On The Spectrum


My wife (a child psychologist), randomly threw out the comment one day, that she thought that I might be “on the spectrum”. Which immediately went over my head. It didn’t compute. I had no context for what “on the spectrum” meant. She could just have easily said that I was “lavender”. Lavender the colour?? Lavender the smell?? Lavender the plant?? So without sufficient context, my mind had filtered out this important observation.

In hindsight, maybe my brain should have been more useful. It could have further questioned my wife. “So what is this spectrum, of which you speak??” or some other suitably Shakespearean sounding phrase, possibly with my hand thoughtfully stroking my chin. You get the picture.

Much later, after many trips down various rabbit holes, eventually my processing loops and meltdowns led me to Aspergers (and that is a whole other story), the investigation of Aspergers, and the realisation that so much of my life, now made sense. This in turn led me to Autism and this mysterious spectrum that my wife mentioned. Then I found this quiz online, which started me on the journey of diagnosis.


Being “on the spectrum” means there are various things that I may be good at or struggle with, that are all parts of my Aspergers. Someone else with Aspergers, may or may not have same struggles. I have sensitivity issues with noise, light and touch. Others may also have these to a lessor or greater extent. I’m not too bad with eye contact, but others really don’t like it. So I might score differently from someone else in each of the groups. But we both have different shadings on the spectrum.

Welcome to the spectrum.

Understanding the spectrum – a comic strip explanation


Autism is called a spectrum condition because although it covers a defined set of issues, each person with autism has their own set of strengths and weaknesses. A common misconception is that all people with autism behave the same, and have the same obvious, usually severe impairments. In practice, each person is an individual and experiences the condition differently. They may also have differing abilities to limit or mask their autistic traits. “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism”, is a popular quote from author and researcher Dr. Stephen Shore.

The official definition of autism spectrum disorder, in the American Psychiatric Association’s 2013 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (written DSM-5 or DSM-V), combined four previously separate developmental disorders, including Asperger Syndrome, as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Asperger Syndrome, also written Asperger’s Syndrome, is a high functioning form of autism first described by Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger in 1944. As such autism spectrum disorder covers a broad range of experiences from people who live largely conventional independent lives to those who need full time assistance. People with ASD may be verbal or nonverbal, and of any intellectual level from gifted to severely impaired. In other countries (non-US) Asperger Syndrome may still be recognized as a subtype of ASD. (1)

The move to combine the diagnoses has been controversial within the autism community. People previously diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome are sometimes reluctant to adopt the term “autism”, popularly associated with more severe disorders. At the same time, advocates for those with severe, debilitating autism feel marginalized by the broader definition which has drawn attention primarily to the higher functioning forms. (Tom Clements – 2)

Unfortunately, in popular speech the expression “on the spectrum” is often used negatively to refer to people who seem unaware they lack social skills. Even if not intended to be insulting, it frequently carries a negative connotation. It is occasionally used to mock people who are probably not actually autistic. Still, it can be used by people with autism to refer to themselves in a less formal way than saying “autistic”. Other common terms are “autist”, for a person with autism, or “aspie” for a person with Asperger Syndrome. There is some debate in the community over what terms are preferred.

People newly diagnosed with autism are sometimes frightened by the variety and possible severity of symptoms. But being a spectrum condition, you may not experience all the symptoms, some may be mild, others more severe. Your experience will be unique for you. Also, be aware there are many outdated descriptions of, and misconceptions about, what symptoms are and how they are experienced. Some descriptions are highly technical and use familiar words in unusual ways. Some descriptions apply primarily to children and are experienced differently by adults. The autism spectrum covers a complete map of personality, individuality, ability, gifts and challenges. There is no single definition of a person with autism. You are still an individual. You are still yourself; part of the spectrum.

Other reading:

What is Asperger’s Syndrome? Dr. Tony Attwood


(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asperger_syndrome

(2) https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/aug/26/autism-neurodiversity-severe

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