The autistic spectrum doesn’t mean what you think it does

Here’s a colour-wheel showing one way of representing the autistic spectrum as it refers to me:

The further out the colours go the more problematic/severe those traits are. (Now it would be nice to see some positive things here, but no matter.)

That is what my profile looks like. Note that this was formed using a few, very specific questions that asked – I’m fairly sure anyone who viewed my Spotify listening habits would be surprised that my Fixations are so low – but then they only asked about how obsessed am I with numbers (not really, my daughter gets obsessed with numbers and has memorised pi to about 70-80 digits before she got bored of that and got obsessed with Marvel instead). If my daughter did one it would be different. Every autistic person has a different spectral “fingerprint”. For the star nerds among you, yes autists are just like stars – I prefer to think of myself as an O. Rare and special.

Some of the traits I was born with and some have been caused by the environment I have to live in. For example, the depression and anxiety parts aren’t even directly caused by autism, but as a side effect of trying to cope with living in a world that views me as a problematic individual that just has to try harder.

My seemingly “good” poor eye contact score is misleading. I work hard to “fake” normal eye contact and have done since childhood – I had some particularly bullying teachers who forced me into training myself to fake it. My natural eye contact is either not looking at you at all or staring at you like a serial killer. I am not naturally capable of “acting normal”. In fact, I try so hard to look normal that I have little brain power to spare to actually interact with the conversation. I’m trying so hard to behave in a neurotypical fashion that I am literally not listening to a word you’re saying. I’m guessing this probably annoys people a lot. But if I hadn’t to learn to mask so well, I would probably have been beaten (corporal punishment not being outlawed in secondary schools like mine until 1999).

Now teachers these days have wised up that demanding students make eye contact is ableist and bullying, so my daughter’s eye contact is much, much “worse” than mine. But at least she is listening to you. Whereas I can only pretend to listen to you.

And can I digress and say that this is what really, really annoys me about things like ABA – it’s all about the outward appearance, the child fakes natural eye contact so it must work, but if these children are anything like me, normal eye contact will never become an unconscious act – it requires deliberate brain power to remember to act the way you want me to.

Does my colour wheel spectrum surprise you?

I have often heard people say things like, “Aren’t we all somewhere on the autism spectrum?” And I recently attended some EDI training where the instructor talked about a “severely autistic” person who was doing a university degree. Now perhaps this instructor was indeed talking about someone with level 3 autism. But, by its very definition, a person with level 3 autism requires 24/7 supervision? Perhaps I am being too harsh on my fellow autists and such people are indeed capable of tertiary education and all that entails.

Or perhaps she, like many people, thought of the spectrum as linear. With neurotypicals at one end and Rain Man at the other end.

You should know, by the way, that since Dustin Hoffman talks in Rain Man, these days the character would probably be considered a “high-functioning” (another term I hate) autist who had wrongly been institutionalised (because yes that was thing).

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