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The Spectrum and Levels – Autism

It’s always hard to recall exactly when and where you have said what, and to whom. On top of that, even if you’ve said something multiple times, it’s entirely possible that folks have missed the expression of it, either by simply overlooking it, or because they haven’t read, seen or heard what you’ve said.

One thing I’ve said before that bears repeating (even if you’ve seen it in my past writings) as a result of this is, I’m pretty sure a “diagnosis of” Autism is very similar to many other “medical diagnoses” in that it’s more about symptomology than underlying causality. Put another way, folks are diagnosed Autistic as a result of what people see concerning them rather that what’s making it happen as it is.

That doesn’t mean I don’t consider it “useful” for the diagnosis of Autism to exist, just that, as a diagnosed family member has correctly stated, the “picture” that is Autism (regardless the level) is different in all likelihood for each Autistic person (I don’t say each diagnosed person here by intent).

That being said, it’s equally important to realize, that “the spectrum” is broken down into “levels” for quite important reasons. I have heard two expressions of those levels the which readily correlate:

  • Level 1 (Mild) – Folks who are obviously “different,” but at the same time, generally have far fewer learning disabilities. These folks may have a hard time “keeping up” in school and be “socially awkward.” They are almost invariably viewed as “different” or “weird” by their non-Autistic peers. In some cases, they have areas that people view as “exceptional;” the trade-off being that they “lack” in others. Since this is a generalization, one mildly Autistic person may have comparatively little problem “fitting in” or working well with society, while another may have more (this is true at every level, by the way)
  • Level 2 (Moderate) – Moderately Autistic folks are those who may one day more or less “fit into” standard society. Then again, they may not ever do so in some of the more meaningful ways. Since each of the levels of Autism can somewhat be viewed as spectral in nature, the differences in abilities and difficulties may be pretty broadly varied from one “moderately Autistic” individual to another. It should be noted that the major differentiation between the levels stated, is the possibility of the diagnosed individual being able to deal with society as it exists, as such a mildly Autistic person may be somebody who ultimately “fits in well,” but that doesn’t mean they don’t have many of the issues or traits of a moderately Autistic person. It only means they have managed to “fit in” better.
  • Level 3 (Severe) – Severely Autistic folks are those who likely will never just “fit in.” They may be rocking in a corner, throwing themselves on the floor and/or babbling. That being said, when you see them, they may seem largely “normal.” Put another way, it’s possible they are displaying none of (or a largely limited set of) the aforementioned behaviors. Even so, they may never learn to speak like the average person, and even if they do, they may never learn to pay bills or “keep house” or do myriad other things that most folks take entirely for granted. Just as with mild and moderate Autism, the “line between” moderate and severe Autism is quite blurry. This may mean a child termed moderately Autistic may never truly learn to function in society.

There are probably arguments out there among people who deal with Autism as to exactly where what “lines ought to be drawn,” but I think this is a pretty accurate picture of mainstream thought on Autism and how it’s categorized.

This is not the “meat of” what I want to discuss in this article, however. Rather, I wanted to explain that Autism—like so many other things—is not an “off the rack condition (or set thereof).”

By this, I mean to say that Autistic folks termed “mildly Autistic” may never truly fit in to society at large. They may be plagued their entire lives with issues with which the “average person” never or rarely has to deal. I’m not trying to make excuses here, just shine the “light of reality” on the condition.

An important realization is that, the “more Autistic” a person is, the less likely they will be to ever entirely fit in to society at large. Put another way, my moderately Autistic six-year-old may never entirely “leave home.” You can rest assured that we will continue to treat him as though he will until and unless it becomes obvious it will never be possible (and I don’t expect that will happen before he’s at least eighteen years of age).

Obviously, parents of severely Autistic children have comparatively less hope such a thing as integration into society is likely. It’s already sufficiently unlikely for children and adults with moderate Autism that such a thing will not occur as to make it more of a dream for those caring for severely Autistic children and adults.

A large part of the reason I bring this up is a virtual explosion of Autism diagnoses—particularly mild Autism.

You might think this is a good thing, and to some degree, you’re correct in thinking that. The problem is, since more people are being diagnosed Autistic, it’s becoming somewhat harder to get people to understand that Autism truly is spectral in nature. That is to say, that because Autism is not a single thing in terms of symptomology, there must be means and methods to both determine severity and to deal with those differences.

Like it or not, just as with many other things, moderately and severely Autistic children are (in non-therapeutic senses) getting “lost in the shuffle.”

You see, the more “normal and mainstream” Autism appears to society at large to be, the less interested folks become in making concessions for moderately and severely Autistic folks.

Where on the one hand, that’s not the fault of mildly Autistic folks, on the other it is still the reality.

I’m not suggesting as a result, that we should either stop diagnosing or stop dealing with mild Autism. What I am suggesting though, is that we must be careful to clearly distinguish between mild Autism and its more severe forms. And the sad reality is, where severe Autism is harder to deal with where caregivers are concerned, the one more prone to get ignored or at least marginalized is moderate Autism.

My “answer?” We must be ever-vigilant in ensuring that people don’t become “overstimulated by” exposure to—most particularly mild—Autism to the detriment of folks with more “severe symptoms.” I know that sounds harsh, but you need to understand, a mildly Autistic person having issues in “society at large” will likely get to the point where they can deal with that society; moderately or severely Autistic folks may never get to that point.

Okay, out of time and words for the moment. As usual, thanks for reading and may your time be good.

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