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.

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


“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.


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. That’s a lovely song Robert and you sing it beautifully. Good luck with your documentary.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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

  7. 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!

    1. Author

      Ugh, yes, I wrote this article for JUST that sort of occasion. So minimizing.

  8. 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.

  9. 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. 🙂

        2. Great response, exactly right.

  10. [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.]

  11. 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

    1. My son 9yr.old was like person One, thanks for this article!

  12. 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.

  13. 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

    1. Author

      Welcome to the tribe!

  14. Thank you very much for writing this. It broke a lot of massive misconceptions I had about autism!

    1. Author

      Thank you for reading it!

  15. 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,

  16. 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. Author

      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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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?

  19. Wow, thank you for this!!!

  20. 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. Author

      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.

  21. Always in all ways 🙄🤔😵

  22. 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?

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. This is a great article that helped me clarify my thinking on the topic.

  31. 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.

  32. 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

  33. 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.

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