The Life Autistic: A Place on the Spectrum

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(If you’re reading this in 2020 or afterward, this post reflects a less nuanced understanding of my own autism. I have grown and learned more; I’ll revisit this and amend this later.)

Aren’t autistic people like super geniuses who can recite pi up to a Brazilian [sic] digits but can’t tie their own shoes?”

“Well, there’s an autistic kid I know and she’s completely non-verbal. I thought all of them couldn’t talk?”

“How come you don’t have the kind of autism where you can play piano by ear?”

I’m not an autism expert. I just have experience with it. And with that comes a teeny bit of expertise, which I’ll share.

Autism is a spectrum of behavioral and communication disorders that span the gamut in severity and symptom.

You can read about the signs, manifestations, all the goodies from the National Institute of Mental Health here; it’s a decent summary.

The spectrum is broad: you’ll find some whose language abilities are exceptional and some severely impaired. Some who war with sensory input and some who just “prefer not to be touched.” Some who are off in their own little world and some whose own little worlds are in entirely different universes.

Each person is different, with symptoms and severity each their own. Some are affected to obvious degrees, others more subtle.

I am on the milder, high-functioning end of the autism spectrum.

Most people don’t know unless I tell them.

Same with many who reside on my side of the spectrum.

We’re different, but we blend in. We act almost normal enough to fool people — even ourselves — that we’re just like Everyman with a side of “oddness.”

But still, we are on the spectrum nonetheless.

See that “unruly” kid you might find at the playground, the one who is dashing up to other kids, ululating in some quizzical glee, wanting to play but can’t talk to them or initiate a game, or the one who melts down just because another kid interrupted his line of arbitrary pinecones?

And did you catch that “normal” human being who shows up to a party, obviously not wanting to feel left out, ambling through the crowd, small pleasantries here and there, eyes darting away from others eyes one to the next, fading off to the wall, going mild when the crowd goes wild.

Mute to acute, talented to timid, chaotic to curious, unique but similar, yet altogether still human: that’s the spectrum.


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