Tony Atwood’s theory of ‘discovering’ the strengths of Asperger’s, instead of diagnosing traits and disorders
We recently came across an article by Tony Atwood, a psychologist well known for sharing his knowledge of Asperger’s Syndrome. (He has an Honours degree in Psychology from the University of Hull, a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology from the University of Surrey, and a PhD from the University of London. He is currently adjunct Associate Professor at Griffith University in Queensland. Professor Atwood’s son has Asperger’s, and Professor Atwwood now speaks very honestly about the family’s issues – we recently showcased two videos on autism / Asperger’s from Professor Atwood, which you can see by clicking HERE.)
Anyway, back to the recently-discovered article (for readers’ background / information, ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’ is no longer specified as a stand-alone condition within the DSM IV manual – Professor Atwood’s article was published before the change was made). You can read his article in full HERE.
Framing Asperger’s in a positive light
To summarise, Professor Atwood aims to frame Asperger’s in a positive light. “Making any diagnosis requires attention to weaknesses; the observation and interpretation of signs and symptoms that vary from typical development or health. The DSM IV (American Psychiatric Association diagnostic manual) assists in the identification of a variety of disorders. It is used by psychiatrists and other mental health professionals to match observed weaknesses, symptoms and behaviours to text. Asperger’s Syndrome is identified by specific diagnostic criteria, a constellation of observed social and communication delays and/or deviations,” Professor Atwood writes.
In the article, Professor Atwood ponders what would happen if we used, instead of the term diagnosis, the term DISCOVERY, in terms of autism diagnosis.
“Unlike diagnosis, the term discovery often refers to the identification of a person’s strengths or talents. Actors are discovered. Artists and musicians are discovered. A great friend is discovered. These people are identified by an informal combination of evaluation and awe that ultimately concludes that this person possesses admirable qualities, abilities, and/or talents,” Professor Atwwood continues.
If Asperger’s Syndrome was identified by observation of strengths and talents, it would not be referred to as a syndrome! After all, a reference to someone with special strengths or talents does not use terms with negative connotations. “It’s ‘artist’ and ‘poet’, not ‘Artistically Arrogant’ or ‘Poetically Preoccupied’,” Professor Atwood notes.
Nor would the term ‘Discovery’ over diagnosis attach someone’s proper name to the word ‘syndrome’ (for example, it’s vocalist or soloist, not Sinatra’s Syndrome), Professor Atwood explains. Focusing on autistic strengths requires shedding the former diagnostic term, Asperger’s Syndrome, for a new term. Professor Atwwood feels that ‘Aspie’ (used by many autists in self-reference, including Liane Holliday Wiley in her book, Pretending to be Normal, 1999), is a term that seems right at home among it’s talent-based counterparts: soloist, genius, aspie, dancer.
Professor Atwood urges everyone to take advantage of the contribution of aspies to culture and knowledge. He suggests many criteria for the term ‘Discovery’ (instead of diagnosis), including the below – so, to clarify, these are POSITIVE ‘Aspie’ traits that we should celebrate, instead of considering their ‘flip-side’ negatives:
Positive Asperger’s traits:
An advantage in social interactions, in terms of absolute loyalty and impeccable dependability where peer relationships are concerned; the ability to regard others at ‘face value’; speaking one’s mind irrespective of social context; the ability to pursue personal theory or perspective (despite conflicting evidence); consideration of details; listening without continual judgement or assumption; preferring to avoid ‘ritualistic small talk’ and superficial conversation; a determination to seek the truth; advanced vocabulary and interest in words; an original, often unique perspective in problem solving; exceptional memory and/or recall of details often forgotten or disregarded by others; persistence of thought; a focused desire to maintain order and accuracy; a ‘social unsung hero’, with trusting optimism; an increased probability over general population of attending university, after high school; and the propensity to often take care of others, outside the range of typical development.
You can see a link to Professor Atwwood’s books below – the link is titled ‘tony attwood.’
A little disclaimer – at Spectra.blog, we don’t claim to be experts about Autism; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences.
Visit our ‘Foundation Posts’ page for some of our favourite posts about autism.
Also published on Medium.