Have you ever heard someone say, “I think I’m a little autistic” or “We’re all probably a little autistic”? Sometimes, people justify this by saying that autism is a spectrum, so we all fall somewhere along it. If not, you may have heard someone say something similar, like, “Oh, I’m just being OCD or ADD.” I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that I’ve said things like that in the past when I didn’t know better/was masking to fit in.
I normally say that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not when it comes to this idea. However, don’t worry! I am going to explain why and hopefully help give you some understanding. Are you ready? Let’s go!
An autism spectrum analogy, kind of…
When you think of a spectrum, what’s the first thing to pop into your mind? Probably the spectrum of visible light, right? In that case, yes, all the different colors that we can possibly see are all on the spectrum. Green light is in one part, blue in another, and so on.Ok, so yes, autism is a spectrum. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean what many think it does, namely that every person fits somewhere on it.
In other words, the autism spectrum is not the same thing as the visible light spectrum. Here’s the simplest way to explain it. The color spectrum is a straight line with all the colors falling along it. If you think of the autism spectrum that way, you would think that some people are a little autistic, someone like me might be medium autistic (or high-functioning, to use a horrible term ?), and someone else whose “symptoms” (for lack of a better word) are more noticeable than mine (got to love masking…) is very autistic. Not the case!
So, what is the autism spectrum?
Instead, think of the autism spectrum like this (credit for this idea to Rebecca Burgess): autistic people like me tend to have varying abilities in five different areas: language (blue), motor skills (green), executive functioning (purple), perception (orange), and sensory (red). To help with the spectrum analogy, I’ve assigned each of them colors.
So, each of us (not every person in the world, just every person with autism) has different amounts of each color in us. For example, I have a lot of blue as language is something that I usually don’t have too much of a problem with. I am a little bit green—coordination/balance are very hard for me. Purple—not so much! I am really good at masking executive functioning, but horrible at really doing it (aka adulting is really hard for me). I have some orange—I can perceive pretty well, although subliminal meaning is often lost on me. Finally, I have a decent amount of red as I can handle many sensory things, but then some days, I can’t wear the shirt I was planning on because it physically hurts me.
Now, if you’re on the spectrum, maybe you are barely verbal (so not a lot of red), but you are incredibly coordinated (lots of green) and a master planner (good amount of purple). Does that mean you would be less or more autistic than me? Absolutely not! We are just different expressions of autism, and that’s ok!
Why It Hurts
Now that I’ve hopefully cleared up the misconception about everyone being on the autism spectrum, I’d like to go a little bit into why that is hurtful for someone like me to hear. If I tell someone that I am really overwhelmed, and that it’s extra hard for me to deal with because of my autism, they may say that everyone gets overwhelmed. Now, I’m not denying that that is true, because I know life can be overwhelming. Heck, I’m overwhelmed with so many ideas to write about!
But, here’s the thing. To say that everyone struggles with what you struggle with takes away from the fact that it is on top of all of the other “challenges” that I have as someone with autism. These are things that most people never have to deal with and honestly probably wouldn’t know how to handle if they were suddenly forced to live a day in my shoes.
In other words, to say that everyone is at least a little autistic essentially invalidates some of my unique experiences in the world that I only have because I’m on the autism spectrum. You might experience a little bit of that, but not the whole package, right? Here’s another way to look at it…
Autism Spectrum Super Powers
As an autistic person, there is definitely a lot I struggle with. I think a lot of those struggles are due to living in a world that wasn’t made for me, but regardless, I still struggle.
However, being autistic brings a lot of amazing things, including my ability to hyper-focus on something for long periods of time. I can become super passionate about something and learn all there is to know. My brain views the world differently, which means that I can solve problems by finding solutions no one else sees! Those are things that I would never change about myself, and that I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t autistic.
Wrapping it up
While I kind of wish we were all autistic, or at least in the sense that I didn’t have to mask and communicate, the truth is that autism is a spectrum, but only for those of us who are truly on it. If you share a trait of autism, that’s of course totally fine, but remember that for people like me, we get the whole package, all the colors in varying amounts.
Being on the autism spectrum has its challenges for sure, but even if someone could wave a magic wand and make me neurotypical, I wouldn’t want them to! All I ask for, and I think what many autistic people ask for, is just respecting who we are without trying to change us.
So, please, next time you think to yourself, “I think I’m a little autistic today,” or something along those lines, try changing that thought. Maybe think of a person with autism you know and reach out to them, learn their story. I may be biased, but we’re pretty cool when you get to know us!
Thanks for reading, for visiting the blog, and for any comments or questions below! I hope you enjoy your time here!