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Jackie Schuld Art Therapy Blog

Defining and Explaining Autism

It is an ever-shifting game to define and explain autism. Thanks to more and more autistic people speaking up about their experiences, our understanding of autism is evolving rapidly. As we drop the medical model that describes autism as a “disorder,” we’re also opening up to new possibilities, such as seeing autism as a different neurotype and a positive way of being. I’ve even heard of some people (like on the Autistic Culture podcast), drifting away from using “Autism Characteristics” to “Autism Culture.”

Autistic art therapist Jackie Schuld shares a pen illustration of many words that aren't making sense
"Confusing and Conflicting" Pen by Jackie Schuld

I call this wonderful period of evolution “The Autistic Awakening.” It’s an exciting time to be autistic.

However, the scientific research is not keeping up. It is normal for scientific studies to lag behind new ideas, but it seems like science is especially lagging when it comes to autism. This lag time can make it difficult for scientists, doctors, and other “research-based” individuals to feel comfortable updating their language, theories, or foundational understanding about autism.

When you add the lagging scientific community to the outdated and limited depictions of autism in the media, autism can get REALLY confusing. Many people who do not know any autistic people base their conceptions of autism on what they learn from the media or in academic settings (which is frequently the scientific community… and hence, the outdated medical model of autism).

All of these factors coupled with the rapid movement of the neurodiversity community can make it hard to pin down definitions and explanations of autism. Case in point: I’ve written 9 essays alone about defining autism!

All of these essays capture all of my thoughts about what it’s like to try and define autism during this period, so I’ll let them speak for themselves:


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