Potential harm in lazy stereotyping

Over recent posts I have been talking about creativity, which is an area of interest to me (can you tell?). Well now I’m pondering the bell curve. It was stirred by this article in the SMH (read it here) about how terms such as Autism and Aspergers (just to name a few) are being used rampantly in situations where not even appropriate by the smell of an oily rag.

It seems the need to be different, stand out, become noticed is the next big thing which is fantastic, however if terms such as Aspergers and Autism are to be diluted to the point that anyone with a little eccentricity can classify themselves or others, then the implications of this overuse need to be considered.

Once upon a time, not too long ago, like yesterday it seems, the ‘spectrum’ referred to one extreme on the bell curve. Now today, with the overuse of these terms, the spectrum has spread upwards on the bell curve to occupy a larger portion than previously.  With the bell curve changing shape from this

Bell curve 1

to this

Bell curve 3

can we use it anymore? Does it provide us with meaningful information about what is considered important indicators for diagnostic purposes?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (awaiting version V in 2013), in very minimalistic terms, is designed to identify individuals who fit a criterion for diagnosis that help determine the type of support and assistance one may need. Do they need assistance learning, finding a job, socializing and the list goes on right up to assistance in just staying alive.

Lets not interfere with the very important work diagnostic terms do in such situations by restructuring the meaning to describe a hip eccentric or someone who wants to be interesting or someone who acts like a genius. We have all heard of the term “absentminded professors”. Why can’t we continue with these terms and the like?

I have an anaphylactic reaction to shellfish and when I dine out I have to be over the top in explaining this condition since the term allergy is used to cover a wide range of reactions, not just the life-threatening ones. It’s really quite annoying for everyone involved (perhaps if the word anaphylactic were easier to pronounce, it might be better).

Imagine what this would mean for someone with bipolar. ‘I have bipolar, no I really do, I even have a psychiatrist AND a psychologist to prove it, no I’m not exaggerating, yes I’m serious, I have my medication in a safe at home if you want to SEE FOR YOURSELF!’

Rather than classify or categorise individuals into stereotypes, which is just a lazy way to place someone on the bell curve not to mention further stigmatise these terms, why don’t we educate ourselves on the characteristics that make up a personality and discover that we all (inclusive of the whole bell curve) have more in common than once thought?

Well that was me getting carried away again. Would love to hear your thoughts.

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4 thoughts on “Potential harm in lazy stereotyping

  1. I look forward to your additional comments. I haven’t read the link that inspired your post yet. In my opinion, the medical field does not yet have a good grip on what autism is and the “spectrum” is still being defined. The use and misuse of psychiatric terms as stereotypes in greatly annoying on many different levels. And harmful. (Annoying because I worked in the field and want to correct, er, educate them on the proper definition of the word.)

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. You may also be interested in this article from New York Magazine title “Are You On It?
      If so, you’re in good company. From Asperger’s to “Asperger’s,” how the spectrum became quite so all-inclusive.” found at http://nymag.com/news/features/autism-spectrum-2012-11/
      It annoys me when these terms are used to describe or explain personality traits in an individual when personality and diagnostic terms have a negligible relationship, not a causative one. Just another reason why I think we should all learn about personality differences and use the appropriate words when describing personality but I know I am preaching to the converted here, especially since you worked in the field. Hopefully we will hear some more views.

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