Asperger Syndrome: Difference or Disability?

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By Dan Coulter

Is Asperger Syndrome a difference or a disability? I’ve read a lot about this question and seen people come down strongly one way or the other. With my son, who has AS, newly home from college and starting a job search, I’ve had an opportunity to take a fresh look at the whole issue.

At college, Drew lived in a dorm, managed his own schedule, succeeded academically and made a circle of friends. His graduation was a tremendous accomplishment.

But finish lines are often also starting lines for the next event. And you may need more and different skills for the new contest. Having Drew live at home again and interact with us on a daily basis helped me realize that his college was a more flexible and accepting environment than many workplaces may be.

Workplaces can be very competitive and have their own cultures and rules. With all he learned and accomplished, Drew’s college experience didn’t erase his Asperger Syndrome. I thought about this as our family sat in a theater recently before a movie. Drew made a comment to me, his mother and sister, but in a voice loud enough to be heard by several rows of audience members.

This made me think about how often social skills are as important as task skills in a workplace. I started mentally listing some areas -- some fairly subtle -- that I wanted to work on with Drew to help him improve his prospects of getting and keeping a job.

But then, I thought, how far should I take this? The comment Drew made was a bit too loud for the social setting, but it was also witty and funny. Asperger Syndrome can create behaviors that put people at a disadvantage and “disable” them in some ways. But if we push too hard to modify the “disablers,” we risk disabling some of the strengths and personality traits that make them who they are.

A few days ago, Drew drove off to be with a group he found that hangs out at a book store on Friday nights. “It’s just really great to be with people who accept me for who I am,” he said before he left.

I want to help my son refine his social skills to get and hold a job, and I also want him to see me as someone who accepts him for who he is.

Like most things in life, it’s a balancing act. If we see AS solely as a either a disability or a difference, we risk smothering a unique personality or not giving help where it’s truly needed.

As we counsel and advise our kids (and we are, of course, going to counsel and advise them), we need to make sure we don’t push so hard in so many areas that we discourage them and sabotage our efforts. We need to pick out things that will really make a difference and help our sons and daughters see the benefits of making those changes. And we need to let go of the stuff that’s not as crucial.

I don’t ever want to change the core things that make Drew, Drew.

Talking too loud is not the biggest problem you can have –- especially when you have something to say.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Dan Coulter produces videos about Asperger Syndrome and similar conditions, including the INTRICATE MINDS series that helps classmates accept students who have AS. You can find more articles on his website at:

Copyright 2006 Dan Coulter All Rights Reserved Used By Permission

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