This post is in the Autistic Spectrum Disorders category

Dear Reader

The statements in the What is ASD? post may be familiar because they represent not symptoms of autism, but some of the many autistic traits that are widely distributed in the general population (Constantino & Todd, 2003, p. 524). Professor Tony Attwood uses the analogy of a jigsaw puzzle – each piece represents a trait and every “normal” person will have 20% or so of them to some degree. 50% and you might be seen as eccentric, but if you have 80% including the corners, you may get a diagnosis (Attwood, 2008, p. 50) of one of the several syndromes on the Autistic Spectrum.

The animation below attempts to illustrate this in perhaps an oversimplified manner, but if you consider each square to be a definable trait, and each colour an intensity, most individuals will be represented somewhere in those few seconds. It has been such a frustrating experience speaking to people about ASD and autistic traits because, each time I mention a particular trait, or my own particular experience of it, someone will respond “well, you know I’m a bit like that sometimes – I think everybody is aren’t they?”

I bite my tongue but I really want to say, “of course, you’re a bit like that sometimes – but try being a lot like that most of the time and see how you get on! And people say I’m the one with fuck-all empathy!”.


The “sometimes” is important. The depth of difficulties or impairments certainly seems to change in waves and tides. These waves are partly related to external factors, such as stress, foods, lights, noise and others but may also have some sort of arbitrary cycle. I often hear it said, by otherwise normal people, that they “can’t think straight” under various circumstances.  This is one example of the collective experience of low level traits in the general community.

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