What is autism?

It's an infinite spectrum of possibilities

By Camilla Asra Engelby

Graphic Designer & Content Creator Camilla Asra Engelby

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental condition. But as the name implies, it is just that – a spectrum. A spectrum is defined as a condition that is not limited to a specific set of values but can vary, without steps, across a continuum.

If you’ve met an autistic person, well … you’ve met an autistic person. That is to say that our autistic traits manifests in an infinite number of ways in each autistic person. And on different levels. Kind of like a sliding scale.

Graphic illustration of autistic sliding scale for 'What is autism' blog

Autism may cause challenges with:

  • Social interaction
  • Speech and nonverbal communication
  • Restricted or repetitive behaviours
  • Excessive worry/rumination
  • Obsessive compulsive behaviour
  • Phobias
  • Avoidance behaviours.
  • Rigid routines and resistance to change
  • Sensory issues.

But again it’s important to keep in mind, that not everyone has the same issues, the same way and to the same degree.

Some of the issues that I struggle with are:

  • I have severe sensory issues with the texture of food and clothing as well as smells
  • I can’t pick up on things that are only implied or understand hints very well. If something is important you need to flat our tell me
  • I can only socialise for short amounts of time with new people
  • I need time and understanding to digest major changes to my surroundings
  • Sudden changes may lead to a meltdown, the severity of these meltdowns may vary from silent crying to high pitched wailing and agressive outburst.

Not quite superpowers, but still pretty cool

I’m actually not at all fond of using the term superpower about my autistic skills. I may attribute certain skills to my autism. But in the end it’s just a part of a natural variation of the brain or a neurological diversity – hence the terminology neurodiversity. Which is an umbrella term for a whole range of functional impairments such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, etc.

Vector illustration of the Neurodiversity umbrella for 'What is autism' blog

Despite autistics often being portrayed with savant-like superpowers on film savant skills are rare. Only one in ten autistic people show some savant skills. But we still have a lot to offer, but again because it’s spectrum this can vary in a lot of ways from person to person.

Some of my skills are:

  • Extraordinary good long term memory, which come in handy for me when keeping track of files and deadlines
  • I can visualise a complex and many levelled process before even taking the first step
  • My attention to detail is quite extraordinary
  • I’m extremely organised, which is actually somewhat rare among creatives. But I find having my ducks in a row, helps me let my creativity flow freely
  • In a setting where I feel safe and included, I can absolutely join in the conversation and be as extrovert as any neurotypical person
  • And contrary to one of the widely spread myths about autism regarding not having empathy, I personally have an abundance of empathy. But do keep in mind that since autism is a spectrum this can vary.


Bonus skill

In addition to being autistic, I’m also an ADHD’er (inattentive ADHD to be specific). And thus I also have a thing called Hyperfocus. And If you’d like to know what that is, you can read all about that here.

Header image: Nils Schirmer/Unsplash


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