Tag Archives: spectrum

Let’s talk about spectrums

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:

Image from wikipedia

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.

Image from Wikipedia

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.

Source

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. 

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Filed under opinion, ramble

Privilege, validation, and reflection

Privilege is such a tricky thing to talk about. Often people with privilege don’t like to admit it, or feel defensive if it’s pointed out. I often see people assume that privilege means that life has been handed to you on a silver platter and you didn’t have to work for anything, so if their privilege is pointed out, they think they are being accused of not having worked for what they accomplished.

In activism spaces, this is not what privilege means. Privilege is more subtle than that. Now, I’m not going to try to explain what privilege is. That would be a blog post all to itself, and there are plenty of really good write-ups out there that have explained it all much better than I could. Instead, I want to talk about one particular type of privilege (since privilege takes many different forms). It’s a general type I see a lot of when looking at various lists of privilege (white, male, cisgendered, and straight being the ones I see most often talked about). That is – that you see people like you on a regular basis. That your reality and identity is reflected back at you by popular media and the people around you.

When you enjoy that sort of privilege, it’s easy to take it for granted. In my post ‘autism and race,’ I wrote:

I need to confess something. Until that post by TheAutcast, it had never occurred to me to think much about autism and race. I am white and I sat comfortably in my white privilege, seeing white faces reflected back at me, and it did not occur to me to question this.

And it’s not like I’m blind to this sort of privilege. I’m aware of it with things like gender and disability. But when something about you is privileged, it’s really easy to just not notice.

I have also found that it’s easy to dismiss. I grew up with the message that external validation was going to end when I turned into an adult, and that people are not supposed to need that sort of thing. This, I think, had two basic results. In the areas where I do experience that kind of validation – seeing people who are like me – it’s easy to take little notice of it, or dismiss it as not “really” doing anything for me. In areas where I do not experience that kind of validation, I find that I wish I did, but I have vague feelings of guilt and shame associated with those desires.

I am slowly realizing, however, that this is actually a really big deal. Like that cheerios commercial, and some of the reactions I saw about how it’s SO AWESOME for biracial people and/or mixed families to actually see other people who look like them on TV. And, importantly, being portrayed in a totally casual, ‘this is no big deal,’ some families look like this kind of way.

Or this post talking about race and adoption, and the impact it can have on children to not regularly see people like themselves in their daily life.

And there’s the fact that I love seeing strong, confident characters on TV who also happen to be introverts. Or the times when people have reflected my gender identity back to me, validating and supporting me in it, and just how utterly good that felt.

This kind of thing matters. It’s a privilege that everyone should enjoy. I don’t really know of many neurodiverse characters being represented in popular media, and when it is implicitly referenced it is often in a not terribly positive way. I find myself wondering what it would be like if I saw a strong, confident TV character who just happened to flap their hands when excited, or spun in a chair when stressed, or was sometimes confused in social situations, or just needed to fixate on a few specks of dust sometimes. And if all those things were presented simply as part of who this person is, rather than with a “what’s wrong with you?” tone. No manic pixie dream girl, no person who’s funny because they are broken, just a strong, interesting character who happens to be on the autism spectrum.

Wouldn’t that be cool? I think seeing that, in a likable, positive character, would feel really good. I think it would be awesome.

This kind of thing matters. The validation of seeing people like you, of having your identity and your reality reflected back at you, it matters.

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I am not a puzzle

 

I am not feeling terribly inspired this week, so I’m just going to do a brief rant about how autism is symbolized.  I don’t like the puzzle, I don’t like being represented by a puzzle, and I don’t like trying to separate ASDs from those on the spectrum with claims that it only represents the autism.  Don’t care, do not like.

One of it’s representations (probably the one I take greatest issue with) is that it represents how autism, or people on the spectrum, are “puzzling.”  So taking a quick look at that – I am puzzling, people don’t always understand me or the way that I think and process the world, therefore I am a puzzle.

However, I find neurotypicals puzzling.  I don’t always understand them or the way they thing and process the world.  Does that mean that they are a puzzle as well?  No, it means that I am deficient in some way, disabled by being on the spectrum and cut off from everyone else.

Partly I sorta resign myself to that attitude.  Neurotypicals are in the majority and they get to decide what fits and what doesn’t. They get to say that their standard is the only standard, and they get to point at me and say I am puzzling but they are not. Nonetheless, I protest being symbolized that way.  I make total sense to me, and neurotypicals finding me puzzling does not somehow mean that I *am* a puzzle.

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Filed under rant