On the Spectrum


A new-comer to an online group (InLv, Indepdendent Living on the Autism Spectrum) asked for clarification about what "spectrum" meant to the group. She also wanted to know whether describing ourselves as "on the spectrum" meant that we thought all of us were alike and that all NT (neurologically typical, non-spectrum) people are all the same. Here is my attempt to provide my interpretation:

The autism spectrum is made up of people on the autism spectrum, obviously. Not everyone here (on InLv) is on the autism spectrum, but most are "neurologically atypical" in some way -- or several ways. (And some who are on the autism spectrum have "comorbidities," as the doctors like to say when they mean a person has more than one "abnormality." I, for example, am/have Tourette's as well as being on the autism specturm, and I'm not the only one here for whom that is the case.)

When we talk about the autism spectrum, we are talking about people who have certain things in common. We don't mean that all people on the spectrum are alike, just that we have enough in common to make it helpful to talk about our commonalities -- because much of what we have in common is what we do not have in common with the people we refer to (using a kind of handy shorthand) as "neurologically typical" (NT).

Every blind person is unique, but all blind people have in common the fact that they are "different" from the social norm in their visual (dis)abilities. Many blind people have lots of things in common with lots of sighted people, but that doesn't mean it isn't useful at times to refer to "blind people" and compare their experiences of life with those of "sighted people." It's not a stigma thing, as if one "side" (blind or sighted) is good and the other bad. It just happens to be the case that sightedness does make a difference in how people experience living within human communities. And the same is true for the traits shared (in a various and overlapping and discontinuous way) by people on the autism spectrum.

That's how I see it, anyway.

It can be helpful for blind people to have an opportunity to share their experiences, and even to kvetch about the ignorance of (many) sighted persons. Even "conditions" that are purely social constructs can produce experiential results that make "community" (of the kind we have here) helpful and useful. "Race," for example. Whatever is perceived as "odd" will have significant effects on a person's life. We've all experienced that. Some NT people want to deny that there is any such thing as NTness. But if that were true, "odd" people would not be so universally stigmatized and isolated by the majorities in which they find themselves.

Subsequently, the thread took in some discussion of autistic "mind-blindness." My comment:

I think AS people's mindblindness is probably analogous to blind people's visual blindness in that there are varying degrees and experiences of it. Also, I knnow that many partially-sighted people can (and do) learn how to use their residual sight to best advantage (and how to supplement it with other learned techniques), and I think AS people are like that, too. We all learn, over time and to varying degrees, how to negotiate our way through the (social) world using what residual/partial "mindsight" we may have *plus* techniques we have developed to disguise or compensate for our disabilities in this area.

Few or none of us are/is "perfect" in disguising our disabilities, however, or else we'd never recognize (or be forced to acknowledge) or AS-ness.



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