A landscape of mountains and valleys

The Autism Landscape

People don’t know squat about autism. Heck, even autistic people don’t know squat about autism. To my view (for now, and until I encounter the sort of evidence that might change my mind) I think a big part of the problem is that autism is like a landscape, with isolated and highly salient extrema — peaks and valleys — which by nature draw the eye and appear to announce to the naive observer “see, this is autism”, so that any other point on the landscape appears to say “this is not autism”.

But really this is wrong — as naive theories usually are. What appears to be right, however, is that it’s the whole landscape that is autism, and if your own particular phenotype (your DNA working in combination with your own idiosyncratic life experience) lands you anywhere on that landscape, then you are autistic — you “have” autism.

Another part of the problem is that this autism landscape is itself part of a much larger landscape — the human landscape — and the boundary between this larger human landscape as a whole and the particular patch that is the autism landscape is essentially arbitrary. There is no clear geographical feature — river, rock formation, altitude, etc. — that obviously and without controversy separates the human landscape at large from the particular patch we’re calling the autism landscape.

But again, and arising out of this uncertainty, it is the reassuring peaks and valleys of the autism landscape that draw the eye and appear to announce to the naive observer “see, at least we are certain that this is autism”.

But don’t be fooled. That is still wrong — as naive theories usually are. It is the whole landscape that is autism.

(I think, for now, and until I encounter the sort of evidence that might change my mind.)


Image Credit: Pixabay