Thursday, February 5, 2015

Russian To Conclusions: The Problem with Diagnosing Vladimir Putin with Asperger's Syndrome

This morning, I received a message on Facebook from a friend: "Did you see this?" along with a link to a news story from USA Today. It stated that a study conducted by a Pentagon think tank in 2008 concluded that Russian president Vladimir Putin has Asperger's Syndrome.

Now, after reading the article, as well as numerous posts and comments online in response to it, all I can think is:

The president of Russia has Asperger's Syndrome? You're Putin me on.

There are a number of problems with diagnosing (however roundabout-ly) any world leader with Asperger's Syndrome, never mind one who has as abysmal a human rights track record and history of sociopath-level cruelty and indifference to his own people as Vladimir Putin. 

Right out of the gate, the report on the study says the researchers can't prove that Putin has Asperger's because they were unable to perform a brain scan on him. So it makes you wonder what the aim of running such a story could be, if not to provide something definitive.

What this really is and was is a shot fired. Wars happen not only with guns and bullets, but with words and propaganda. So the shot that was fired in this instance is reminiscent of a Cold War tactic: Discrediting the enemy by saying that he has Asperger's Syndrome.

And therein lies the problem: Whether the researchers intended such or not, Asperger's Syndrome is being used an insult, a reason why Vladimir Putin makes the terrible decisions that he does, and why he should be viewed as an ineffective leader. The equation then turns to this:

Vladimir Putin is evil. 
Vladimir Putin has Asperger's Syndrome.
Asperger's Syndrome is evil

It may seem like a far leap to those of us who live in and understand the world of autism and Asperger's Syndrome, but it is not difficult to lead those who are unfamiliar with Asperger's down that path. It is a path already begun with Adam Lanza and the Newtown killings in 2012, and carved out further with every subsequent mass shooting where the perpetrator is immediately described as having Asperger's Syndrome--regardless of whether it is true.

With every unfounded assertion, every assumption and negative media portrayal comes a mountain of discrimination and fear from under which we must repeatedly climb. And when you start to feel as though no one cares if you get out, the weight of that mountain eventually becomes unbearable.

Individuals with Asperger's Syndrome are artists. Writers. Mathematicians. Engineers. We view life through a different lens, and if properly supported and nurtured, can use that vantage to better ourselves, our communities, and the world at large. But if we are continually associated with people like Vladimir Putin--associated with psychopaths, with those who are to be feared, with evil--those opportunities will never come. 

Let us hope that media outlets will consider taking a more responsible tack in reporting stories such as these from now on, because it is not just the United States' relations with Russia or public opinion that is at stake.

The lives and futures of individuals with Asperger's Syndrome are at stake. And we deserve better.