“He [the old Charlie] wanted to be a ‘gen-ass’ like each of you, but now I know you’re not ‘gen-asses’ you’re just asses!!!” – Charlie Gordon, Flowers for Algernon.
Those of you who have read the aforementioned book or watched the film adaptation thereof are all too familiar with this quote. For those who are not, the backstory is that Charlie Gordon is a mentally challenged adult male in his early 30s who is selected for an experiment which is said to artificially increase intelligence. Well, it does do so but due to a flaw in the psychiatrist’s theory he eventually reverts to his old self, but not before realizing the world wasn’t as pretty as he’d always thought it was and realizing the people he thought were his friends weren’t really his friends but just enjoyed making fun of him. In essence, he found out that the grass isn’t in fact greener on the other side and he overall was negatively affected by having his intelligence increased.
In light of this “Charlie Gordon” effect, despite my constant wish that I was neurotypical and that there was a cure for autism (much to the chagrin of many on the spectrum), at times it does make me stop and wonder if the grass in fact greener on the other side. Is being neurotypical really THAT much better? If I were to be cured, what negative effects would I potentially run into? Would my sudden increased awareness of others’ feelings and increased empathy actually be too much for me to handle? Would my increased awareness of body language, sarcasm and social norms cause me to emotionally hurt as I would be more attuned to when people are making fun of me?
Now, make no mistake about it, I am of the personal belief that life is going to suck no matter what (true of all lives whether we consciously realize how badly our lives suck or not) but it’s a question of what sucks worse? Having my dream career, increased emotional intelligence and decreased academic intelligence or being stuck in a shitty job while being emotionally dumb yet having a genius-level IQ? 99% of the time the answer is the former is less bad (because let’s face it, we all spend a vast majority of our waking hours at work) but every now and then I think of the alternative. I’d probably lose all my friends, might wind up dumb as a rock but with the memory of what it was like to be smart. That would be a very, very bitter pill to swallow, I will admit.
Although it would be nice for the FAA to wise up and realize that many of us who happen to be on the autism spectrum would be competent pilots (or the US military to lift its sweeping ban on those with autism, etc.), I’m no Pollyanna and I refuse to delude myself into believing that the government will change its ways. I realize the only realistic way for those of us who have those dreams to attain them would be for us to be “fixed.” I guess that’s what bothers me the most about Neurodiversity people, namely that they don’t know when to fly the white flag. There are some battles that are unwinnable and thus not really worth fighting. This is one of them. Why do you think I gave up when I got my final notice of rejection from the FAA headquarters? I knew I couldn’t take them on and that I was only hurting myself worse in trying. It’s beyond time ND people realize they’re hurting nobody but themselves in fighting unwinnable fights.
Anyway, I digress. If you’ve never read or seen Flowers for Algernon I would recommend it. If anything, it’s food for thought, but especially for those of us who have any number of various mental health conditions.