The use of the term “Autism Spectrum” is misleading. It gives the impression that there is a single scale by which you can classify every Autistic person. This scale is used for diagnosis. In fact in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) all of Autism is placed in this spectrum to ease the diagnostic task.
Diagnosis, in many cases, has value. I myself have benefited from it. But there is a danger in using this oversimplification, especially when it spreads beyond the bounds of diagnosis. It leaves the impression that every Autistic person can be characterized by where they stand — a single position — on this spectrum. It makes Autism a single thing. It allows for the question, “How Autistic are you?”
There are so many dimensions to Autistic people that a single spectrum cannot contain them. There are people who are left-handed and Autistic. There are musicians, swimmers, chess-players, politicians, mountain climbers, CEOs, stockbrokers, cowboys, programmers, fashion models, polar explorers and so much more. There are also Autistic people confronting fierce challenges to make it through each day. No one of these people is higher or lower than the other, measured on a single scale. Each is different. There are common traits, and each Autistic person expresses them to different degrees, if at all, along with an amalgam of other attributes.
I am not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There are diagnostic criteria that can be used to make sure that every person has access to all the support they need. Categories are indispensable for many human activities (see Boundary Issues). But it is a mistake to take one measure invented for this purpose and extrapolate it to represent the reality of a universe filled with Autistic individuals. I urge you to appreciate the complexity that is Autism. Explore the Autistic Landscape.
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