I’ve written before about the public — and professional — misconception of Autism as monolithic. Since it was first “discovered” by neurotypical professionals, Autism has been seen as a severe condition that appears in withdrawn, difficult boys who adore math, cars, or lining up their toy trains on the carpet. For decades this stereotype has persisted, and reinforced itself; Autistic people who match the stereotype are more likely to be diagnosed and receive services, and Autistic people who are women, or Black, or who are creative and expressive are ignored and discounted.
The persistent portrayal of Autism as monolithic is a direct result of doctors and psychologists’ disdain for Autistic people. If you want to eradicate Autism from the population — an end-goal desired by many doctors & therapists, as well as all of Autism Speaks — it’s to your benefit to paint the Autism with wide brushstrokes. A homogenized, over-simplified view of Autistic people makes it easier to view them as less-than-human. Conversely, if you acknowledge that Autistic people vary in all kinds of ways — and acknowledge that many of them benefit from their Autism — the view that Autism ought to be “cured” (read: purged from society) gets a lot harder to justify.
The fact is, Autism is an incredibly diverse and multifaceted neurotype, a source of human variation as beautiful and complex as eye color or body shape. Autism is not a simple spectrum for “low” to “high” functioning; it’s more like a sundae layered with a variety of toppings. And each one of those “toppings” — Autistic traits — can be mild, moderate, or strong in its intensity.
Sometimes, Autism comes with a heavy sprinkling of sensory sensitivity. Sometimes, it comes with a delicious caramel drizzle of disliking eye contact. Autism can be topped with a bright red cherry of hyper-focus. Or it can be filled with chocolate chips self-stimulatory behavior. Each Autistic person has a unique combination of Autistic traits, each in different amounts.