I’m autistic, but I have to say something. I’m really glad the label autistic wasn’t in common use when I was growing up. As a kid, I was never diagnosed with anything, at least not that I know of.

Now I didn’t talk to people until I was about ten years old. So everyone always thought I was strange. And at the age of five or six or so I was obsessed with doing things like copying the periodic table of the elements out of the dictionary, inventing my own numbering systems (I was a big fan of base-12 systems) and learning everything I could about trapezoids and parallelograms.

Oh and dinosaurs. Can’t forget the dinosaurs.

But I never thought I was unusual or abnormal. I just figured most people didn’t talk about their obsession with trapezoids. I mean I never did. Of course that was because I never talked at all.

Anyway, I remember once reading through an internet forum and I came across a comment by someone who said he was autistic. He was unhappy because another member had been talking about reading people’s facial cues in a video. The autistic person wrote, “Since I’m autistic, I can’t do that.”

This poor guy.

Some jackass told him he’s autistic, and now he thinks the label defines him.

I wanted to tell him. You know, you can learn. That’s kind of what us autistic people are good at. Learning. In a very focused, frankly obsessive way. Regardless of autism or any genetic handicaps you can learn about social cues and non-verbal communication just like you can learn about pterodactyls and Pythagoras.

In fact, if you really want to, you can learn how to present a facade of empathy, the various “normal” emotions, and all the other pointless crap that regular people waste their days obsessing over. I did. It was useful. In fact I found that it was necessary in order to make a steady living.

But see, if someone really believes the label “autistic”, they won’t learn that. It doesn’t fit the definition. They become the label.

And there are certainly worse labels than “autistic.”

Kent Kiehl, author of The Psychopath Whisperer, is considered one of the world’s primary authorities on psychopaths. He is adamant that no young person should ever be diagnosed as a psychopath. You know why? Because he has run into so many people that were improperly labeled as kids. And guess what?

They started acting like psychopaths as soon as they got slapped with that label.

For slightly different reasons, I have become very suspicious of labels. I do prison ministry and work with people coming out of prisons. Many of the people I work with got labeled before they could possibly have done anything to deserve that label.

Oh, and it gets worse. So many troubled inmates and ex-cons come from abusive families. And is the abuser the one who gets labeled? Nope. Not usually. In fact, it’s usually the abuser who does most of the labeling.

The family itself is sick. But someone gets scapegoated, and the labels reinforce the scapegoating, thus reinforcing the family sickness. Selfish. Angry. Rebel. Narcissist. Sociopath. Liar. Whore. Trick. Stuck up. Rude. Disrespectful.

The one in the family who gets diagnosed with something–eating disorder, bad grades, acting out, inappropriate sexual behavior, depression, anxiety, ADHD, chronic illness–is usually not the one who is the most sick. And if the family member is not only getting diagnosed but actually labeled as if their diagnosis defines them, then you can be sure they are not the one who is actually sick.

One last thing about labels. I remember one time I had a prospective client who was obsessed with narcissists. He saw narcissists everywhere. He had had all sorts of bad experiences with narcissists. He never stopped thinking about narcissists.

Guess what I eventually figured out about him?