Why I Refer to Myself as Someone 'on the Autism Spectrum'

I was diagnosed as on the autism spectrum when I was about 15 years old. At that time, I had no idea of what the diagnosis meant. I shrugged it off, because I didn’t feel any different than I was before I had been told.

However, other people began to treat me differently (in a good way). They seemed to have more patience and understanding when I was struggling with things. They wouldn’t get so upset when I had trouble with communication or overstimulation.

At one point, my mom gave me a chapter of a book to read. It listed some symptoms different people on the spectrum might experience. I began to realize that my traits I thought were common were not always traits most typical people might have. I began to share my experiences, hoping I could help others to better understand, too.

When I created my old website and blog as a self-advocate, I started out telling people I have Asperger’s. I didn’t really think anything of the term. In my mind, I didn’t see myself as either “a person with Asperger’s” or “an ‘Aspie.’” In fact, I saw myself as both. I titled my book “I Have Asperger’s,” and my Twitter name used to be “Aspie.” (It’s since been edited.)

Then in 2013, the term “Asperger’s syndrome” was dropped from the DSM. Suddenly I had no idea how to explain my diagnosis. Although I’ve technically never lost the diagnosis, some people would insist that Asperger’s syndrome didn’t exist anymore. Even medical forms I would fill out began to drop the term. All that was left was “autism spectrum disorder.

I began to notice arguments in the autism community as well. Are people “autistic?” Are they a “person with autism?” As someone who didn’t even have their diagnostic term recognized anymore, I felt as though this argument was a bit nit-picky. To me, it all meant the same thing, but the argument would bring more confusion to those who didn’t understand the term at all. I decided to avoid the confrontation from either side of the debate, and began to refer to myself as “on the autism spectrum.” This phrase also helps explain the diagnosis a bit more clearly.

From what I understand, some people don’t like this phrase because they believe I’m talking about a straight line with one end being so-called “high functioning” and the other “low functioning.” However, when I say I’m “on the autism spectrum,” that doesn’t have to refer to a linear spectrum. It doesn’t mean there has to be one end or another. Take a color wheel, for example. It still contains a spectrum of colors, but it’s in a circular diagram.

Yes, I’m “autistic.” I’m also “a person with autism.” And I respect that other people may prefer to use one phrase or the other. While I won’t correct people for using either of these phrases when referring to me, I personally don’t like to use them, because they bring out arguments. So I’m “on the autism spectrum.” This is a less confusing way to explain the diagnosis. Not only does it avoid arguments and keep people from telling me the term for my diagnosis is gone, but it also reminds people that autism is in fact a spectrum.

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Thinkstock photo by Pialhovik.

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