Understanding the spectrum – a comic strip explanation

By Rebecca Burgess

For version in Spanish click here.. French version click here. For printable PDF version click here. This is a great handout for Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month (April).

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


  • 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. 🙂

  • 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

  • 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. 😀

  • 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.

  • Unfortunately, dear Rebecca, your character Archie is very confusing for me.

    It does not help that Archie offers no proof to claim that “someone who is neurodiverse in some areas of their brain will also be no different to the average person in other areas of their brain.”

    He knows this because?

    Who is the neurodiverse?

    I believe most sincerely that the world is not eager to embrace diversity. But when someone who is diagnosed “on the spectrum” does not earn some understanding and respect from another person that is because almost every human is unable to do a certain set of things. The particular struggle of a person “on the spectrum” is not different (or harder) from the experience of everybody else.

    It is not ASD but the whole world which consists of many traits (which I’d define as “sensibilities”) or ways in which the brain processes information.

    The world consists of many different races, religions and cultures. These are also ways in which the brain processes information. Each person within a given race, religion and culture, has a different set of traits or ways in which the brain processes information. These traits (or ways) could create difficulties in everyday life when encountering people with a different ways of thinking.

    Language can be confusing for everyone. An example, British children in general are good at understanding the rules of cricket while citizens of the United States are so hopelessly lost during a four-hour cricket match that some have come to believe that cricket is just a big joke the British are performing to confuse the rest of the world.

    Another thing too I was thinking about while going through this comic strip: If one autistic person is sensory overload in loud and crowded spaces and another autistic person is very happy in loud how could both belong to the same spectrum?

    They might be suffering – it seems to me – from different conditions. It could even be possible both don’t have autism at all. Besides conversation will be hard for every one if you are caught in loud and crowded spaces. And felling very happy in loud crowds is criteria for ASD? If a spectrum is too wide (that embrace all people), it loses its boundaries; it is not a spectrum at all.

    Archie says, “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 maybe affected by circumstances.”

    Why has everyone failed to show me specifically the different areas of the spectrum which cannot be explained by some other reason except “autism”?

    Archie says, “Not every autistic person acts the same way and we are capable of varying strengths and weakness.”

    That is the case of everybody else.

    if there is any solace, it is this: Archie is not alone.

    • As Someone who has ASD I can say your comment is an example what I dislike about most people. I am different to you and you don’t understand why. As a result you dismiss ASD as “Everbody is different”. For me ASD has meant I am extremely isolated socially but hey I’m just different right? Nothing “wrong” with me as far as your concerned. It is people such as you that are the reason I’m isolated from society as you expect too much from that which you do not understand. I found the Comic strip a useful tool for helping others to understand ASD. Yet you seem to have too many preconceptions that you hold to rigidly leading you to misunderstand. I hope you can change.

    • Claudia, if you want to learn more about Autism, you could start with the diagnostic criteria outlined in the DSMV.

    • My understanding is that the brain of an ASD person is wired completely differently to that of a Neurotypical person (non ASD), mindblindness, empathy, and coping strategies, understanding oneself differ between the two neuro diverse persons.

      As no two people on the ‘spectrum’ or not are the same. Traits of ASD are generally similar but some will be more pronounced within each individual. Just like neurotypical people who have their strengths and weaknesses.

      I don’t believe this cartoon strip is meant to competely and fully explain ASD at it’s fullest. But it is a very good starting point which has the potential for education, discussion and further exploration to a wider society

  • Wow! This is fantastic. I have a young son with ASD and our family has been learning as much as we can (as quickly as we can) about all things autistic. This is by far the best explanation/representation of the spectrum that I have yet encountered and I have already shared it far and wide. Thank you, Rebecca 🙂

  • My very clever 12 year old grandson has been diagnosed on the autistic spectrum. He has problems reading how a person is feeling about what he may have said or done.(especially his Mum and sister) How can you tell when he is having trouble understanding or just being plain naughty, as all children can be, to get his own way? How is discipline applied fairly and for the right reasons. He plays games on his tablet/p.c. continually and can be horrible if his (now single mother) stops him or disciplines him. He bullies his younger sister if she uses the devices as he is always in the middle of a game, or so he says. His Dad is a great deal stricter which he seems to accept.When we as grandparents take him and his sister on holiday, without Mum or any electronics at all, he seems to mix socially very well with all the other kids and makes friends. How much of a con man is he?

  • Hi Rebecca… I love your stuff… thank you! I would like to ask you if the association I belong to could you use one of your illustrations to insert it in an informative leaflet?
    Many thanks. I look forward to hearing from you

  • I would like to make copies of this comic strip, but the link to the PDF isn’t working. Can you please direct me to another link?

    Thanks for this great explanation.


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