Temple Grandin and Richard Panek, Salon.com - May 18, 2013
Ms. Grandin and her collaborator cover a lot of ground here in a fairly long article on different ways of understanding and classifying "Autism Spectrum Disorders". In places it might be a bit too technical for the average reader. Overall, though, the tone of the article is refreshing and the insights have surprisingly heavy impact.
I say refreshing, really I should say unsentimental. Grandin is a scientist, and though she clearly cares deeply about people who, like her, have autism, she doesn't weep or gush about them. Nor does she attach all sorts of pseudo-spiritual meaning to autism. She sticks with description, and strives for accuracy and perspective, not sympathy or uplift.
Grandin's thoughts on "labeling" are similarly balanced. She doesn't run away from them, and explains their value to science, medicine, and social policy. She also points out ways that properly applied labels for disability conditions like Autism and Asberger's can help everyone understand them. At the same time, she says that it is important to think about what question any given label is supposed to answer. Also, she warns of the social and even economic consequences when labels are changed and rearranged ... including some, excluding others.
This is how I have always viewed labels. They are useful devices, as long as they aren't used as weapons or shorthand. I don't mind someone internally labeling me as a "little person" or whatever, especially if they are meeting me for the first time. A recognizable label can answer distracting questions, like, "What's wrong with him?" The problem comes when you've known me for years, and still think of me in terms of a label. It's that experience of labeling as something that diminishes us that prompts many people with disabilities to see "labeling" as a bad thing. But to me, as Temple Grandin is saying, it's just a thing, and its effects depend on how they are used.
If you want an insightful, humane view of autism ... and a healthy consideration of labeling ... this article is worth your time.