• Terri

What is the 'spectrum'?

Autistic Spectrum Condition. It’s certainly a mouthful, and trying to explain what it is can often leave people feeling confused and/or overwhelmed.

Explaining what it is is simple; it is a neurological developmental condition.

Explaining how it affects people is where things get complicated. Not just because of the wide range of things it impacts; but because of the variation in how severely these things are impacted.

This is where the 'spectrum’ part comes in. It implies that there is a range in place. What this range is, exactly, is something which is often debated. Some people may say it is a sliding scale ranging from ‘high-functioning’ to ‘low-functioning’; in my opinion, whilst this definition seems to be the most common and easily understood, it is also a huge oversimplification and somewhat insulting to people across the spectrum.

Others still hold to the previous distinction given to Asperger’s and autism, wherein the two were divided according to level of intelligence and cognitive difficulties.

Personally, I like to think of the autistic spectrum as being one huge radar graph, with enough categories to be able to break down the triad of impairments and sensory issues into their specific components. Something that might look a little like the image below.

Now this is just something I’ve quickly mocked up to illustrate a point, please don’t take it as a definitive list of how autism can affect a person; there are many others, and that is without taking into consideration any of the other diagnoses which often co-occur with autism (e.g. anxiety, ADHD, pathological demand avoidance).

But you can hopefully see the point I’m trying to make about the complexity of the spectrum; it goes far beyond a single sliding scale of autism. Even the traits which many consider to be ‘classic’ signs of autism are not universal to every autistic person; yes, eye contact is difficult for most, but some may prefer quite intense eye contact, as just one example.

I also find that the level of impact any particular component can have on me does vary. For example, my eyes are sensitive to light; while this is constant (i.e. I’m never completely fine with bright lights), there are days where I can tolerate them quite well, and other days where the exact same light will cause severe pain. I have found that this tends to be link with how I am feeling; if I’m run-down or ill I tend to have stronger negative responses to things.

The point I’m trying to make (I swear there is one), it that Autistic Spectrum Condition is not a simple sliding scale, it is multifaceted and complicated; having severe difficulties in some areas does not mean people don’t shine in others; and even in a single autistic individual it can vary day-to-day (sometimes hour-to-hour, if I’m having a really bad day).



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