I was justing listening to Dan Savage's Savage Love podcast 289, in which a teenaged boy called up about expressing romantic interest in another teenaged boy, who happened to have Asperger's. This was the occasion to bring in British counselor Maxine Aston to discuss challenges and special considerations when communicating with people with Asperger's.
I immediately hopped over to Aston's Web site to investigate her credentials. She has a Master's of Science in health psychology. She specializes in counseling people with Asperger's and people who love people with Asperger's. She's also written a bunch of articles and books about people with Asperger's in relationships with non-Asperger's people. Sounds pretty qualified, right?
WRONG! The About Maxine section tells all: She writes, "I was once married to a very special man who was affected by Asperger syndrome…"
Pardon me while I barf! As far as I can tell, Aston does not have Asperger's. However, she presumes to be an expert on people with Asperger's because she's objectified them for years and years by studying them.
You can tell she has objectified people with Asperger's because she uses the dismissive and condescending term "very special" to refer to her ex with Asperger's. In my experience, the term "special" is frequently used by non-disabled people to place disabled people in a separate, subhuman category where they become silent, inspirational symbols instead of fully respected human beings. In fact, when I hear a non-disabled person describe a disabled person as "special," I interpret that word as a derisive insult. Aston does not respect people with Asperger's; instead, she feels pity and contempt for them.
Aston arrogates the authority to discuss Asperger's syndrome because of her neurotypical privilege. Paradoxically enough, she is assumed to be an expert in Asperger's syndrome precisely because she does not have Asperger's syndrome. She may be an authority on people without Asperger's in relationships with people with Asperger's, but that doesn't automatically make her an expert in Asperger's syndrome. The experts in Asperger's are the people who know what it's like to experience Asperger's day in and day out because they themselves have the condition. But they are frequently marginalized by the non-disabled majorities who participate in their objectification and suppression, therefore making it very difficult for people with Asperger's to communicate their experiences.
Man, now I have even more of a reason to loathe Dan Savage. Instead of having some people with Asperger's on to discuss their perceptions, communciation and advice, he perpetuated the dehumanization of people with disabilities by calling in a neurotypical "expert." Way to go, Dan Savage!
P.S. Is it pronounced "ass per gerrrrs" or "ass per jurrrrrrs?"