Last week’s minor controversy in the autistic community on Tumblr was over the phrase “on the spectrum” and whether people should use it to refer to other “spectrums” besides autism. Here’s my two cents.

  1. Yes, as far as I know the phrase “on the spectrum” originated with autism, so in some sense it’s “ours”, we started it.
  2. Yes, it’s confusing and frustrating when people say “on the spectrum” without context and you can’t tell what they’re talking about.


Why would we want to lay claim to this phrase, though?

Is there any reason for us to say “on the spectrum” instead of “on the autism spectrum”, or if that’s too long for you, why not just “is autistic”?

The only reasons I can think of are:

— if you think the word autism only means ~severe~ cases and think there needs to be another term for when you’re including everybody else

— if you think the word autism is unsightly and embarrassing and you want to talk about it without actually saying it.

To anybody who isn’t already familiar with how people talk about autism, “on the spectrum” is confusing when it refers to us, too. It’s inherently confusing. Why do we need it?


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