s been a big shift in the terminology surrounding mental disability in recent years. The biggest change is that instead of referring to someone as “an autistic person”, the classification now comes after them: “a person with autism”. This is to reflect the need for society at large to see people with mental disabilities as people who have additional needs, rather than being defined solely by their condition.

Asperger’s? 101

This shift in focus has led to people with Asperger’s, a form of autism, to create a further classification for themselves: the difference between having Asperger’s and being Asperger’s. To understand this nuanced difference, it’s important to have an understanding of what Asperger’s syndrome is.

Asperger’s syndrome is part of the autism spectrum. People with Asperger’s tend to be more higher functioning in their ability to interact with the world around them with stronger language skills and higher intellectual ability than other parts of the autism spectrum. Key characteristics of an individual with Asperger’s include:

  • Strong pattern recognition – people with Asperger’s often see the world in a very different way from their neurotypical peers, and one of the big differences is their ability to see patterns in seemingly random pieces of data. This makes them excellent problem solvers in data driven fields, such as accounting or meteorology,  as well as excellent computer programmers as they can quickly see faults and errors in lines of code.

  • High levels of focus – a strong sense of persistence on preferred tasks is a hallmark of many forms of autism, and it is especially strong in individuals with Asperger’s syndrome. This is intertwined with a set of narrow yet persistent fascinations that the individual will pursue. Any job that ties into these fascinations will likely be a successful fit, which is why it will be essential for autism employment agency to get a handle on these areas of interests early on in the hiring process.

  • Finding conversations challenging – even though people with Asperger’s have higher levels of linguistic skills and understanding than other parts of the autistic spectrum, conversations can still be challenging for them. This stems from the part of Asperger’s syndrome which makes it hard for people with the condition to perceive and understand the non-verbal clues in a conversation: changes in tone of voice, reading body language and the use of non-concrete language structures like idioms, sarcasm or metaphors all make it harder for people with Asperger’s to fully engage in discussions. Fortunately, it’s not hard for neurotypical colleagues and friends to learn how to be aware of these non-verbal cues and modify their speech patterns to be more autism friendly.

Of course, the old adage about autism holds true in the case of Asperger’s syndrome. As the saying goes, “once you’ve met one person with Asperger’s you’ve met one person with Asperger’s.” This means that each person with Asperger’s will be different, and while the above traits are those most common in people with Asperger’s, they may be more or less pronounced and may even be absent.

Having Asperger’s vs being Asperger’s

So now with an understanding of the condition, it’s easier to tease out the difference between people who view themselves as having Asperger’s and those who view themselves as being Asperger’s. For those who prefer the terminology of having Asperger’s, it’s a way to separate themselves from the condition. It can be seen as another way of making sure that society sees them as a person first and foremost, and the Asperger’s is merely a part of who they are.  For those who want to be seen as being Asperger’s, the condition is more like a badge of honor that they were. This terminology acts as an official recognition of the impact of the condition on the person, and makes it so that people who come into contact with them are instantly aware of the accommodations and changes that they’ll need to make in their interactions.

The best way to think of the difference from a neurotypical point of view is to consider the modern way of viewing gender identity. It is down to the individual about how they want to identify themselves and for the rest of the world to react to them in accordance with this choice.

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