There was a blind student on my course a year ago. Everyone knew that she got the course literature as audio files from the library and had to record the lectures. She must have felt like an outsider. It would probably have been better for her if they had just left her with the paper copies and expected her to read them.
Sickening, isn't it? I would like to make another absurd statement before I continue:
Cerebral palsy is a social construction. It's a label that bad parents want to put on their children to get off the responsibility for not having taught them how to control their muscles and walk straight.
Now imagine that I wrote a book about this (and published it two years from now so that I could refer to my degree in Russian to claim credibility and sell more books). The interesting thing is that similar opinions are widely accepted in the context of ADHD and autism spectrum disorders. “ADHD is just an excuse for bad parenting” and “we try to label children as hyperactive so that we can medicate them with amphetamine and make them obedient” are phrases so frequently repeated in debates that hardly anyone questions them anymore. They have become fact, or at least influenced most people's opinions. Even a close friend of mine, who suspected ADHD in himself but was denied investigation because he had passed the age of 35, repeats those statements as a mantra whenever he gets the chance to. Some people even make a career claiming that neuropsychiatrists are nazis who put “sick” labels on anyone who doesn't fit into the narrow norm. The most well-known example in Sweden is probably Eva Kärfve. I will not say that she has not been questioned – many have pointed out the lack of factual background of her claims and the irrelevance of her academic status (she is an assistant professor in sociology and a registered nurse) – but the majority of the criticism against her book on the subject comes from neuropsychiatrists. Of course, this has provoked conspiracy theories (Censorship! Bias! Forbidden criticism! Nazis!). In public debates, however, she has been given unreasonable amounts of space (again, not completely uncriticized, but acknowledged enough to influence people who don't really know).
The thing that most people sooner or later bring up when I discuss my suspected AS or my son's difficulties is this “narrow norm”. I agree to some extent, but I also think they're missing the point. There are many things we take for granted and see as normal, for example the ability to see, hear, walk and speak. These popular ideas of tolerance and, from what I've understood, the works of Kärfve and others, seem to be based on the general notion of neuropsychiatric conditions, i.e. the parts that have to do with communication and social skills. But there are other things to it. Even if we make a list of every common aspie trait and then remove the parts that are only connected to what other people think (of course, to make this work we will either have to pretend that we live in a beautiful world where social skills are not a requirement for making/keeping friends or getting laid, or assume that those things are not interesting for aspies), there will still be some degree of disability. The nature and the extent of disability depends on what each individual perceives as a problem, but for example many people with Asperger's (myself included, although I should probably point out again that I don't have a diagnosis and might still just be lazy and worthless) have trouble being on time, taking care of their homes and themselves etcetera. I don't know if I will be able to finish my studies on time and keep my business afloat, and if I don't, I don't know if I will be able to keep a full-time job instead either. “Asperger's” may be a label, but not more so than “deaf”. A person with undiagnosed AS will not miraculously learn to function in life, just like my blind ex-classmate wouldn't have gotten her eyesight back if our teachers had pretended that she could see.
Defying disability is a different thing, though. It's fully possible to live a good, healthy, interesting life with a physical or neurological impairment, with or without help (wheelchairs, amphetamine, sign language, whatever). A diagnosis doesn't have to mean anything more than the possibility of getting help, if it is needed. As I wrote in the post “School and the Asperger brain”, I do think there should be room for differences in school and elsewhere. I wouldn't mind a change of the norm – not at all. I just don't think denial is the cure.