A few weeks ago, my husband and I went to see the movie “The Imitation Game.” It is the story of Alan Turing, a British scientist, cryptanalyst, and computing pioneer, and his development of a system to crack Nazi codes in order to significantly shorten World War II. It was both fascinating and brilliantly acted. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Turing breathtakingly transports viewers to another place and time.
As we processed through the movie over dinner, my husband (an engineer himself), said ,” He was a pretty quirky guy, wasn’t he?” I shared my hunch that Turing’s portrayal was indicative of someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, reviewing the nuances that led me to that conclusion.
I became intrigued if my intuition was correct. I spent the evening diving into blogs, websites, and eventually Autism activist sites, hoping to find the opinions of others. Although the term Asperger’s was not around during Turing’s life, I found there is great debate in the Autism community about the pros and cons of posthumous diagnostics. Many were passionate about the danger of applying labels to someone who is not alive to interview or participate in the diagnostic process. Others were equally vehement about the societal advantages of adding brilliant, world-altering people into the category of those living successfully with some form of autism. Before I knew it, I’d spent several hours drawn into to the debate and reading link after link, comment after comment.
In the midst of the heated debate, one simple post made me freeze:
“Does it really matter?”
I stopped dead in my tracks. DID it really matter if Turing is considered to have been on the autism spectrum? Of course not. A posthumous diagnosis does not change who he was, the impact he had on our every day lives in terms of computer science, or his undeniable shortening of World War II.
It simply doesn’t matter.
So why had I spent hours digging, researching, reading? Yes, it was out of curiosity, diligence, and an interest in the opinions of activists within the autism community, but I have to admit, ashamedly, that is was also part of my need to make sense of a highly unusual man. It was my need to put things neatly in a box, tied with a bow. I was disappointed in myself, quite honestly. I try diligently to spend my days helping teachers, parents, children look outside of the box, to celebrate their uniqueness, to be empowered to find their own way, and yet here I was, trying to fit someone nicely and neatly into a corner, giving a label some kind of power.
Shame on me. I should know better. Honestly, we all should.
It doesn’t matter. Diagnosis don’t matter. Yes, yes, they do help us answer questions, they can certainly help us obtain services, and quite often they can help us guide interventions. But when it comes to understanding, TRULY understanding, a person, his or her traits, his qualities, her heart, a diagnostic label is a grossly insufficient way to tie things up.
Brilliant, funny, loving, tender, energetic….these are the words that matter.
Child. Father. Brother. Sister. Uncle. Son. These are the words that matter.
In the midst of our diagnosis-laden, therapy-heavy world, sometimes we need to stop, take a deep breath, and really focus on was DOES matter. It is the true heart and soul of each individual, the rare and unmatched gifts and talents we all bring to the table, that determine who we are in this world.
Last week I found myself in a psychologist’s office, meeting with a family with whom I’d just begun working. This dedicated doctor was describing the past year, and began reciting the list of diagnosis that this tricky guy didn’t quite fit. Not autistic. Not ADHD. Not bipolar. She looked at me, obviously a bit distraught, and said, “I just can’t quite figure out his diagnosis!”
I took a deep breath, and simply replied, “Does it really matter?”