Why Dads always refer to their children as being on the spectrum
Updated: Jan 22
What The Term Autistic Spectrum Disorder Means
“Oh, I didn’t know you had a son who was autistic…”
“Yes, my son is on the spectrum………”
“Oh really? You too. You know - My cousin has a daughter who is autistic.
“Yes, well. One in 37 boys is diagnosed as being on the spectrum. It’s actually more common than you think…..”
“Will he ever be able to go to a normal school?”
“Well, yeah, he’s high-functioning on the spectrum. He goes to a Catholic school and does very well there”.
Whenever I have a conversation with someone about my son, or autism in general , I’m deliberate in the language I use to describe his condition. I typically steer the conversation to the term “on the spectrum”. For those not familiar, you may hear parents who have children “on the spectrum” refer to them as being “on the spectrum”. Here’s our intention: the term autistic tells you absolutely nothing about our child. My personal fear is that the general public perceives autism to be an absolute binary condition: when in fact, that label is an empty descriptor. It doesn’t work so neatly, so categorically: autistic/not autistic, right / left, win / lose; up / down. As the Dad of an amazing son, I am so fearful that people will drape a banner around my son, and then form a knee-jerk opinion that will marginalize him and his remarkable abilities.
I recently spoke to a new acquaintance on the phone whose fraternal twin brother was on the spectrum. After telling me about his twin, he promptly asked, “…….so tell me about your son”. I immediately moved in with “well, first of all, my son is very high functioning on the spectrum” and proceeded to tell him why, as though I was defending his honor. He interrupted me halfway through and said “Paul, I get it. You don’t have to defend your son, I get it. I know what you mean”. It was insightful for me to have him stop me in my tracks. Oh right, I don’t have to go through my standard disclaimer I do with others. He understands why I feel compelled to introduce him as “high functioning” on the spectrum.
I ask that everyone not only start to use this vocabulary themselves, but understand why it matters; why it matters so much to us - the Dads with these miraculous children on the spectrum, whose children are a mosaic of diverse personalities, talents, skills, and endearing quirks. It matters - the language we use to describe them matters. And It certainly matters to their Dads……