What is autism?

Autism is a broad spectrum of neurodevelopmental differences characterized by social and communication challenges, repetitive behaviors, sensory issues and unique strengths and differences. Autism is not a disease. It is a life-long condition. About 1/3 of people on the autism spectrum are non-speaking. Autism affects more than one percent of the population. An estimated 70 million people on the planet are on the autism spectrum. In trying to understand the spectrum of autism, many people have shared this visual explanation of autism by Rebecca Burgess. About 10 percent of those diagnosed with autism may possess exceptional abilities or savant skills.

There are many models about disability. The Art of Autism prefers the human rights model and the social model over the medical model (or the pathology paradigm).

The medical model looks at autism as a set of deficits or impairments. Under the medical model, these impairments or differences should be ‘fixed’ or changed by medical and other treatments, even when the impairment or difference does not cause pain or illness. The medical model looks at what is ‘wrong’ with the person, instead of what that person needs.

The human rights model validates an individual’s right as a human being. The principle of diversity provides the foundation to accept disability as part of human variation. Social structures and policies restricting or ignoring the rights of people with disabilities often lead to discrimination and exclusion.

The social model underpins the concept of neurodiversity. The social model looks at how we can accommodate autistic people in society. The social model identifies systemic barriers, negative attitudes and exclusion by society (purposely or inadvertently). While physical, sensory, intellectual, or psychological variations may cause individual functional limitation or impairments, these do not have to lead to disability unless society fails to take account of, and include and accommodate people regardless of their individual differences.

With the support of many human rights groups, some of the barriers of disability enforced by the medical model have started to come down. One such barrier is the label “low-functioning” or “high-functioning.” Read Tom Iland’s essay on the fallacy of low and high functioning autism.

The Art of Autism believes disability rights are human rights and that people on the autism spectrum are different not less than.

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The Art of Autism realizes many people come to this page with the questions, Do I have Autism? or Do I have Aspergers? We recommend diagnosis by a professional. However, as a start there are some popular online quizzes that will give you an indication if you are on the spectrum:

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