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What I Hear When People Ask, “Where Is He on the Spectrum?"

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Let me start by saying that I am no expert on autism. I am just an individual who has more experience with this subject than your average individual.

Growing up with a sibling with autism, I’ve learned a lot. I know all the ins and outs, the rights and wrongs, the tips and tricks. I understand autism in ways that everyone else simply does not and that is the most frustrating part of it all. Few know what having autism even means. My goal is to eradicate all preconceived ideas and feelings about what people think autism is and/or looks like.

Autism, in its simplest terms, is a developmental disorder. It is characterized by difficulties in communication skills and social interactions. Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that the severity of these difficulties varies for any person who has it. The range seems endless.

When people find out that my brother has autism, the most common question I get asked is, “Where on the spectrum is he?” This is hands down one of my least favorite questions because, to be honest, I don’t really have an answer.

When I think of my brother, where he is on the spectrum isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind. To me, that question is the equivalent of asking someone, “What are your weaknesses?”

My brother, Nick, has a hard time with things involving communication and knowing how to react and respond in social situations. Does this matter to me? No, and nor do I think it should to anyone else. No one should be defined by what they struggle with. Just because someone has autism does not mean it makes it any less weird to ask this question.

But I get why people would ask. Most don’t know much about autism and this question is an attempt to gain more knowledge, which I can appreciate. However, asking about placement on the spectrum is like asking for a medical diagnosis, and any family member of someone with autism will tell you, that is not something they like to dwell on.

When people hear that someone has autism, they tend to think about it in a negative way. Not necessarily on purpose, but because people think of it as a disorder or disability. Scientifically, yes, I suppose that’s what autism is. However, this implies limitation, weakness, and inability to do what others can. I don’t like to view it like this. It is unfair to people with autism because it often overlooks their talents and strengths. That’s why I believe that autism is merely a minor setback.

My brother, Nick, may struggle with communication, but he is a phenomenal musician. He can play practically any song he has ever heard by ear. A trait I admire about Nick is that he doesn’t care what other people think, something I think a lot of people struggle with. He is fearless and there is not a challenge he won’t face and conquer. Having autism rarely holds him back and I find that truly amazing.

A misconception about my knowledge of autism is that I have all the answers. I am only going off of what I observe on a daily basis. No two kids with autism are alike. I don’t have an explanation for why any one person with autism does what they do. I don’t know why Nick freaks out when we play Christmas music on the radio but will play it to his hearts content on the piano. I couldn’t tell you why Nick is such a picky eater but will eat a whole package of bagels in one sitting. Why does Nick like to repeat lines he hears from his favorite movies all the time? Who knows?

I am just as clueless as anyone else as to why he does what he does. Is it because he has autism? It is possible that some aspects are, but we can’t forget that Nick has his own personality. It’s just the way he is. I refuse to believe that his autism defines him or anyone with it. Everyone probably does something out of the norm that others would question, so why should things people with autism do be any different?

Autism is not easily explained. It affects anyone who has it in drastically different ways that aren’t comparable to one another. A person who doesn’t live with or is not in regular contact with someone who has autism can’t begin to comprehend it on a personal level. It is very important to me that autism isn’t misinterpreted.

People with autism are human beings just like the rest of us and shouldn’t be viewed differently because of their minor setback.

This post originally appeared on Autism Empowerment.

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Originally published: April 1, 2015
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