I don’t necessarily see Asperger’s/autism as a spectrum. Sure, I use the terminology, but only because that’s the officially recognized (and recognizable) wording.
But I think that the word “spectrum” is somewhat problematic. It conveys a linear shape, measured in a single dimension. Anyone who’s spent any amount of time in the Asperger’s/autism spectrum community knows that that’s not quite accurate.
Rather, I perceive the Asperger’s/autism spectrum as more of a galaxy, or perhaps a mosaic.
Let’s look at each of these in turn, and I’ll even explain myself. 🙂
The Concept of Asperger’s/Autism as a Galaxy:
In a way, the Asperger’s/autism spectrum is like a galaxy–a collection of stars of varying luminosity blazing together, yet apart and independent. Each of us contributes our own light to the whole. Some of us are gathered more intensely in a center, while others remain on the periphery (usually by choice). This could easily be applied to the community on social media sites such as Twitter; there are some Twitter accounts/people with a blazing number of followers and fans, people who get along with a variety of people. They might have written books or popular blogs or magazines or comic strips or some other publication, or otherwise achieved another type of notoriety. Thinking Autism Guide (The Thinking Person’s Guide To Autism), Anonymously Autistic, Samantha Craft, Liane, The Art of Autism, and a few others come to mind.
There are clusters of stars within the community as well. (Although that’s not to assign a value on anyone or a judgment on anyone one way or another. I mean the word “stars” in a very neutral way.)
Also, we can take this analogy to another level, filtering it through a wider lens that naturally accentuates a more expansive view…
Returning to the “each of us is separate and distinct” theme, each of us occupies a three-dimensional space on the spectrum; think of a cloud made of drops of vapor. We don’t all fall somewhere on the same line as individuals. Each of us has a different profile of strengths, weaknesses, talents, interests, traits, and personality characteristics. And even those who share a similar trait list might exhibit those traits in varying strengths and even in a variety of manifestations.
For example, most of us might “stim” (self-soothe or focus activity) in some way, but the specifics may be different. I might play with my hair, while someone else might wiggle their foot.
Sometimes the criteria are more open; I might be extra-sensitive to stimuli while someone else might be hypo or less sensitive overall.
If I’m sitting next to someone else who is extra-sensitive like I am, I might be overwhelmed by a sudden noise, whereas the other person might not be. One of us may have greater tolerance for larger crowds than they do.
But the galaxy analogy has a few technical holes…
Astronomical galaxies also contain other matter besides stars; they also include dust, dark matter, and black holes. I suppose that some might argue that they’ve come across some people who claim to be on the spectrum who have had that effect on them, but I would absolutely disagree that it’s anything but the rarest of phenomena, and I would go so far as to say that the odds would be great that that person was misdiagnosed and is probably not actually on the spectrum at all.
Another issue with the galaxy analogy is that aside from social media, there is no cluster at the center (and it could be well-argued that there’s no center at all, anywhere).
Maybe there’s a way to modify the galaxy analogy, for those who might have really been enjoying it up until I spoiled the fun 🙂
Maybe it could be considered more of a universe, where each of us is our own whole galaxy, and we’re all just floating in space, complete, distinct, and self-contained. If you’ve seen the beginning of the movie “Contact”, with Jodie Foster, you know what I mean; a camera starts at a city block and then zooms out continuously, showing the blocks turn into a city, then a coastline emerges, then you see earth, then the solar system, the Milky Way, and then finally you see all these little galaxies floating independently, doing their thing, hanging out in the universe at large. It’s one of the coolest movie intros I’ve ever seen, and maybe it’s somehow symbolic (at least to me).
Maybe it’s not an Asperger’s/autism galaxy, maybe it’s more of an Asperger’s/autism universe.
That’s for my science-based friends.
My fellow artsier friends would probably dig more of a mosaic analogy. In a mosaic, an entire image is formed from zillions of pieces, none of which completely matches or merges with its neighbors, still forms a beautiful image nonetheless. The fact that the pieces can be distinguished from one another doesn’t detract in the slightest from the picture as a whole; in fact, the differing gradients of color provide more depth, almost like a three-dimensional space here, as well.
The image itself is Asperger’s/autism, much like the universe in the analogy above. The mosaic pieces are the people; like the stars, they contribute their unique parts. The mosaic would not be complete without any of the pieces. Unlike the galaxy, the mosaic has no center, per se, in which more pieces are clustered together. Each stands on its own, playing an equally valuable part in composing the image.
These are just my thoughts and theories; I’d love to hear yours! 🙂
(Image Credit: Elspeth McLean)