Let’s talk spectrums (no, not the book I’m published in, yes I am shamelessly plugging myself here). Autism is commonly referred to as a spectrum. So are many other aspects of humanity – gender is a spectrum, various mental illnesses are spectrums, lots of things are spectrums.
Now, the point about the autism spectrum not being a line is nothing new – I’m just adding my voice to the chorus here. I only want to add that spectrums in general are not lines. Looking at spectrums as lines is limiting us and giving some people some very incorrect ideas about what “spectrum” means.
Story time! Once, someone tried to explain to me why the phrase “everyone is a little bit autistic” is actually totally correct. See, autism is a spectrum, right? And spectrums are lines, right? And the autism spectrum goes from “not at all autistic” on one end to “all the way autistic” on the other end, right? So really, EVERYONE is on that line, RIGHT?
NO. WRONG. HOLY MOLY ABSOLUTELY NOT.
Ok, for the purposes of this post I am going to be using the color spectrum as an analogy, because I think it really works well.
So when most people think “spectrum” they seem to think something like this:
You know, a basic line of color. And sure, this is a spectrum, but it really could be so much more.
I’ve actually seen some people just stop here and try to not use “spectrum” to describe things, because of how many people think that a spectrum is just this linear thing. I sympathize with that perspective a great deal, but I am still on the side of pushing back against the idea and trying to widen the idea of what a spectrum really is.
Of course, even here that person’s line of thought that I mentioned above falls apart. Because the color spectrum doesn’t go from “a little bit of color” to “a lot of color.” It goes through the range of colors that we can see. The logic! It is flawed!
Anyway. Let’s go back to colors, shall we? The color spectrum does not actually have to be displayed as a line. There are, in fact, other ways to show it that give us a broader range than the simple line.
Here we see a 2d color space, including both color range and saturation range. It’s a spectrum! Being more than a line!
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE.
We also have the RGB Colorspace Atlas books, co-designed by Daniel E. Kelm and Tauba Auerbach. They are 8x8x8 books going through the color spectrum, each page itself a small spectrum. The end result – a color cube. 3d color. A spectrum with depth.
Now, color is amazing. Our eyes are amazing. But in the end, we’re talking about wavelengths of light interacting with our retinas. Yet we still need to move beyond the idea that a spectrum is a line in order to appreciate the range of color we experience.
How much more true is that when the spectrums we’re talking about describe PEOPLE? We deserve better than that – both as people who are on various spectrums and people who are thinking in terms of spectrums. Spectrums are incredible, just in general. The spectrum of human experience is vast and in no way linear. Spectrums in general are not linear. Seriously, let’s just ditch the idea of linear spectrums just in general and understand that when we see a spectrum in a linear way, we are seeing a drastically reduced version of it. One that loses all the richness and depth that could – and should – be there.
A side note about physics: Ok, I do understand that specifically in the science of physics, “spectrum” is a specific term that IS, in fact, linear. It is intended to be reductive in that it is also understood that a spectrum is showing the range of one specific thing. Important to note – there is no single scale or range to measure that defines autism – there are many facets and factors involved. We can either stop calling autism a spectrum entirely, or allow our concept of spectrums to grow. So too in color theory, where people refer to hue, lightness, and saturation – all of which could be shown on their own, individual, linear spectrum. Put them all together into the more colloquial idea of spectrum, and you get a colorcube.