On “The Spectrum”

Eclectic Autistic

I like the phrase “autism spectrum.” I use it in the tagline of this blog (“Days in the life of an adult on the spectrum”), and “on the autism spectrum” (or just “on the spectrum”) is my go-to substitute for “autistic” when I want to switch things up a bit. But I have to admit that the spectrum metaphor has some major problems.

The main one is that the idea of a spectrum calls up things like the electromagnetic spectrum, which gives the impression of something linear. Visible light falls within a particular range, for example, and each color has its place; it either has this wavelength or that one. We can speak of high-frequency or low-frequency radiation, and relate different types of energy by where they fall with respect to each other.

So people treat the autism spectrum as similarly linear, through the use of functioning labels and phrases…

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