Understanding the spectrum – a comic strip explanation

understanding the spectrumcover

By Rebecca Burgess

For version in Spanish click here.For printable PDF version click here.

language can be confusing for me. It takes me longer than the average person to process conversations. And although I a m good at making conversation, it can take me longer than normal to respond. But, neurotypical find language confusing too. And it can lead to some people misperceiving who I am. That is why I wouold like to explain what meant by spectrum. When we talk about the autism spectrum. Sometimes when people think of this word, they think of the autism spectrum as being like a very linear looking spectrum which gives the impression that people range from being a little autistic to very autistic. Hm. How can you be a little autistic. Its that vague language that I always find confusing
The problem with thinking of the spectrum in this way, is that a perception of an autistic person also becomes linear. You're only a little autistic, Archie. Hm. I still don't understand, can you be less vague? You're able to have a normal conversation with me and act pretty normal! You're not severely autistic...And so you see, if someone thinks you're on a low end of this spectrum, this often happens: Archie you can handle all of this just fine, you're not that autistic.
How can you be tired? eveeryone does this every day, you're just being lazy. Wow you're being so over dramatic get over it! Woah, you're more autistic than I thought. I'm gonna re-label you on this spectrum... since you're very autistic I don't think you should have a job, just to be safe y'know? And if you're seen as being on the high end of this spectrum - It can lead to some people labeling you as being incapable of doing anything at all
The truth is though, someone who is neurodiverse in some areas of their brain, will also be no different to your average person in other areas of their brain. You see the autistic spectrum looks something like this (circle with lots of attributes)
The spectrum consists of many different traits, or ways in which the brain processes information. Some traits create difficulties in every day life. (hence being diagnosed). But also many traits anre useful in every day life. Each person with autism will have a set of traits all in different areas of the spectrum. The areas where they don't have a trait will function no differently to a neurotypical brain, but may be affected by circumstances. In example, I am good at making conversation (language). Bit I get sensory overload in loud and crowded spaces which makes conversation very hard for me.
And so another autisticc person might be very happy in loud crowds but find conversation hard in general. You could say I'm just a real party animal! You can see with this spectrum than, that not every autistic kperson has savant skills. Or that someone who can't communicate verbally might still understand what you're saying, but just need a different way to communicate, such as sign language. It shows how not every autistic person acts the same way, and we are all capable of varying strengths and weaknesses.

Sometimes, if someone is diagnosed as being on the spectrum, and informs another person of this, it's so that they can get some understanding and respect for the things they are unable to do. But, it is also so that they can cooperate with the world around them - so that they can be the best in the things they can do. I hope that in the future, people will better understand the term spectrum, and continue to respect the differences and similarities we all share in how we experience the world.



Rebecca Burgess is a freelance comic artist and illustrator living in the UK. She has an interest in history and folk songs that runs through alot of her work. Her obsession with comics runs into her spare time, where she draws two webcomics! Rebecca also likes to play video games, explore the countryside and dress like a time traveler!

Rebecca’s tumblr where this comic was originally posted is here:

Archie is a character in a webcomic –

Other blogs you may like: 12 Things That Make me Weird
Baby Talk: Why do people talk to Autistic Adults like they were Infants


  • Thank you, Rebecca!

    A very clear presentation, which raises scads of individual questions, which it should!


  • I have reproduced this wonderful post in its entirety on aspiblog.wordpress.com (having also sharfed links on twitter and facebook) 🙂

  • Ruth Faraday says:

    I have been describing the autism spectrum in exactly this way for some years now. I explain the spectrum as ‘a colour wheel shot with shotgun pellets’ and that each autist has their own unique ‘constellation’ of traits, disabilty and gifts. It was so uncanny to see your comic show what I’d been trying to convey so precisely! Great minds think alike, I guess. 🙂

  • Thank you so much for this! I feel like I understand the situation much much better now <3

  • Thanks, Rebecca,

    Like Ruth above, I have been trying to communicate the multifacetedness of ASD for many years. Your comic strip is so visually powerful and so accessible for so many people. I am a great proponent of the spectrum nature of pretty much everything and particularly other developmental conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia and weak working memory. I have been producing my own free resources to support teachers and parents for over five years now on my Happy Learners website and I found your comic truly inspiring. Stephen

  • Rose Ann says:

    We are newly diagnosed and still learning. This is by far the best explanation I’ve seen.
    Thank you.

  • betty telford says:

    I am 84 and often wondered…now I think I am newly diagnosed (a bit late).

  • J.E.S. says:

    The first thing you say about language conversations really pinned something down for me! As a neurotypical person who’s had relationship with people on the spectrum, I’ve always been very puzzled by this “delay”, and your explanation helped me realize something important.

    I can’t help thinking that something is very very wrong, when someone often “pauses” the verbal and non-verbal interaction, and her/his expression is more or less blank, as this would be usually a bad sign when interacting with neurotypical people, signifying, that you’ve hurt their feelings, they are reluctant to talk to you, they don’t really like you at all or something along those lines. It stresses me out to no extent when the interaction doesn’t flow properly, and I’ve had to build a set of survival skills for this type of situations.

    My normal way of interacting might also be hard to get, if you have problems interpreting tones, non-verbal cues, small gestures, fine tuned humour, innuendo and double entendre. I’m also very quick. Alas, the puzzlement definitely goes both ways. I must say that learning to be very straight forward with some people has been very educational. 😀

  • Christine says:

    This is great!!!

  • Jo Thulborn says:

    I have often heard people use “being on the spectrum” with no understanding what it actual means.
    Rebecca this is a fantastic way for everyone to understand what Autistic Spectrum is. Very clever.

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