Okay, so this is probably going to be an unpopular opinion, but…
Hear me out, okay?
We keep saying things like the autism spectrum, on the spectrum, and my personal pet-peeve: high/low end of the spectrum. But what, exactly, is the spectrum? What do we mean when we say the spectrum?
When most people think of the autism spectrum, they probably imagine a straight line with Autism Speaks on one end, and Autistic Self-Advocacy Network on the other. Personally, if we’re using this analogy, The Aspie Dialogues would lie somewhere around the middle.
But ASD patients and their symptoms rarely work like that out in the wild.
When most people think of a continuum, they most likely imagine the space-time continuum, most likely as some sort of mobius strip, right?
But what do these words actually mean?
According to the internet, the answer may surprise you…
Dictionary.com lists the following definition for spectrum:
a broad range of varied but related ideas or objects, the individual features of which tend to overlap so as to form a continuous series or sequenceDictionary.com spectrum
…and the following definition for continuum:
a continuous extent, series, or wholeDictionary.com continuum
Let’s break this down. A spectrum is a continuous series of individual pieces overlapping with each other. A continuum is a single continuous whole.
So which is it?
Well, the autism community, et al. is comprised of many smaller, individual autism communities. So, I don’t think that’d be a continuum in that context. The individual symptoms factoring into an ASD diagnosis often overlap with each other, so I wouldn’t call that a continuum, either.
Let’s check with Wikipedia.org:
a condition that is not limited to a specific set of values but can vary, without steps, across a continuumWikipedia.org spectrum
variation as involving gradual quantitative transitions without abrupt changes or discontinuitiesWikipedia.org continuum
So, applying these definitions, the individual symptoms affecting individual people may be the spectrum while simultaneously occurring across a gradual continuum.
In other words:
Each diagnosis among the autism spectrum is in itself a continuum.
So, it would be more accurate to call it the autism spectrum, rather than the autism continuum.
Thank you for entertaining this mental road trip (i.e., ego trip).
May you find peace with yourself, within yourself. Rock on.