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The Autism Spectrum According to Autistic People

Autism neurodiversity

“Autism is a Spectrum” Doesn’t Mean What You Think

Picture of a person's eye close up with a rainbow going over it in a diagonal line. The iris of the eye blends into the color of the rainbow overlaying it.

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“My son is on the severe end of the autism spectrum.”

“We’re all a little autistic– it’s a spectrum.”

“I’m not autistic but I’m definitely ‘on the spectrum.'”

If only people knew what a spectrum is… because they are talking about autism all wrong.

Let’s use the visible spectrum as an example.

The spectrum of light. From left to right: Violet from 380 to 450 nanometer wavelength, blue from 450 to 495 nanometer wavelength, green from 495 to 570 nanometers, yellow from 570 to 590 nanometers, orange from 590 to 620 nanometers, and red from 620 to 750 nanometer wavelength of light.

As you can see, the various parts of the spectrum are noticeably different from each other. Blue looks very different from red, but they are both on the visible light spectrum.

Red is not “more blue” than blue is. Red is not “more spectrum” than blue is.

When people discuss colours, they don’t talk about how “far along” the spectrum a colour is. They don’t say “my walls are on the high end of the spectrum” or “I look best in colours that are on the low end of the spectrum.”

But when people talk about autism they talk as if it were a gradient, not a spectrum at all.

People think you can be “a little autistic” or “extremely autistic,” the way a paint colour could be a little red or extremely red.

A line going from white to slightly more red to bright red. On the left near the white/pink it says "a little quirky." To the right of that says "definitely autistic." On the right side in bright red it says "tragic autistic."
How people think the spectrum looks

But autism isn’t that simple.

Autism isn’t a set of defined symptoms that collectively worsen as you move “up” the spectrum.

In fact, one of the distinguishing features of autism is what the DSM-V calls an “uneven profile of abilities.” There’s a reason people like to say that “if you have met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” Every autistic person presents slightly differently.

That’s because autism isn’t one condition. It is a collection of related neurological conditions that are so intertwined and so impossible to pick apart that professionals have stopped trying.

The autism spectrum looks more like this:

The spectrum of light with descriptions at the bottom from left to right with different categories. From left to right: Pragmatic language (social communication including body language, eye contact, small talk, and turn-taking conversation), social awareness (ability to pick up on social etiquette, social norms, taboos. Ability to form and maintain relationships), monotropic mindset (Narrow but intense ability to focus, resulting in "obsessive" interests and difficulty task-switching), information processing (ability to assimilate and apply new information quickly or to adapt to new environments or situations), sensory processing (challenges interpreting sensory information, hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to stimuli), repetitive behaviors (tendency to "stim" in response to varying emotions. Can be beneficial or harmful in nature), neuro-motor differences (Ability to control body movements. Ranges from clumsiness to complete loss of ability to move with intention).

All autistic people are affected in one way or another in most or all of these boxes – a rainbow of traits.

If you only check one or two boxes, then they don’t call it autism– they call it something else.

For example, if you ONLY struggle with communication, then they call that social communication disorder.

If you ONLY have problems with body movement/control then that is called dyspraxia or developmental coordination disorder.

If you ONLY have sensory processing issues then that is sensory processing disorder.

But if you have all of the above and more, they call it autism.

You can see how ridiculous it seems, therefore, when someone says “we’re all a little autistic” because they also hate fluorescent lights or because they also feel awkward in social situations. That’s like saying that you are dressed “a little rainbowy” when you are only wearing red.

Having sensory processing issues doesn’t make you “a little autistic.” It makes you someone with sensory processing problems. Autistic people will understand your struggles and welcome you as a fellow neurodivergent cousin, but that’s it.

But in order for a person to be considered autistic, they must have difficulty in multiple categories spanning the spectrum. Diagnosis depends on evidence that you do span the spectrum in observable ways.

Some commonalities are less obvious and are not required for diagnosis but are almost universally-reported by autistic people.

Each autistic person is affected strongly enough in one or more categories for it to be disabling in some way. But each person’s dominant colour palette may look different.

Here are some examples of how autism could manifest in three different people.

Person One

Same image as above with darkened or lightened colors and specific descriptions of each area. This person absorbs written word easily, dislikes certain sounds, tends to tap fingers on desk, is somewatch clumsy, forgets to say hello or goodbye, and tends to miss subtle social cues.

Person Two

Same image as above with darkened or lightened colors and specific descriptions of each area. This person is different from person one. For example, they are unable to speak due to motor problems but picks up social cues very well, is very interested in people, tends to get fixated when stressed, finds it difficult to adjust to new locations, feels like mild touches burn like fire, and certain sounds completely incapacitate the person, flaps arms and hums or grunts, and their body seems to have a mind of its own, and are often mistaken for having intellectual disability.

Person Three

Same image as above with darkened or lightened colors and specific descriptions of each area. This person is different from Person 1 and 2 because they don't notice others when they are upset, doesn't pick up on social etiquette, dislikes being redirected from a task, learns best when moving, has low sensitivity to sensory input, likes loud noises, may hit themselves when stressed or understimulated, like to bounce and jump, and are somewhat hyperactive but strong and fit and can perform challenging physical tasks with ease.

As you can see, all three of these hypothetical autistics show classic signs of autism, and yet they all seem very different from one another.

Which one is the “most” autistic?

Person One would probably be described as “aspie” or “high-functioning,” even though their monotropic mindset might cause executive function problems and make it hard to live and work independently.

Person Two is the type of person who is often described as “severely autistic” since they cannot speak and do not appear to understand what goes on around them. However, people like Carly Fleischmann and Ido Kedar have taught us that in fact they are very socially aware and understand pragmatic speech quite well.

Carly’s interview style in her Youtube show Speechless, for example, is extremely witty and flirtatious in a way that many an “aspie” would be unable to imitate.

If the only thing stopping this person from being witty, social, and vivacious is a motor-control problem, then are they truly “more” autistic than Person One?

Person Three might be able to be independent in adulthood if given the stimulation and accommodations they require in order to feel comfortable and be able to learn. But they might be held back through childhood as parents and teachers try to force them to sit still and be quiet and learn in conventional ways, which might result in increasingly worse episodes of self-harm.

All three of these people are disabled in some way.

People who can speak aloud and have reasonable control over their motor processing are often called “high-functioning,” and yet these autistics often struggle with employment, relationships, and executive function.

My doctor recently referred to my autism is “mild.” I gently pointed to my psychologist’s report which stated that my executive dysfunction as being greater than 99th percentile.

“That means I am less functional than 99% of people. Does that seem mild to you?” I asked her.

But, you see, I can speak, and I can look people in the eyes, so they see my autism as “mild.” My autism affects those around me mildly but my autism does affect me severely.

There is no question that those who suffer from severe neuromotor difficulties are extremely disabled, and I am not in any way comparing myself to them.

In fact, I am specifically asking people to stop comparing me to them. It does them a disservice to assume that they have what I have, only worse.

It is this assumption that dehumanizes people like Ido Kedar and Carly Fleischmann. It is this assumption that leads to them and many like them being treated as unthinking, unfeeling, and unhearing. It is this assumption that drives them to beat their heads against the wall in frustration.

If they have what I have, but worse, then they must be so very autistic that they can’t function at all. They must have worse interpersonal skills, worse information processing, worse social awareness.

But that isn’t true at all.

Not only was my mind fully present and understanding everything, but I read fluently. I thought of retorts, jokes and comments all day long in my head. Only no one else knew.

So, I was talked to like a toddler, not given a real education, and kept bored and sad.

-Ido Kedar, Vista del Mar Autism Conference

Don’t do it.

Don’t assume that an autistic person is so very autistic that they can’t even hear or understand you. Don’t assume that they cannot read just because they cannot use the toilet. Don’t assume that I am not disabled just because I can look you in the eyes and chat with you about the weather.

We have uneven skill sets.

Temple Grandin is unable to read people, thinks visually, speaks, and needs no 1:1 support to get on with her life. I am her opposite. I have great insight into people, think in words, can’t speak to save my life, and need 1:1 help.

-Ido Kedar, “Spectrum or Different?” May 2016

-Ido Kedar, “Spectrum or Different?” May 2016

Ido Kedar does not have a more severe version of Temple Grandin’s autism or my own. His skill set is totally different.

My neuromotor difficulties are limited to burning myself while cooking dinner, or stumbling and falling on a walk. Ido Kedar’s neuromotor difficulties, on the other hand, mean that his body often walks itself right out of the room without his permission.

Yet Ido Kedar could probably blow my pragmatic language skills out of the water.

Does that mean we have nothing in common?

No, based on what he has written, I can see that we actually have many things in common.

As autistic people, we both know how it feels to lose oneself in a good stim, how it feels to forget to look at someone’s eyes, and how it feels to need prompting to start a task. We both struggle with anxiety and wonder how it feels to be the kind of person who moves through life effortlessly.

We both span the spectrum in one way or another.

But beyond those things, our situations are different and our needs are different.

What people like Ido Kedar need is an occupational therapist and maybe physiotherapist to help them get control of their body movements. They need someone to help them develop skill with a letter board and an iPad so they can finally express their thoughts and feelings.

Instead, they are often infantilized, institutionalized, or spend years being forced to work on their ABC’s when they would love to get their hands on a science textbook.

I, on the other hand, have always been recognized as being intelligent. Instead, I struggle to have my difficulties be recognized. What I need is someone to support me– to cook, to clean, to organize– to help me recover when tasks have gotten larger and more complicated than I can process.  Ido Kedar longs for independence while I long for someone to depend on.

The system fails both of us, but in very different ways.

So please stop assuming that one kind of autism is “more autistic” than other kinds of autism.

Red isn’t “more spectrum” than green or blue. Apples aren’t “more fruit” than oranges. That’s not how it works.

The visibility of an autism trait doesn’t necessarily predict what that person can and cannot do or what supports they need most.

I shouldn’t be processing human speech, according to some. I shouldn’t be writing my thoughts. I shouldn’t even have thoughts. Well, I say, go listen to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and imagine writing it deaf and try to be a little humble about the brain’s unknown capacities.

Ido Kedar – March 2019, http://www.idoinautismland.com

Don’t assume that a non-speaking autistic who doesn’t react to your presence in the room is unaware of the conversation.

Don’t assume that someone is not really autistic just because they make eye contact with you and can chat about the weather.

Don’t assume that a fluently-talkative autistic person is capable of processing what you have just said to them.

Don’t assume anything about an autistic person.

For seventy years (at least), people have been making assumptions about autistic people based on outward behaviour.  Even the diagnostic criteria for autism is based on what is easily observable by an onlooker. They think that the stranger we act, the “more autistic” we are.

We are asking you to stop.

Ask us what we can and cannot do.

Even if it doesn’t look as though we can understand.

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212 Responses

    1. Thank you for breaking down the spectrum and presenting the 3 different examples. I actually have a much better understanding now.

  1. Thank you thank you thank you for this. Saving it to use as a resource with my colleagues (I’m a school-based SLP) and for myself. It elucidates a lot of the confusion I’ve experienced about my autistic students and their highly variable language skills.

    1. How? It took SIX YEARS for me to get my son’s diagnosis, even when he was so obviously in need of 1:1 assistance that the school wanted to put him in a special-education class, where he would be the only verbal child. I attended that class and saw that they were all being treated like infants, in spite of what I observed to be brilliant comprehension in some. My son could draw an exploded diagram of all the organs of the body when he was 4, but he was now supposed to finger-paint in school, because they couldn’t justify getting him a teacher’s aide without a diagnosis. I beg your pardon, but I think every parent of a diagnosed child would disagree with your statement.

        1. The person was disagreeing with the comment a few above theirs that suggested autism was being over-diagnosed when in reality it’s often a struggle to get diagnosed, especially for women, older people, and those who aren’t stereotypically “autistic” or who are mistakenly labelled as “mild” or “high functioning.

    2. It’s not getting over diagnosed, its getting recognised. Theres people out there that are still undiagnosed, as there is more awareness & acceptance, people are starting to unmask a little bit and asking questions.

      1. I think you’ve misunderstood the article. It’s not over diagnosed. Diagnosis is not something that’s just chucked at people, in fact it’s often a battle and long process you have to fight for

        1. I totally agree that it is not over diagnosed. However, many doctors and psychiatrists tried to diagnose my brother as autistic, which he was not. Had they succeeded, the course of his life would be completely different, for the worse. He was still completely nonverbal at age 4, a classic sign of autism, and he had superb visual skills, while his verbal skills were completely nonexistent, another sign of autism. However, he exhibited no other signs of it. Our mom had to go to over 5 different doctors before she would finally find one who would listen to her. It turned out that he had auditory processing issues, and while the doctor couldn’t prove it, she said that something was wrong with the part of his brain in which you learn your first language, and instead had to learn English as a second language, which naturally took much longer. Now, my brother is completely verbal, and people are honestly surprised when they hear he used to have developmental delays. Again, his case was extremely rare, and autism is generally not overdiagnosed.

    3. That is highly unlikely. Not being diagnosed is one of the most significant problems.

  2. This is by far the best explaination of “The Spectrum” I have read.. thankyou for putting into words what I have been trying to tell people about in regards to my son for the last year.
    It is people like you that will make people aware just how much difference there is to neuro-diversity… I dont see it as Autism being ocer diagnosed, I see it as a greater awareness of just how much spanse there is to thr spectrum and that the people who do not fit the Autism mold are finally being recognised and seen as neuro-diverse as they deserve to receive the help they need just as much as anyone.

  3. my son is on the spectrum, as aspie. It’s really difficult for people to truly understand what that means. Actually difficult for us to understand too at times. I found this article so helpful and really insightful. Thank you

  4. My son was very obviously person number one. He was smart, gentle and kind. He was preparing to do the trial HSC exam last year when he instead ended his own life. He did not have a proper diagnoses but I know without a doubt he was “ASPIE” and it terrified him. I am a broken mother. He had just turned 18.

    1. That is tragic, and far too common a story for autistics, one of the reasons this blog exists: to fight for real understanding and acceptance. May you find peace.

    2. Ok Donna, how sad, I feel for you, my son is aspie he has troubles too, I find there is no support at all, I struggle to understand Harry as well due to lack of knowledge x

    3. I am so sorry. No words are even close to adequate. I can tell how much you cared about your son and still do. I am so sorry that he felt a need to do this anyway. 🙁

    4. Donna. I can relate to so being “terrified”, to being “broken”, indeed all you say about your son and yourself. I was born in 1949, so way before autistic and autism were brought into the public domain. What we now call the autistic or ASD was rather seen as “infantile Schizophrenia” As that was the only frame of reference on offer to me, I just presumed I was schizophrenic, and that was terrifying. Being smart, gentle and kind describes a good human being; one I’m sure you keep alive in your heart. Take care of you.

  5. Thank-you for this clear article, my amazing son is going through diagnosis now and your clear discriptions really helps me appreciate the dimentlsions to his personal spiky profile.

  6. Thank you. One of my daughter’s first diagnoses was ASD… and we were *constantly* getting people going “but she’s so *social* and *outgoing*… and now that they know that her particular set of symptoms is caused by a specific genetic mutation, and she has a genetic diagnosis, we have people going “So it wasn’t really autism?” That’s… not how that works. She still has all the same challenges and strengths- when they didn’t know what caused them, it was “autism”, now it has a different name. Sort of how “Rett Syndrome” was a DMS “Pervasive Developmental Disorder” diagnosis until they discovered the underlying genetics, now it’s a medical diagnosis.

  7. So what does it mean when a psychiatrist says my son has autistic traits but isn’t strong enough to be diagnosed.

    1. It means the Psychiatrist doesn’t think his traits cause him enough problems to be worth the diagnosis proces and costs. If you can see that your son is struggling but the psychiatrist can’t then they’re probably not the person you need.

    2. It means you need to find another psychologist and get a second opinion. You cant have traits and not be autistic. You either aren’t or you are, theres no inbetween.
      That’s like saying your showing all the signs of pregnancy but theres no baby there so your a little bit pregnant.

  8. This is such a clear explination that it’s something I’ll be recomending to all my friends. As someone who’d usually be considered high functioning and sometimes has difficult feeling associated with people who more obvious or disabeling needs I’m glad I gave this a read as it help clairfy a lot of what I was feeling. Thanks for writing it.

  9. This is a great explanation. I’m seriously considering forwarding the link to my local adult autism service lead psychologist and my support worker, and everyone else!

  10. Thank you, that was a wonderfully written article and being a parent of an aspie this has even def helped me see it all more clearly.

  11. This is great, many thanks. I do notice, however, that on some “colors” the description is centered on difficulties, and on others there are difficulties as well as abilities above the norm. I find this unlikely. I would have expected all the “colors” to be sometimes more and sometimes less advanced than in the neurotypical. Is there data on this?

    1. It represents differences. For example, in many autistic people information processing can sometimes be ahead in some ways and behind in others compared to neurotypicals. A monotropic mindset can also be a benefit as many autistic people turn their interests into careers, but can come with side effects such as difficulty with time management or work life balance.

      The DSM actually addresses this:

      “Understanding the (often uneven) intellectual profile of a child or adult with autism spectrum disorder is necessary for interpreting diagnostic features. Separate estimates of verbal and nonverbal skill are necessary (e.g., using untimed nonverbal tests to assess potential strengths in individuals with limited language).

      ….Since receptive language may lag behind expressive language development in autism spectrum disorder, receptive and expressive language skills should be considered separately.

      …. Even those with average or high intelligence have an uneven profile of abilities. The gap between intellectual and adaptive functional skills is often large. Motor deficits are often present, including odd gait, clumsiness, and other abnormal motor signs (e.g., walking on tiptoes).”

      That uneven profile abilities means that we can be better than NTs at some things and worse at others. The spectrum represents those differences overall, and each category might have positives, negatives, or both.

      Thanks for your question – it was a great one!

      1. My son’s receptive language is higher than his expressive, both oral and written. He has always read with understanding much higher than age/grade level, but his ability to respond has always been a struggle.

  12. I love this article!! You are so right on so many levels~ THANK YOU!
    I have a 23 year old (as of yet undiagnosed) son who falls in the level 1 category. It’s been a nightmare trying to get help for him, especially now that he’s an adult with a college degree and currently in grad school. I try and count my blessings but I’m so worried about him ever being independent with a “real” job, friends, a social life, true happiness.
    My heart bleeds for Donna. Such a tragedy. So sorry.
    PS Anyone live in St Louis?

  13. This piece is excellent in its consideration of the metaphor of “spectrum”; be that spectrum as associated with the concept of ‘autism’, or (somewhat alternatively) with the concept of ‘autistic’.
    I understand why these two concepts are phrased in terms of difficulties in particular areas, but (as a person viewing and understanding myself in terms of the autistic) I get concerned about a modelling of our grouping in terms of negatives and deficits.
    People wisely say, “when you have met one autistic person, you have met one autistic person”; making it clear how fraught with limitations are all ‘generalisations’ about the autistic/autism. At a late stage of my life, and after some years working professionally in the educational area with young autistic adults, I now feel that we have to take this wariness of generalisations even further. By that I mean that we have to consider that theorising about autism and the autistic is really the preserve of individuals who see themselves in terms of these ways of being human; which means that one generalisation and theorising about what the autistic and autism are, is had from one autistic (or nominally not-autistic) person. Understanding of what the autistic and autism are, then emerging from the network of human beings who consider themselves autistic. So a rolliing understanding open to development and evolution and change.
    Consider a parallel. What is it to be Indian or Chinese. Once we would have consulted colonial masters (doctors and other disciplinary ‘experts’ with the autistic/autism). Then these nations became independent (autistic individuals getting affirming traction and agency within the collective) in the modern age. Now any understanding of these things would have to emerge from the complex social/societal process of these nations currently (the emerging global network of autistic activism). It isn’t going to be any different with those who are autistic; over the long-haul we are going to get the autistic and autism defined (some favouring emphasis of deficits, others favouring affirmation of autistic characteristics and qualities) diversely by those who consider themselves autistic, and that rolling defining is going to develop and evolve and change.
    Spectrum could then be applied in many useful ways. One I would choose would be in terms of the extent to which, and the ways by which, autistic individuals could counter and transcend the complex manner in which social/societal dynamics often work to obstruct, undermine, and misdirect autistic agency (with all that stems from that across a development trajectory).
    All that being said. I’m only able to express these thoughts by piggy-backing on the excellence of this piece on how the metaphor of ‘spectrum’ applies to the autistic and autism.
    Personally I find useful understanding stems from the idea and rhetoric that “we are all a bit autistic”. Proceeding so might mean laying aside the metaphor and concept of ‘spectrum’ all together. I favour this gambit to counter the medical approach to autism/autistic. Medicine always works to make any ‘diagnosis’ as specific and narrow as possible. Medicine also has dis-ease at the heart of its approach. So the autistic gets thereby cut out of the nexus of collective process, and really set aside as a disease. I instead favour a social approach, where identifying broad commonalities in the general population and the autistic is used to bring the autistic back into the collective process nexus; where I (for what are always going to be personal/biographical reasons) sense and judge it should be. Resourcing of the autistic that is not possible or considered across medical modelling of the autistic/autism, can then be had.

  14. Thank you for this brilliant post. After my son’s diagnosis (with what would have been called Aspergers but is now labelled ASD), I was referred for assessment. However, I wasn’t prepared for the open-ended nature of the initial interview, after which I was discharged without a clear diagnosis. I was told, though, by the clinician that ‘everyone is on the spectrum’. This just seemed so wrong to me at the time. Thank you for clarifying what you understand the spectrum to mean; I hadn’t thought of it in these terms before. (I currently self-dx as ‘probably autistic’ and this article does nothing to change that.)

    1. Anna. Stepping off from your self-defining as (‘probably’) autistic and the associated matter of not being readily offered a diagnosis as ‘on the spectrum’. I would want to, if involved with your son, reflect on any deep characteristics of person that you (as parent) might share with your son. If a characteristic had in common was implicated in your son receiving a diagnosis of ASD, I would want to know what it was in and about you that saw you not offered that same diagnosis. The thinking being that what saw you work through and not be so obstructed as to see that characteristic taken as an indicator of ASD, might hold clues and keys as to what might better resource your son to stronger agency.
      Why do you object to the idea that everyone is on the spectrum? In the school in which I worked it was a common presumption that pretty much everyone associated with the school was autistic in one way or another. A deeper presumption was that the more one strove to represent and advocate for the autistic young adults in the School’s charge, the ever deeper one was drawn into being personally autistic.
      For me the autistic begins wherever an individual is depending on sense and perception and cognition that a contextual collective is unable or unwilling to engage with (I think that many parents then encounter this when contextual authorities refuse to engage with them across their parental understanding of their ‘autistic’ child). The work of autistic activists and autistic advocates and autistic allies, is then to work to so change the contexual collective that it can progressively do better in engaging with the autistic (in all its diverse and changing forms).

      1. Because by saying “Everyone is a little bit autistic” it diminishes what it actually means to have that diagnosis. You wouldn’t say everyone is a little bit deaf just because not everyone can hear a particular high frequency but otherwise has normal hearing. You wouldn’t say everyone’s a little bit depressed just because they feel a bit blue once in a while. You can’t say everyone’s a little bit autistic because they aren’t and perpetuating that myth is dismissive of what it’s actually like to be autistic.

  15. I thought I understood my “aspie” daughter until I read this. Reading this was like a light bulb moment for me. Thank you so much! P.S. Can you fix the facebook share link so we can share it on Facebook? Thanks!

  16. Thank you for your article. I have a brother-in-law who seems to fit in the one category. He’s never been diagnosed, yet at 31 he lives at home with his parents but hasn’t been able to keep a job or Finish a semester of school. He acts and talks like there’s nothing wrong with him but I’m sure he recognizes that he’s different. At this point do you think it would be valuable to have him diagnosed and actually have him confront it, or would it be better to just keep going on the way he is? Your opinion would be most valued.

    1. Unfortunately I don’t know your brother well enough. Those of us who were diagnosed late found it incredibly affirming. But many people get defensive when you suggest it to them.

    2. @Martha – do not underestimate the ability of people to self-deceive, especially if they lack the understanding of what is “different” about them from neurotypical people. A friend of mine who has an autistic wife and two autistic children has denied his own autism for nearly forty years despite quite profound struggles with almost every area of his life and the fact that these same difficulties that he had/has are now being mirrored in his children. He accepts that they’re autistic, he accepts that he has some of these issues but he STILL denies he’s autistic and says “it’s because of something else” – and if you ask him to take a self-assessment he will score “neurotypically” because he has no concept of how non-typical his behaviours and thought processes are.

  17. That you were able to put this into words is amazing. I hope so many people will read it and open their minds. Thank you. You have done a great service for all of us on the spectrum by writing this.I admire you and am ever so grateful.

  18. This was great to read. It really helped me to understand a few things about myself and my child. I can visualize how we fit on the spectrum now. Its great to be able to share this.

  19. Thank you for sharing your very insightful frustrations. I must admit I am one of those uneducated people who have been misinformed about the use of the word “spectrum”.

  20. “If you ONLY have problems with body movement/ control then that is called dyspraxia” As a dyspraxic and on behalf of other dyspraxics I would like to point out that this far over simplifies Dyspraxia, it’s not purely a movement/ body control problem it is SOOOOOO much more. I will be sharing this with a few Facebook contacts who will probably have something more to say.

    1. I know and I apologize for the over-simplification but I didn’t want to go too off topic. I mostly wanted to make the point that many conditions share autism features but are not called autism because they don’t check as many boxes. I’d be happy if you wanted to add your comments clarifying dyspraxia for those interested. I think there are many undiagnosed dyspraxic people, just as there are many undiagnosed autistic people.

      1. “many conditions share autism features but are not called autism because they don’t check as many boxes.”
        Reasonably recently some diagnoses of ADD and ADHD have been augmented by recognition that the autistic is in play in individuals to whom those former diagnoses are being applied; which makes sense to me regards my understanding of those three developmental forms.

          1. “You should read Terra Vance’s article on autistic emotions. Autistic people prefer intrinsic reward over external motivations like fear of punishment or hope of reward.”

            Years back when I was struggling to forge a personal frame of reference on the autistic. I used a computer metaphor.
            Back in the day the 486 chip was a vast improvement on the 386 chip. Something of the order of change of Henry Ford’s Model T displacing horses in early 20th century America.
            I came to see the 386 as representing the clunky cognitive processing of the collective: so the sensing I could share with non-autistic others; the kind of brain processing you would be called upon to use if studying a discipline. The 486 then represented the far far larger body of sensing that was dealt with across far more powerful emotional processing; so all the sensing that could not be much shared with the collective across cognitive exchange. Emotion then richer and faster than cognition by a huge order of difference.
            So emotion becomes the primary plane in autistic development and occurrence. What you then say of emotion makes every sense.

  21. What an empowering string of helpful ideas and contributions. This really helps me as a SEN teacher. 1 query. I find the orthodox ideas of offering students with ASD (I wish the D was erased!) Which are structure, order, consistent, tight rules don’t work for some Aspie kids who kick against consequences. I find they (perhaps with pathological demand avoidance PDA) do better with some choice, ownership and autonomy. It’s a lonely struggle to win them this in a system that says tighter. Anyone agree and even any ideas how to advance my view? Thanks

    1. You should read Terra Vance’s article on autistic emotions. Autistic people prefer intrinsic reward over external motivations like fear of punishment or hope of reward.

      1. This has been my experience. A task or directive has to have meaning in my internal world. It has to fit into a larger concept of What I’m Doing, otherwise it feels arbitrary and therefore optional.

  22. very interesting perspective. I am an educational psychologist and if you were told your executive functioning was at the 99th percentile rank, it means your skills are better than 99 percent of the general population. If you had a percentile rank of 1, then your skills would be considered better than 1 percent of the general population.

      1. interesting, I am guessing then it was a rating scale where you respond to questions, then you were rated yourself as having executive dysfunction at the 99th percentile rank. A direct assessment, using an assessment tool like the D-KEFS, would have given you the inverse results, if you did well you would have a 99th percentile rank. I wondered if maybe you were misunderstood about one of your strengths! Great article!!!

        1. It was the BRIEF-A. I was in 99th percentile in 3 categories, 97 in another, 98 in another, >99 in one… High scores on the BRIEF-A are not good and my assessor’s comments reflect this.

  23. The article is excellent but functioning labels are ableist and the website name as “aspergian” is a functioning label and based on an out dated diagnosis generated from the name of a Nazi Sympathizer who used those functioning labels to determine who was worthy of living versus which of us were “too autistic”.

    I won’t share or subscribe to a blog that uses such a name even if the content is good.

    1. Damien, while we won’t try to coax you to stay and encourage you to go elsewhere, we have strong views about the name and the site was coined as an homage to our community and not the man, and as a rebellion against misinformation, against pathologies, against groupthink, and against the blind complacency and acceptance of an autism mom’s purposefully-misleading book of propaganda.

      You can educate yourself by reading our about page and by reading this recent and more accurate portrayal of Hans Asperger.

      Your righteous indignation isn’t doing any good for our community. I hope that the hurting and broken autistic people out there full of internalized ableism and shame from being born to be abused and misunderstood land in the safety and warmth of our doorstep where they will be folded into the community under our protective awning before reaching the exclusionary, haughty, and unforgiving hostility of yours.

      As they say in the vernacular, “Bye, Felicia.”

      1. right read it and internalized ablism is ugly so won’t support say by Felicia all you like but ignoring the voice of someone who is Autistic and talking down to them like you did shows your true face. tone policing me is no better than the autism moms you speak of. I am not being hostile I am being honest.

        1. Ignoring the voices of autistic people because they use the word aspie is ableism. I’m not ignoring you. I’m dismissing your concern as something unfounded and a reflection of thought policing and anti-acceptance rhetoric

          1. Now I’m being accused of ablism because I reject an ablism including terms like aspie. The good thing is I don’t need you to validate me, your intent on remaining correct and projecting yourself back at me while shutting me and Autistic people put doesn’t bother me anymore. Have a nice day,

          2. You do realize we’re all autistic here, right? You’re the one who came to an autistic operated site existing for the express purpose of combating ableism and said you can’t support it. Okay. No one is asking you to. We’ll keep fighting the good fight.

          3. Of course I know this is an Autistic ran site I came from a facebook group for Autistic Adults where we were sharing your articles and discussing them. Just as I said myself that I am Autistic. Aspie Supremacy is a thing and this entire time your responses to me have been insulting and filled with Aspie supremacy. The funny thing is I spoke to another Autistic Artist over their name and they weren’t defensive or Angry, They explained calmly and rationally and I went and shared their work and Liked their page. So yes fight that fight its already obvious that losing Autistic readers isn’t a concern You have. After all your “Bye Felicia” said as much.

          4. Now you’re personally saying that I am filled with aspie supremacy? You came here not asking questions but declaring definitively you would not be willing to show support and making accusations.

            There’s no supremacy here. You want to talk down to people and for them to show you humility before you can see eye to eye with them? That’s not going to happen. You’re not willing to judge us by our fruits. That’s fine. You don’t have to.

      2. also I’m not part of your “community” as I am Autistic. Your doorstep isn’t warm or welcoming because of your name it was why I wouldn’t read the article initially and why many others I know voiced misgivings of this page. You are hostile toward me an autistic person don’t lie about being welcoming.

        1. You understand that you are addressing autistic people, right? 100% of the contributors at the Aspergian are autistic. There are zero NTs involved at any level here. So you are being hostile at us as autistic people too.

          Whatever you feel about the name, if you gave us a chance or read our about page you would see that we are passionately anti-ableist, anti-functioning labels, anti-aspie supremacy etc etc etc.

          None of us are paid here. Don’t want to support us? That’s fine. Don’t read or donate. But we are autistic too and our feelings matter too.

          I’m glad you approve of my article. Thank you for giving it a chance.

          1. funny that’s not how the reply felt
            It was dismissive, it tone policed, and clings to a label that places this superior to autistic people. I don’t have the spoons to continue this conversation. I read the page, and I disagreed with the “about” it choose to cling to a loaded name and the reply talked down to someone who voiced concern. This isn’t just your feelings but the feelings of other Autistic people reading here. But I’m done here after all the reply made clear that I wasn’t welcome so again I’m not “your community” I’m autistic not aspie not any other label and I don’t feel up further for this debate.

          2. DamienSkyetheshadeofwriting C.L. Lynch and others. The tension and disagreement embedded and expressing-themselves in this particular strand of conversation, seem to me generically and inevitably involved in progressing autistic understanding and inclusion and liberation.
            It seems to me that these tensions and what stems from them in terms of activity and interaction, are sui generis part and parcel of the autistic that has to be grappled with.
            What all contributors to this particular strand of conversation did heartfelt say and express and reveal, stands valid and legitimate, and needing to be heard and understood affirmatively.
            What we need to do as an autistic affirming community, it seems to me (so just one individual’s view), is invest in what enables us to more and more affirm what is expressing the autistic. That is all of the autistic.
            My development, from as far back as I can remember, and again for reasons just to do with me, have seen me giving up endeavours of self, in order to allow and understand the other. What saw me doing that was intrinsically autistic, in the sense that I was naively and ferally making use of frames of reference that an immediately contextual collective would reflexively reject as invalid and illegitimate. Even when working professionally this autistic affirming approach saw my frames of reference rejected by more socially-grounded colleagues. I was tolerated because I was effective, but was really seen as the fool on the hill.
            I can see something of the individual circumstance out of which each of the contributors of this strand of conversation are coming from, and each to me appears to validly and legitimately represent the autistic as I understand that matter at the heart of our existence.
            Forgive me if my intrusion offends.

  24. I just want to say that I love this piece as a dead on description of the spectrum and why “functioning labels” are such nonsense! I shared this to my page and truly hope it goes viral!!

  25. Thank you so much for your insight! It has been so hard trying to explain the behaviours of my son and husband (diagnosed on the same day!) to family and friends and educators. I find most people (even parents and grandparents) can’t comprehend their contrasting strengths and weaknesses. I will share this article with anyone who cares to read it. Thanks again!

  26. i am from England .i take part in a lot lot research.people never see the every day effects .i have aspergers
    and m.e .long list health issues . migraines BOTH Bladder /Bowel problems
    i do a blog .http;//mark-kent.webs.com
    twitter,supersnooper
    Linkedin,AutismDad

  27. Most health care professionals we’ve encountered have always put forward the ‘gradient’ theory – so, if they’ve grasped it wrong, they’re the ones ‘mis-educating the parents, carers etc. I myself like the idea of each colour/trait having ITS OWN gradient, as that seems to fit with the various neurodivergent people I know or I am.

  28. I would just add that definitions like this do not create reality. They just attempt to explain it.

    1. Coby. You make an important point. It’s also the case that definitions create or mediate what people take to be reality. Perhaps some definitions attempt to explain what yet other definitions have previously brought about.
      For example a circumstance has been brought about by the definitions that our collective has applied to those we currently view as ASD (or autistic). From out of the experiencing of an autistic grouping has emerged the concept.definition of neurodiversity; or at least we are choosing to apply it. That application then has two broad intentions: firstly, the intention to better understand and explain the autistic; secondly, the intention to change the definitions a contextual collective takes recourse to.

      1. I agree. I really have very little patience for lateral violence within the autistic community. Lateral violence has been used to divide groups by the forces in power since time immemorial and I hate that the alt right is succeeding in dividing us.

        To me, the truly autistic attitude is to unite in our differences, rather than do what allistics do and cling to those who are identical to ourselves.

        1. “To me, the truly autistic attitude is to unite in our differences, rather than do what allistics do and cling to those who are identical to ourselves.”

          That is a fulcrum for a compass we could use in proceeding. The contributions stemming from the autistic and the social/societal (allistic) loci then able to be seen as being in potentially fruitful tension.

  29. Thank you! I wish my mother and my occupational therapist understood English so that I could educate them with the help of your article. STOP ASSUMING! In my opinion, thin-slice judgment is the worst symptom of Neurotypicality.

  30. Thank you so much for this! Your experience as described in the article matches mine so closely, particularly this: “I, on the other hand, have always been recognized as being intelligent. Instead, I struggle to have my difficulties be recognized. What I need is someone to support me– to cook, to clean, to organize– to help me recover when tasks have gotten larger and more complicated than I can process.”

    I called out that quote when I sent the article to my mom 😉

  31. This is one of the clearest explanations I have seen of how the spectrum works. As a mother of a person on the spectrum I am really grateful for your work and hope this reaches a lot of people.

  32. This is SUCH a great piece. Thank you for writing it. I’m the mother of someone I’m fairly sure is on the spectrum (we’re in the diagnosis process now) and a psychologist, and this piece gave me a whole new angle on understanding autism.

  33. Darn…..this article needs to be read, and reread !!! but with COLORS ! I only have black ink !! Is it possible that you could produce this article and MAIL it to me? But I will print out what I can and keep to share widely !
    Thank you so, so much

  34. I have read this article 3 times in the last 15 hours and have sent it to four people so far. One of the most powerful takeaways is how “normies” view people with autism as relative to how it makes them feel: “My autism affects those around me mildly but my autism does affect me severely.”

    This is an amazing article. Helped me so much! Thanks!

  35. Love this article – thank you for helping me understand that my son (age 9) really is on the spectrum, even though he doesn’t fit with what I thought autism looked like. For 3 years, I doubted the diagnosis (despite the diagnosing doctor being an expert in the field). It all makes sense to me now.

    1. I think the value of C.L’s piece lies in what it has stimulated and provoked. Two narrow threads of that are represented by: those who have praised it unconditionally on the one hand; and DamienSkyetheshadeofwriting who has offered critique of its thesis and narrative. These two in-tension threads are consistent with my sense of, experience of, thinking about, and talking about the autistic.
      I see the autistic as emerging in and having force across the interaction between people. I see what people en masse do as being the collective. Across the process of that collective the social and societal is the dominant human reality. The autistic then occurring in relation to what is social and societal.
      Basically, the autistic is had (has its origins, its epigenesis) when the sensing and perception and cognition and terms-of-occurring of an individual is not supported by the collective. There is then a spectrum across the degree of this.
      I’m dyslexic. That can be conventionally seen as a “specific learning difficulty” (SLI); indicating that across what a contextual social requires as to learning, I might be seen as having a performance (functional) idiosyncrasy (a kind view) or deficit (the cruel demeaning view). Measures might be taken to remediate my learning process to make it more like social and societal supporting learning process. I see my being dyslexic differently: as a whole-person different-mode-of-being matter; everything about my processing taking me outside the box of any contextual social.
      I then see a relation between the exigencies of being dyslexic, and being treated by a contextual social and society as tends to happen; and the autistic. It goes like this. If I don’t make too much existential fuss about my intrinsic sensing, perception, cognition, et al; I fall into the category of the on-the-spectrum grouping who are best treated by any contextual social and society. Across the functional criteria embedded in that social and society’s processing, I’m so little a problem that it might even be argued that the autistic does not figure in my occurrence. If I instead insist on acting out my dyslexic sensing. perception, cognition and talking (as I do, and have done always), the situation changes fundamentally and comprehensively. The conditions of my occurrence and developing (so crucial when I was younger) move to where I pose a much greater challenge to any contextual social and society, and in their view of and reaction to me, the epigenetical conditions for the autistic become much greater. I’m then still on the benign part of the spectrum, because I can exercise a degree of control (even as a child) over the nexus of all this (I can withdraw, hide, to lessen the intensities).
      So in a sense the autistic does not begin as existing. Rather the autistic takes origins in how we humans play out our occurrence. Basically, the emergence of the social and societal also provides the conditions for the emergence of the autistic.
      If we take all the life-challenges which C.L. cites in her modelling of the spectrum. My sense is that none of them are intrinsically associated with the autistic (or autism). Rather the autistic and autism (two very different occurrence outcomes) arise exigently across the interaction between being in which that life-challenge is embedded, and the collective’s engaging with that being across the ground of their socials and society. Applying C.L.’s metaphor, visible light attaches to what human’s have evolved to be. The various colours of that visible spectrum referring to components of functionality associated with that evolved collective being. Functional modelling thereby having a validity and legitimacy that cannot be reductively dismissed; even as its prevailing hegemony has to be challenged.
      That necessity of challenging has the autistic as its engine and as its cutting edge. Prevailing in that challenging paves the pathway of progression for those who are autistic. That being said this progressing involves human experiencing as horrendous as in any civil war. The existentiality of being human is fought over; both sides to tension experiencing any victory of the other as the death of themselves.
      DamienSkyetheshadeofwriting’s participation in the activity of this community then speaks to what is involved in working through this moment of things. Both she and the community are working legitimately across the truth of the autistic. The community has its evolved social (something very complex), and DamienSkyetheshadeofwriting’s frame of reference offends the frame of reference of that social. Where, from my point of view, the autistic is manifest in that nexus; the grounding conditions for the epigenesis of the autistic is actively present.
      Now everything I have to say stems from my hermetic limitations (what limits what I can sense and perceive and think and speak to), which come from my biography and the development it allowed. My neurodiversity has a governing and limiting force. That determines what I can say about the autistic. That holding for all others who wish to speak about the autistic. The word then becoming a place-holder for myriad individuals offering talk about what the autistic is for them.

  36. As someone with Asperger’s, I wish to sincerely thank you for the insightfulness, sensitivity and helpfulness of this article. I hope it will help to debunk many myths and misconceptions about us. I shared the article with my work colleagues and friends!

  37. Just to clarify…99th percentile means you are in the top 1% of all the participants. … To score 99 percentile means that there are about 99 percent of people( who appeared for the test )who have scored less than you,that means you are in the top one percent of students who have scored great .

    So your executive functioning is in the superior range…and that is awesome!

    Great article

  38. Just THANK YOU and BLESS YOU, CL! I now have a truly useful tool to share with my 29 year-old son with Asperger, as well as those who work with and love him.

  39. Oh My Goodness! This is so helpful. I work at a school with an autistic student, and probably several that would be considered on the spectrum. I’ve been really hindered in trying to understand them by exactly the kind of viewpoint you outlined. Even though I had some notion that it was complex set of brain wiring, I was looking for one size fits all recommendations. In one article you gave me a whole new way to understand these kids. I feel like I just got a huge leap in my understanding in one article. I now at least know how to ask the right questions to make my interactions helpful and appropriate.

  40. Thank you for this insightful article. My 30 yr old daughter has not been “formally” diagnosed with Autism, but I and her psychologist believe she is. Your explanation of the “spectrum” helps make sense of this diagnosis. I truly do believe she is on the spectrum because of the various issues she has based on your explanation of autism. It also helps me to better understand my friends/family who are living with autism.

  41. Thank you so much for writing this. As a mom to a non verbal autistic child I hope to always treat him as he would want, provide him what he needs, and foster his wishes and dreams. I will continue striving to educate others and doing my best to make sure he is never misunderstood or underestimated. You write beautifully, and thank you for trying to help the rest of us understand a little better how to support those with autism.

  42. I have been socially rejected, made fun of, and physically threatened, and or beaten all of my life. Have been told by producers at CBC that I am one of the best songwriters in the country. Yet the music industry have blackballed me from music festivals, and concert series because of some old behaviours. My doctor just fired me because I questioned her on some of her decisions. I am in the process of trying to make a documentary of my experience but am having problems finding the right people to make it happen. I have written a song called Happy the Clown and it pretty much sings about my life as an Aspie. Checkout out on my Youtube channel “Robert Atyeo”. This article could bring the medical community and our society out of the dark with respect to autism.

  43. You’ve brought your neuro-atypical gifts to bear on a major road block that badly needed disassembling. The color spectrum metaphor has been problematic for all the reasons you’ve explored. Very valuable work, C.L. Lynch. You’ve moved us forward. Thank you.

  44. Really informative article. Thank you for shedding some light on this subject. Of course, as you point out so well, a spectrum is just that. So many colours rather than monochrome.

  45. After reading all this information shared here, I believe my 49 year old son has autism! Lights on! May 28, 2019

  46. Thanks for this article! Quite insightful. I’m always surprised by how many people don’t really understand the spectrum. I was at a work event once where we had to tell something about ourselves that no one else would expect; I admitted that I’m on the spectrum.

    A woman in my group, who self-proclaimed as a liberal social justice warrior, sighed and said, “well, the spectrum is wide.” Then she went on to talk about her ADD oldest child and dyslexic youngest. Wish I could’ve directed her to your article back then!

  47. I am thinking I have never known my 46 year old son, but, he hasn’t really known himself. Now, after a few analytical sessions, a wise therapist, and a variety of informational directives, he is compiling his own “person” and sharing his discoveries with those closest to him. He is amazing.

  48. Thank you sooooo much for this. I have always felt terribly uncomfortable when people have responded to my autism by saying “we’re all on the spectrum somewhere”. It has made me feel as though they are trivialising my difficulties and saying something like “We all have it but the rest of us have learned to cope so get over it”. They aren’t TRYING to understand, possibly don’t WANT to understand, and I have never known how to begin framing a response. Now I do.

    1. Jeremy, I think at least some people are trying to be supportive in that we all have our own struggles, seen or unseen and are calling themselves also be on the spectrum. It’s not discounting yours, it’s a way of saying that we see your struggles but see you as a whole person not as an “other”. By grouping themselves with you, it’s in support of you not a dismissal of you.

      1. Shawn – I understand what you’re saying, but let me see if I can try to explain how I, personally, feel about it, as someone who is autistic (and also disabled in other ways).

        First off, the problem is that, a lot of the time, it *is* used to dismiss autistic people and their needs… and I’d also argue that even if it *is* intended to be supportive it still undermines the difficulties that autism causes. When I see someone who is neurotypical say “Oh everyone’s a bit autistic” that’s exactly what they’re doing – saying there’s nothing out of the ordinary about the difficulties and challenges that autistics face, because non-autistic people also face some of the same things sometimes. The same thing happens when people say “everyone has struggles” – yes, most people have some kind of issue they have to work against at some stage in their life… but that absolutely does NOT mean they’re the same or that my daily struggles are any less deserving of appropriate support or allowances.

        In other words, even when done with the best of intentions, it’s still not okay. I see the same issue a lot with people who are able-bodied attacking people they assume are misusing disabled parking or toilets or seats because they “don’t look disabled”. They always excuse it with “I’m trying to protect you REAL disabled people from fakers…”. What the REALLY end up doing is attacking actually disabled people because they have a warped perspective or expectation of what disability looks like. And this is why in the UK right now, the average person thinks 24% of the money spent on disability benefits is claimed fraudulently… when in reality, its far far less than 1% and over two years, out of nearly 300 cases of people reporting their friends, family and neighbours for fraud? Not ONE case ended up being supported. Most people wouldn’t go up to someone who is black and say “Well *everyone’s* a little bit black.” even though we all are descended from individuals from Sub-Saharan Africa… and for a non-autistic person to say “We’re all a little autistic” is just as nonsensical and (potentially) offensive..

        As the article states – autism is a diagnosis, based on a collection of areas that people function differently in, that you only get by meeting those criteria. You either are, or you aren’t. You can’t be a “bit” autistic, any more than you can be a “bit” pregnant.

        1. That’s it, omoWatcher … precisely what I was trying to explain, and oh so well articulated!

          On the disability thing, I have a friend who has the perfect response (honed over the years) to people who look askance at her as she leaves her car in a disabled parking space and say “You don’t look disabled to me”.

          She looks them up and down, studies them very carefully, and then says “You don’t look like a doctor to me.”

          1. @Jeremy Burrows: Haha! that’s perfect, I’m going to steal that one. My usual response, if I feel it deigns one, is far less polite and along the lines of “And you don’t look like a judgemental idiot, but here we are…” It happens less often now, because you can’t really miss my disability – I’ve been using a wheelchair for a while now and for the last couple of years I’ve been confined to horizontal surfaces at home but honestly, so of the things I still hear on the rare occasion I make it out of the house are so irritating. And in *most* cases people don’t think they’re being ableist… but that doesn’t mean they aren’t. And I try to bear that in mind – that often what they’re doing comes from a misguided but genuinely good place in some mixed up way… but in the process they’re negating or hurting actually disabled people because of their own ignorance or ingrained ableism because society generally feels that if you can’t do everything the way “other people” do, and especially if you can’t contribute significantly in a financial way, then you’re fundamentally worth less. And that’s a huge problem for ANYONE dealing with a difference – be it a physical disability, mental illness or something like autism. The trouble is, much like most forms of discrimination, a lot of people just don’t see it until they experience it for themselves, and it always makes me laugh when someone NT tells me that I lack the ability to put myself in other people’s shoes when so often its neurotypical people who fail dismally to have any insight into how or why autistic people act, think or feel the way they do and expect us to make all the changes. Anyhow, thank you for your kind response and I hope you have a wonderful day. 🙂

  49. [Image description for “The autism spectrum looks more like this:”: A spectrum of all the colors of the rainbow from purple on one end, through blue, green, yellow, and orange, to red on the other end. Under the rainbow is text in different sections, one for each color of the rainbow.
    Pragmatic Language. Social communication including body language, eye contact, small talk, and turn-taking in conversation. Social Awareness. Ability to pick up on etiquette, social norms, taboos. Ability to form and maintain relationships. Monotropic Mindset. Narrow but intese ability to focus, resulting in “obsessive” interests and difficulty task-switching. Information Processing. Ability to assimilate and apply new information quickly or to adapt to new environments or situations. Sensory Processing. Challenges interpreting sensory information, hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to stimuli. Repetitive behaviors. Tendency to “stim” in response to varying emotions. Can be beneficial or harmful in nature. Neuro-Motor Differences. Ability to control body movements. Ranges from clumsiness to complete loss of ability to move with intention.
    End description]

    [Image description for Person One: A spectrum of all the colors of the rainbow from purple on one end, through blue, green, yellow, and orange, to red on the other end. Under the rainbow is text in different sections, one for each color of the rainbow. Some of the colors are blocked by black triangles, making different sections of the rainbow more prominent.
    Person One. Pragmatic Language. Tends to miss subtle social cues, tends to interrupt or accidentally bore people. Social Awareness. Forgets to say hello or goodbye, doesn’t think to ask for help when having difficulties. Doesn’t reach out to friends. Monotropic Mindset. Prone to “obsessing” over special interests, difficulty with task switching, cannot multitask, struggles with executive function. Information Processing. Absorbs written word easily, excellent memory, but cannot follow verbal instructions. Struggles to navigate unfamiliar environments, easily confused. Sensory Processing. Dislikes certain sounds, sensitive to light. Notoriously “picky” about tastes and textures. Repetitive behaviors. Tends to tap fingers on desk or spin ring on finger, especially when stressed. Sucks thumb in private. Loves to rock. Neuro-Motor Differences. Somewhat clumsy, has trouble with coordination and manual tasks. May enjoy one particular sport such as swimming or horse riding.
    End description]

    [Image description for Person Three: A spectrum of all the colors of the rainbow from purple on one end, through blue, green, yellow, and orange, to red on the other end. Under the rainbow is text in different sections, one for each color of the rainbow. Some of the colors are blocked by a black triangle, making different sections of the rainbow more prominent.
    Person Two. Pragmatic Language. unable to speak due to motor problems but picks up on social cues very well and understands subtle body language. Social Awareness. Very interested in people, interested in popular culture, but suffers social anxiety. Monotropic Mindset. Tends to get fixated when stressed or upset, but has a wide variety of interests. Information Processing. Finds it difficult to adjust to new locations and new people. Eidetic memory, absorbs information instantly. Sensory Processing. Mild touches can burn like fire, certain sounds may completely incapacitate the person. Repetitive Behaviors. Arms flap, person may grunt or hum, may be fascinated by the motion of water or the feeling of sand. Neuro-Motor Differences. Body seems to have a mind of its own, finds it difficult to move in a purposeful way, often mistaken for having intellectual disability.
    End description]

    [Image description for Person Three: A spectrum of all the colors of the rainbow from purple on one end, through blue, green, yellow, and orange, to red on the other end. Under the rainbow is text in different sections, one for each color of the rainbow. Some of the colors are blocked by a black triangle, making different sections of the rainbow more prominent.
    Person Three. Pragmatic Language. Does not notice when others are upset. Needs communication to be clear and simple, without metaphor or figurative speech. Social Awareness. Does not pick up on social etiquette, struggles to comprehend social rules. Struggles with give-and-take in relationships. Monotropic Mindset. Becomes very fixated on tasks and dislikes being redirected. Very upset by changes in routine. Information Processing. Learns best when moving, finds it hard to retain information when sitting still. Thinks in pictures, not words. Sensory Processing. Low sensitivity to sensory input – likes loud noises, may hit themselves when stressed or under-stimulated. Repetitive Behaviors. Likes to bounce and jump, most comfortable when rocking or moving. Neuro-Motor Differences. Somewhat hyperactive but strong and fit and able to perform challenging physical tasks with ease.
    End description.]

  50. I love this so much – I feel like I could go home and draw the spectrum and pick and choose from those people descriptions and finally make it clear to those who don’t get it what makes my son autistic – even though he doesn’t fit the stereotype

  51. I think that the world of autism has much to offer the rest of us. We all enjoy, or conversely suffer from, a wide range of differences. If the autism spectrum can be understood as “everyone is a unique combination of abilities and interests”, then maybe the rest of us will treat each other better, with greater understanding of what it means to be a human being. One of my grandsons has been diagnosed with autism…but hehas a “high IQ”, reads well, jokes and has excellent fine motor skills. But is often seemingly oblivious to others and forgets to say hello, etc. But still he is so much like everyone else in the family. A great kid.

  52. I found this incredibly helpful and informative. I was diagnosed a year ago at the age of 49 and am learning not only about myself but about autism in general. Really I only know how my set of skills and difficulties feels to me. I only know my experiences. This has opened my eyes to how others with different skills and difficulties may experience the world. Thank you

  53. Thank you for opening my eyes to the person of my grandson. There is not one way to compare even two much less all of those diagnosed with this personally. Just as each of us have our own fingerprints I understand now that my grandson has his own abilities and disabilities. At this time in his life he belives in himself and things he will accomplish. I want to believe with him and be able to encourage him and pray that he can meet his expectations and praise his accomplishments. Thank you again for helping me see him as on his own spectrum. I do not want to pray for him to still believe in himself when he fails but want to pray for him and rejoice as he succeeds to whatever degree that is. May you continue always your work to help us see those like you and my grandson as just being at a different place on that spectrum.

    Love you all,
    Barbara

  54. Great read, thank you! I am a special education teacher in Washington and this article is just proof I have so much to learn to support the students I work with. What would you want teachers to know? What actions can we take that are based on evidence and research?

    1. I’d want them to know that they should never make assumptions about ability based on outward appearances – that students who seem not to understand often do, but can’t control their bodies well enough to demonstrate this fact.

  55. Finding out I was autistic in my 50s, and now being 66, I’ve done a lot of research and self reflection and firmly believe that we are born with autistic brains. The spectrum is that there are so many other factors that make us what we are who we are; including DNA ancestry, environment, personal health and so much more. It’s also very obvious to me that being born with an autistic brain is hereditary. My uncle, his son, two of his sons, not to mention my oldest son and his oldest son also were born with autistic brains. I loved that uncle and aunt and always wanted to run away and be their kids instead of my parents. Whom they were (especially my uncle) and how they lived so much more resonated with me than my family environment. Now I know why.

    Although I do like to be called Aspie, Asburgers is simply “high functioning” autism. We definitely need new terminology for those of us born with an artistic brain. It’s mych more common than most kniw because mst if have taught ourselves to mimic others so we’re not noticed. People have been being born with an autistic brain since recorded history. Women especially have been overlooked because we don’t present as dramatically as men.

    Most research I have come across is written by those who have non-autistic brains and are writing from observation. That’s why most of it is off the mark. What they are observing is simply that particular person’s characteristics and how they are manifesting because they’re a person with an autistic brain. This is crucial to note. because of how one might deal with an autistic child or coworker or friend. This is not a disease or a disorder or caused by vaccinations. People are born with autism and it’s simply a different way of viewing and experiencing the world.

    Many of our most brilliant leaders are and have been born with autistic brains. We may not be socially astute but we are very intelligent. We don’t need medication, operations or psychiatric treatment. We need encouragement, tolerance, patience and understanding. We also have a very good sense of humor, so a little laughter goes a long way.

    Love that I was born with an artistic brain. It’s made my life so much more fun and interesting. I am fascinated by a growing myriad of things that I’ll never be bored, as it makes life more of a party in so many ways.

    But it’s very distressing hearing and reading so much misinformation about autism. Thank goodness it seems to be now changing with so many more autistic people speaking up and writing excellent articles and blogs.

    1. Are you trying to say “autistic” or “artistic” brain? Using “autistic brain” doesn’t make sense and runs counter to his article. Also, most of our leaders are not autistic. I think you are reading the wrong kind of research as most of what you said is inaccurate.

  56. I have been a practicing SLP for 15+ years. I am also the mother of a 20yo son who, throughout the course of his life, has been diagnosed with (1) developmental delay, (2) ADHD, which I never subscribed to, (3) sensory integration disorder, then (4) severe anxiety disorder one after the other. I have felt in my gut for years that he is aspie, but have been unable to get professional confirmation. This young man fits Example One word for word. He’s depressed a lot of the time because he cannot keep a job or stay in school or maintain a healthy relationship. How can I help him be a successful adult?

  57. Great article and all true… but “spectrum” is actually the correct terminology:

    “used to classify something, or suggest that it can be classified, in terms of its position on a scale between two extreme or opposite points.
    “the left or the right of the political spectrum”

    My son was classified severely autistic right from birth so we got a jump on it. Full on IBI at 30mths, got my degree in Behavioural Science and he’s moved right on over the spectrum from severe to high functioning.

    Awesome explanation of the scale. Sharing!

    1. Right, but the location on political spectrum doesn’t make you more or less political. It means you are either liberal or conservative. Two very different political creatures, but it does not determine HOW political they are.

      As your son demonstrates “functioning” labels can change over time, but neurology remains the same. Your son has the same brain he was born with. He is the same kind of autistic he has always been. He may have learned masking skills but it hasn’t changed his place on the spectrum.

      1. Learning and demonstrating newly acquired skills does mean neurology has changed. All of our brains change all the time. You neurology argument does not work here. I do agree and appreciate the way you illustrate and explain the concept of a spectrum though.

  58. This is an invaluable article. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for your eye opening thoughts. As a teacher I’ve encountered so many children I’ve wanted to help and didn’t know how. What can I do to better identify their needs. I’m thinking perhaps a simple conversation in the beginning? But, what if they’re uncomfortable with that? What do you suggest?

  59. This is one of the most insightful explanations I have ever read on the subject. I will be sharing it far and wide. Thank you.

  60. And one more thing don’t think we are being lazy just because we can’t do something that is considered easy just because it is easier for a tipicly easier for a Neural typical person than the thing we have done before because it is not for us for one reason or another it is very difficult or even impossible it is not because we are lazy and trying to get out of it.

  61. This is an excellent and engaging article. You make your point without preaching or shouting.
    It reminds me of one of my favorite questions in this life…’whose reality counts?’ I have shared in the hope of broadening horizons.
    I would like to ask you if you feel there is a need for more research to be done into whether there are environmental triggers for all of these neurological differences that seem to be more and more prevalent? I do not believe that this hugely increased prevalence is due to better recognition and diagnosis. I truly feel that an unbiased and thorough investigation needs to be made of all possible environmental influences.

  62. However, we do live in a world and need to function in this world of people who have no clue or very little knowledge of Autism. There are times when we need a way to describe Autism in layman terms. For example, my son is 17 yrs. old diagnosed with Autism. He is going to independently try sailing lessons. When I called the director to ask about the program & talk about my son I was grateful to be able to say “higher function” because the director understood, probably relaxed a little and it allowed me to keep his focus and continue in with a few other details like my sons communication issues. If I had said lower function the director would’ve probably understood the difference. Not the details of the higher & lower but at least the difference. There are many nasty people when it comes to understanding Autism but there are also many curious people. It’s good to have terms such as high or low or non verbal or aggressive that the curious people understand to get them engaged in further conversation & understanding. I don’t care what actual word (s) we use but I’ve found the “high & low on the spectrum” very useful when speaking & teaching people that don’t know much about Autism.

  63. Thank you for writing this! Two of my sons have autism – one is nonverbal, can stim all day long, doesn’t respond to his name, has significant social challenges, and is very easy-going and laid-back. The other is verbally fluent, looked to as a leader by his peers, is very anxious and socially rigid, and can become physically violent when in the midst of a meltdown. Both are highly gifted (per testing, not just mom-pride!), loving, fantastic people. Your article has really helped my sons understand how they can have such different strengths and challenges and yet have the same diagnosis.

  64. Thank you so much for writing this. I have been thinking that I am probably autistic, but I wasn’t sure because I am more or less ambidextrous, participate in sports, and play bass guitar. Everything made sense when I saw the band across the spectrum for Person One, the Aspie. I have saved off the article on my computer drive for future reference, and so I can better explain to others.

  65. C. L. Lynch, thought provoking article- ‘Having sensory processing issues doesn’t make you “a little autistic.” It makes you someone with sensory processing problems’ to be considered ‘autistic’ you must have difficulty in multiple categories. So ‘someone’ sets a standard; those that are judged to meet that standard are autistic and entitled to contribute to the ongoing debate. So it should be; but lets not get into creating a hierarchy where those (and there are many) who have many of the spectrum traits are dismissed as not being divergent enough. We should not judge a life that we have not lived, that applies to those who would consider themselves neuro typical and to those of us who are neuro atypical. I know people who describe themselves as ‘a little autistic’ and I would say that they probably are. They would not, ought not, be diagnosed with autism as they do not present with sufficient elements of the spectrum but they do have a ‘a little bit’ of the autistic spectrum in their makeup. We really need all the friends we can get to move the agenda forwards.

  66. I have been learning about what autism is over the last few years and I think this is the most useful single article I’ve read. I’ve also shared it with relatives to help them understand.
    Thanks for writing it.

  67. Hello there!
    First I wanted to say I read this article back in May when it was posted and I just never forgot it. Which is why, yesterday, when a few people from the clinic I work for (mainly occupational and speech therapy) were discussing diagnotic criteria and such I remembered this. I translated the whole thing to Portuguese because they don’t know English, and it was really just for personal use, but they really, really liked it and wanted to share it on our Facebook page. I was wondering if that would be ok. We would source it of course, make it clear that it’s a translation and put the original link.
    If that’d be okay, please let me know. I love this article a lot and wish more people could read it

  68. If I can add a little contructive critiscism.

    We have to stop to represent it with a linear spectrum but a circular one which make easily understoodable how a spectrum is and how a color is an accumulation of many others of different intensities.

  69. Neat explanation of the spectrum! However, the comparison to visible light isn’t *completely* right. Yes, red is a different colour than blue, but only because we observe and define them as such. They are actually just “more/less spectrum”, or rather, have longer or shorter wavelengths.

    And as for being “not autistic, but on the spectrum” – darn, I’m guilty of that! Which makes me wonder, since the three examples had considerable difficulties with several skills while being proficient in others – what if you’re affected in most or all of the areas, but only slightly? Wouldn’t that be the “mild” kind? As opposed to having severe difficulties with every ability on that spectrum being much more disabling in general.

  70. I am 81 years old and have never “fit in”. The more that I am learning about autism the better I can understand some of my traits that my teachers, instructors, and supervisors found to be quite vexing. From some of my earliest days my parents and older siblings depended on my observations and memory for locating mislaid tools and other objects. I am told that at age 2 years I went outside in the snow to find a hammer that had been left out the previous day and was successful.
    My handwriting ability was a problem first used to shame me in second grade and my responce was to never give that teacher another page with my marks on it.

    Ross

    1. Wow Nathaniel. I’ve recently self identified as autistic. ( Just before my 76th birthday.) I wondered if there was anyone older than me to discover this. Now I know!

  71. Wow! This is one of the best articles I have seen in this subject. Thank you so much! It has helped me understand my children so much better!

  72. This was the most insightful article I have ever read and I thank you C.L Lynch for writing it. It spoke to me so deeply and I feel more empowered after having read it. Thank you.

  73. Great explanation! I like to think of autistic traits as being a mosaic rather than a spectrum. Each person has different abilities and challenges that are independent from each other.

  74. Who is “neuro typical”? It seems that everyone I know has at least one of those differences. Brain differences seem to be ubiquitous; every brain works differently from every other brain. It is not reasonable to say “no one is a little autistic”. My observations seem to tell me that it is more likely that everyone is “a little autistic”, that autism is, indeed, a spectrum that includes most humans at some point. I realize that might seem outrageous to you; if my brain functions differently from yours, which one of us is “neurotypical”? I have no doubt that my brain functions differently; differently from anyone else in the world. As does each other person’s brain. Every brain is neurodiverse. This is as much as my addled brain can manage right now!

    1. I have not been diagnosed as having any atypical neurological patterns . BUT I am severly dysgraphic. Even with my best efforts i blend cursive and printing upper and lower case and misplaced spacing. While I was in the Air Force my sargents would find other duties for me when we were to have a parade because I was never able to master marching. I have never been able to learn any manner of dancing. I am however an excellent craftsman and am skilled in several trades. For many years I considered myself to be semiliterate because I could read but I couldn’t write. That changed when a wonderful woman and wife of a dyslexic husband and mother of three dyslexic children told me that I can write my thoughts and someone else can make them legible. She told me that my words were more important than my penmanship. The computer has been a wonderfully liberating tool.

    2. Blindness is also a spectrum; I’m so nearsighted I can hardly see ten feet ahead of me without my glasses, and age is killing my nearsightedness, too. Would you call me blind?

      You’re missing the point of the article. Autism isn’t about a single deviant trait. It’s about many traits, divergent enough to make performing in a normal life extremely difficult to impossible. Take a look at this bell curve: https://study.com/cimages/videopreview/videopreview-full/8o9chhe0qj.jpg. Autism would include people below -30 and above +30; the closer to the center, the more neurotypical you are.

      Individual traits can be treated individually. A set of strong, collective traits can be disabling. Suggesting that “everybody is a little autistic” is as disrespectful to true people with Autism the same way that claiming my bad but easily correctable vision makes me blind. And it keeps society from understanding the full extent of the autism problem, particularly for those on the high end of the scale.

  75. This is really helpful to me. I think I’m pretty well educated on the subject of autism, but this has cleared up a load of stuff that I hadn’t really grasped. Thank you.

  76. Thank you for this post. I will add it to my list of ways to explain autism. I also found a quote recently that I added to it, it goes like this, “[So-called] Mild autism doesn’t mean one experiences autism mildly . . . It means YOU experience their autism mildy.” – Adam Walton

  77. replying to Frickthoughts regarding everyone being “a little bit autistic“:

    I understand what you’re saying, and I think the difference is going to be in the realm of clinical significance. Someone who is not good at dancing doesn’t necessarily have a clinical diagnosis of poor motor control. My ADHD and related executive function deficits are considered severe in some aspects, despite my having made high grades in school, because they significantly impact my day to day function. I have lost friends, nearly lost jobs, and lost money (for many different reasons), not to mention actually being lost in many different cities, all having to do with my executive functioning impairments. Secondary issues such as anxiety and depression have ensued. I am fortunate to have had the intellect and family support to earn a college degree, but real life is harder. If someone else said that they think they have a little ADHD because they occasionally forget where they put their glasses, my response would be “Not clinically significant!” And if someone indeed has a tiny bit of all of the traits listed on the spectrum above, that does not necessarily mean that they cross into the realm of clinically significant autism.

  78. There comes a point where we are faced with what is clinically significant and what is personally significant. When my dancing ability is such that my partner stops in the middle of a number and chides me for not being able to dance it has become personally very significant.

  79. I love what trying to get across. But if only you knew what a spectrum was. You need a different analogy altogether because the electromagnetic spectrum (of which light is a part) is based on wavelength. It is quantitative. And it IS a scale. I think, sticking with the colour theme it would be a better analogy to say ‘Autistic Palette’. People are correctly interpreting spectrum, but it has been incorrectly associated with autism.

  80. Very good article. Hopefully pieces like will start to get the message through that autistic people have wildely different lived experiences as do their families. I for one am sick and tired of the homogonisation that seems to occur not just from outside the autism community by Joe Public, but also from within. We have different camps within the community that claim to speak for and understand the whole sepctrum. As the author rightly points out there are some common themes connecting all autistics but the lived experiences of one part of the spectrum are vastly different to other parts. Different issues, different problems, different skills, different lives and yet we often see one part speaking for and making assumptions about the other. This occurs both within the community and from outside. Let’s treat all people on the spectrum as individuals and respect their lived experiences and when they unable to express those exepriences directly lets respect the lived experiences of those who love them and advocate for them.

  81. Thank you so much for writing this. My daughter was diagnosed with autism 5 years ago and after reading this, for the first time I feel like I understand wtf that means.

  82. So, This is an interesting way of viewing the “Spectrum”. I am a mother of five children four are on the spectrum my oldest is 30 my youngest is 6. I would have described what this Author did, they way she did, right up until the time I had a very low functioning Autistic child who is tragically non verbal. I see the spectrum now with 30 years worth of experience as a Little Quirky, Definitely Autistic and or Tragically Autistic. If you have not had children who function zero ability to communicate dont think for a second I am going to fell bad for you cognitive functioning when your a published Author and can support yourself and make your needs known. Tragic Autism exists anytime you wanna see what that looks like come on over for a visit and after 72 hours you will believe what I do that Autism is a little quirky, definitely autistic and tragically autistic.

    1. Being non-verbal does not mean that your child is ‘low-functioning’ (which is not a real thing anyway; every person with autism is ‘high functioning’ and ‘low functioning’ in different ways, which is the whole point of this article). Just became your child cannot speak does not mean they cannot understand, or that they have a low intellect. Your child may be more disabled *in our society*, because that is largely what being disabled is; being stuck in a world that is not built for you and your own abilities and struggles. For example, being in a wheelchair would be much less disabling if everywhere had ramps, it was easy to find housing with low counters and cabinets, and stores only stocked items up to where they can be reached from a seated position. However, that’s not the case, so being in a wheelchair is considered to be very disabling. Likewise, just because your child does not (or does not yet) speak does not mean that there is something inherently wrong with them, it just means they are disabled by living in a society that prioritizes verbal speech. It’s quite possible your child could learn to use other means of communicating, such as by writing on a computer or using a picture board, and that would decrease the amount of disability they experience whenever they are in a place and time that allows them to use the technology that helps them communicate. The fact that you refer to your own child’s existence as ‘tragic’ is, quite honestly, horrifying. Your child is autistic, not dead. They are alive and it is your duty as a parent to help them be as fully themselves as possible, to give them a life that is worth living. Even if that doesn’t include speaking aloud.

      Frankly as someone with autism myself (who IS verbal, but struggles greatly in other areas), this article was incredibly helpful. Someone I spoke to recently pulled the ‘well, we’re all on a spectrum’ card (they are NT) and I was at a complete loss as to what to say. They’ve had similar responses to other differences or disabilities I experience. I may send them this, though I have to be prepared for that to be dismissed too, unfortunately. Thank you so much for writing this, CL Lynch, it is incredibly helpful and well-written.

  83. It is a multidimensional spectrum with as many dimensions as traits you want to assign. I don’t see a whole lot of progress in understanding what is going on until they track down the genetic, epigenetic and environmental factors involved. Trying to organize it by symptom is a makeshift solution until we really understand what is going on in the brain.

  84. Great article and explained clearly, my son has Autism and this will be helpful for family and friends to read. Sometimes us parents of Autistic children are guilty of expecting others to know about Autism, went its down to us to help educate. The interview was soo positive, what a Witty and funny girl. Caroline Hards Guernsey

  85. Could a person who says “I’m not autistic but I’m definitely ‘on the spectrum'” have Broad Autism Phenotype (BAP)? Their comment could be charitably read as trying to say that (but without understanding the technical psychological terminology). The boundary between BAP and ASD is unclear–the diagnostic cutoff for ASD isn’t entirely consistent, it varies from clinician to clinician (and, in the case of multidisciplinary team diagnosis, from team to team), and the same individual may be viewed as being over the line by one clinician/team and not by another – but these borderline individuals, who straddle the boundary between ASD and non-ASD, if they don’t have ASD, they almost certainly do have a significant degree of BAP. (Which of course, is not a “disorder”, it is just a “phenotype”, but then again, “disorders” are “phenotypes”, or collections of them.)

  86. So, you are saying spectrum does not mean that autistics only have one or two of the autistic characteristics, but all of them. But it still must mean that they have those characteristics at different levels, or those characteristics impair their ability to engage in society at different levels. My view of a spectrum was not that some have sensory problems and nothing else, but rather that the intensity of their autism means that some can complete school successfully, get married and get and keep a job, where others cannot engage in schooling, so cannot learn to read or write, cannot engage in society, cannot engage in a work place appropriately, and cannot function independently as an adult. And there are all the various gradations in between.

    Having said all that, I guess the same is the case for neurotypicals as well.

  87. Im a year late to this party, but in the last year I’ve recently found out that I’m autistic. You have caused me to have a meltdown that I didn’t know I needed to have. Thank You! I so understand what you mean by “depend on” I hope that you have or find someone who fits that role.

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