The autism spectrum is misunderstood by much of the non-autistic population: The autistic spectrum is not a straight line.
The autism spectrum is not a line
When non-autistic people define autism, they get a lot of things wrong. It’s not with malicious intent, but due to the double empathy problem. They do not listen to autistic self-advocates when they explain the harm.
Most non-autistic people think the autism spectrum looks like this:
The autism spectrum is not a straight line. Yet, autism functioning labels and support levels are dependents on the autism spectrum being a straight line.
The problem with support levels
Although autism support levels were created to replace the functioning labels, they still cause tremendous harm and ignore the autism spectrum.
Using support levels to define the needs of autistic children, teens and adults is grossly inaccurate. The ability to function in different situations varies every single day and at different times of the day. If the support levels do anything for autistic people, it is ensuring they do not get the help they need.
Autism support levels are meant to describe the needs of the autistic person, but these need levels are based on how well the autistic person is able to hide their autism. An autistic person hiding their autism is masking, which is extremely detrimental to their mental health and adulthood.
Support levels would be fine if they did not rely on describing the needs of an autistic person, but of someone with intellectual disabilities.
The three autism support levels are:
- Requiring Support – High-masking most of the time. Autistic traits are noticeable without support.
- Requiring Substantial Support – Moderate masking. Autistic traits are obvious to non-autistic observers.
- Requiring Very Substantial Support – Low-masking. Autistic traits are glaringly obvious to everyone.
Autism “support” seeks to help the child hide their autistic traits by teaching them how to participate in neurotypical culture. This is the exact reason why autistic people mask.
Functioning labels are the classic descriptors of autistic people through the lens of non autistic people.
- High-functioning autism is used to describe high-masking autistic people.
- Low-functioning autism is used for describe low-masking autistic people.
Neither of these labels do a good job articulating the needs of autistic people. Autistic people’s needs change all the time. No one could ever attribute a label to your autistic child’s needs. They’re always to fluctuate.
“Mild” and “severe” autism do not exist, except through the eyes of the beholder. They cannot exist without the spectrum being a fine line.
What’s more, support levels and functioning labels are not clinical diagnoses. When an autistic person is diagnosed, they are diagnosed as having autism. Their support levels and functioning labels are attributed to them based on how a non-autistic, primarily neurotypical, person sees them.
For example, neurotypical people see an autistic adult like me who is capable of working the same job for 6 months to 1.5 years, live independently, and even be self-employed. They would label this high-functioning, but would mistake me for someone who never struggles to pay her bills, who is always capable of feeding herself, and doesn’t need much help.
Yet still, I lapsed in eating disorder recovery because the sensory input of every food is trash right now and am not doing great at all. I have actually been considering residential treatment for myself since I started writing here.
Autism is a spectrum
The autism spectrum is more like a circle. It looks like this:
My results resemble low-masking autism, as I am in autism burnout and unable to mask my autism.
The autism spectrum features the ten areas of autism:
- Anxiety (from neurotypical social rules)
- Social difficulty (with non-autistics)
- Abnormal posture
- Poor eye contact
- Tics and fidgets
- Aggression (from frustration)
- Depression (from burdensomeness, loneliness, masking)
- Fixations (special interests)
- Abnormal/flat speech
- Noise sensitivity (sensory)
How are needs defined if the spectrum looks like a circle?
What your autistic child really needs is to be taught how to do everything, and treated like they are just autistic. Instead of creating therapies that teach life skills based around their needs right now, autistic children need to learn how to embrace their autism, accommodate non-autistic people, and meet their needs.
Nothing like this exists right now, because non-autistic people and autistic people both struggle with the double empathy problem.
Non-autistic autism therapists mistakenly presume classroom skills will transfer to real life. Your autistic child has a better chance at Montessori, coupled with gentle parenting, than they do in any autism intervention/treatment.
In other words, support needs cannot ever be defined for any autistic person except themselves. This concept is uncomfortable, especially if your autistic child doesn’t speak or has a lot of aggression. Aggression is not a direct trait of autism, but a sign of autistic frustration, burnout and sensory overload.
Autistic kids need to be around kids of all neurotypes. Teaching non-autistic children about neurodiversity will help make the world a more inclusive place for autistic people of all needs.
What is your understanding of the autism spectrum? Share in the comments below.