the spectrum

“He’s on the spectrum.” 

“Yeah, I think she’s on the spectrum.” 

I’m hearing people say things like this more and more. They are referring to people with Autism, of course. It’s like there is a sudden epidemic of people expressing Autistic features. A growing army of impulsive, socially withdrawn people who exhibit inappropriate behaviors, refuse to make eye contact, and struggle to pay attention. But doesn’t that describe all of us these days, to some extent?

The general public now frequently uses phrases like “on the spectrum” to (mis)diagnose, categorize and ostracize people who need quite the opposite. Truth is, we are all “on the spectrum.” People with Autism are different than you are, but so am I and so is everyone else you’ve ever met.

I like to think of us all on a spectrum and I like to think of that spectrum as a sphere, not a line and not even a circle.  This is because a line seems to imply that moving from left to right is a good thing, that there is an end and a beginning, a bad and a good, a lesser and a greater. A sphere conveys the opposite of these things. And a sphere can encompass many different directions, as to account for our many different objective and subjective senses.

We are all on this sphere-shaped spectrum.   some of us excell in one plane, some of us more so in another.  A deaf child may have a deeper sense of hearing and a blind child may be able to see things that others cannot.  Someone who struggles with attention and cognition may be capable of creating things  that make the world a better place. 

When we categorize one another by perceived weaknesses, we make it far too easy to overlook less obvious strengths. We all need one another to be whole.  When it is difficult to connect with another person, such as someone with autism or someone who does not speak language, we must not withdraw. We must see the opportunity in this challenge. Connecting with this person could open up a whole new world. 

It is time for us to stop using categorical vocabulary, to stop using words like disorder and disease. When we use these words we emphasize just a few weaker qualities in people and make it easy for everyone else to overlook all of that person’s strengths. Meanness and misunderstanding are the trye “diseases” that need to be cured.

It is time to stop putting kids who learn differently in different schools and ignoring all that they could teach the rest of us. By separating children with special needs and special needs programs from the general public, we fail to educate the public on how innovative and amazing these kids can be.  These kids have the potential to teach us more than we can teach them. 

If we are not careful, we will continue to reduce ourselves into a tiny little box. If we are not careful, we will lose our sense of humanity. If we are not careful, we will lose our grasp on what is truly unique and innovative.  If we are not careful, we will lose one of our greatest opportunities to learn. If we are not careful, we will fail to find the unexplored parts of our minds.

We'll all miss out on the hearing of the deaf and the vision of the blind.