The Spectrum – Part 1 – Autism is a Spectrum not a Scale

Everybody knows that autism is a spectrum, but lots of people act as if it isn’t. Some `types` of autism are described as being at the mild end of the spectrum, and others at the severe end. The implication being that those with supposedly easier forms of autism have a better life. But is this true?
First of all, no it isn’t true. There is no such thing as `mild` autism. Autism is a spectrum, but many people portray it as a scale, as if somebody could be a level 3 autistic if they are able to travel independently and communicate with others, and somebody else might be a level 10 autistic, if they need twenty four hour carers, and are non-verbal. But really this is nonsense. Wherever somebody falls on the spectrum they will have their own challenges and difficulties. Nobody is more or less autistic than anybody else, just because their autism presents in a different way – you are either autistic, or you’re not – this is not to say that some people don’t struggle more with their autism, and some people may reach independence while others will always require constant support.

The point of a spectrum is to show case all the different ways autism can present, side by side, not to shuffle them around, and arrange them in to a competitive leader board. Misleading functioning labels play their part in this as well; somebody might be described as high functioning, but really, just because they can do certain things that somebody described as low functioning can`t, doesn’t mean that their day to day life is easier.

In reality autism presents so differently in each person, that it is difficult to categorise people in to sub-groups of autistics. But why is this necessary in the first place? People should be looked at, and dealt with according to their individual needs rather than because they fall at a certain point on the spectrum. Everybody knows just how vast the autistic spectrum is, but just because somebody finds themselves floating around at the `high` end doesn’t meant their life is going to be easy, and stress free. Likewise, somebody at the so-called `low` end of the spectrum should not be made to feel as if they are the most `autistic` autistic person who ever lived. There is a saying that `If you`ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person …. ` But another saying that could be used is `once you`re autistic, you`re autistic, ` – not mildly autistic, or autistic in certain situations, or autistic on every second Sunday, and not more or less autistic than anybody else. But just simply autistic. The way autism presents can be different, and so might the struggles and problems that can come along with it. But just because two people are struggling with different aspects of autism doesn’t mean that one of them is having an easier time than the other.

The next article in this series will look at Asperger`s, and how it is sometimes portrayed as a mild, easy-to-live-with, form of autism. And why this can sometimes be very far from the truth.

  • This article says exactly what I have been saying for some time. Same as the misnomers of “high-functioning” and “low-functioning”

    I get fed-up with people thinking that because someone has normal or high intellect and can look like some semblance of “normality” on the surface that they are managing absolutely fine and are barely impaired. It’s not a quirky personality, by virtue of the diagnostic criteria you have to be impaired in your functioning!

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