“Aren’t We All On the Spectrum?”

I frequently hear this comment or another variation: “Aren’t we all on a Spectrum?” The answer to the first question is “No.” The answer to the second question is “Yes.” So let me clear up this confusion.

We are part of something greater than a “Spectrum.”

SeI’ll start with the second question first. As human beings, there is a wide range of what is considered “normal” human behavior, including intelligence, physiology, and personality, to name just three. In fact, human beings are really unlike any other life on the planet in this regard. We have hundreds of languages, temperaments, interests, and diets. We can live in a townhouse, near a river, in a sandstone adobe, in a metropolitan area, in the Yukon or the Amazon. Human beings are remarkable in our diversity.

There are even finer distinctions that can be made. If you are playing poker, one person will be able to win with a pair of threes, while another folds their cards when they have less than a “full house.” Or some of us have that broccoli gene and we can’t stand the smell of broccoli cooking, while others can’t wait to eat the savory vegetable.

Another amazing quality of human beings is our ability to transform ourselves. For example, some of us are lucky enough to have inherited the “happiness gene.” Yes, it apparently exists and I didn’t get it. But what the rest of us can do is indulge in a variety of psychological exercises to increase our happiness potential. We may not see the bright side of a disaster at first glance, but with enough therapy, meditation, prayer, and good healthy living, we can come to appreciate the lessons in our misfortune.

I suppose we can describe this multitude of diverse traits as “a Spectrum” of human behavior, but I think that is selling us short. We are so much more than a collection of traits, great and small. Sure, we can categorize our height along a spectrum of short to tall, but that’s where the “Spectrum” analogy ends.

Milton Erickson, M.D. used to remind us that no two people have the same fingerprints (true). DNA researchers tell us that our DNA is remarkably similar to a frog’s. Good grief, this leaves us in a pickle if we are looking for a “Normal Human Spectrum.” Rather it makes more sense to me to consider people as part of a complex system of interacting systems, producing infinite varieties of Human Beings.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu used to say that we “are made for each other,” which has nothing to do with a compilation (or Spectrum) of traits. What we Humans are capable of is coming to know who we are — and who the other person is — by relating to each other as special, unique, lovable gifts from God.


Autism is defined as being “On the Spectrum.”

Don’t be waylaid by the term “Autism Spectrum Disorder.”  While the diagnosis is grounded in scientific research, the term itself (Autism Spectrum Disorder) is just a concept invented by the American Psychiatric Association when they updated their latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The term represents what they felt was the “best fit” for the diagnostic criteria. However, It tells you nothing of the complexity of each human being with this diagnosis. It only helps you understand one little part of the complex interacting systems of the Autist’s life.

In other words, your Autist is just as complex as any NeuroTypical. In the Autist’s Venn Diagram of their interacting traits and experiences, they have a bubble for Autism Spectrum Disorder (and a bubble for their relationship with an NT). For NeuroTypicals, the Venn Diagram includes a bubble for having a relationship with a person with ASD. You can expand this concept exponentially.

Yes, I have spent much of my adult life pondering the components of this diagnosis — and how it affects the quality of life and interpersonal relationships. I do think a diagnosis helps us better understand how our Autists think. And that knowledge is vital to improving our NeuroDivergent marriages and families. In fact, it might even be critical. But it is only one part of the human experience for ND couples.

We are part of something far greater than a or the Spectrum.

If you are following me so far, what you should get is that Autism Spectrum Disorder is a micro concept — a way to categorize a handful of traits and create a diagnosis. But who that person is? — where they fall into the macrocosm of Human Life — well that is for us to discover with them. That’s what Desmond Tutu meant when he said we are “made for each other.”

6 Replies to ““Aren’t We All On the Spectrum?””

  1. Very interesting, Dr. Marshack. I like Temple Grandin’s description that Austists are wired differently, some with extra visual, analytical, or verbal, etc processing skills but they still share some relational deficits. After watching the series, “Love on the Spectrum, ” it would appear that many Autists crave love and affection. However, I think it remains unattainable for some, because ,to them, it is more of a fixed and idealized concept, rather than a realistic process of getting to know and love somebody via shared experience, understanding and empathy. Of course, NTs often have similar problems with other NTs. I suppose, with NTs the environment (i.e., parenting styles) that creates these relational problems, where as with Autists, innate wiring probably contributes more.

  2. Hi Nicole,

    Thank you for your comments as they are spot on.
    I was “married to an aspie for 5 years”.
    I had no idea he was in the spectrum until we had major problems and the Counsiller we saw realised it and wanted to have him tested.
    In response he took off overseas for a month then left me.
    He was cold and detached and blamed me for being too emotional.
    Worst thing I’ve ever been through.


  3. I’m on the spectrum according to Dr Marshack. I don’t understand how you neurotypical people can actually live with your concepts of humanity. What? How can you be so blinkered?

        1. Sylvia, Isn’t what you wrote as a response a bit of a gross-generalization about those of us who are neurodivergent? I see the same blaming and stereotyping characteristics among neurotypicals just by reading some of these responses.

          I have to say I totally respect what Nicole Boxer wrote regarding Dr Kathy’s essay “Aren’t We All on the spectrum”. It ain’t easy to speak out that I am now officially diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome. I never knew this until I turned 64,65 years old, married 38 going on 39 years. Some of the root causes of miscommunications between me and my wife over the years directly correlate to why we are both seeing separate therapists with the intention of starting couple’s counseling from January 2024 hopefully leading to reconciliation and First Grade but there was little in the way of treatment back in the 1960’s; I was a bit physically uncoordinated, completely ambidextrous, and later I found out I am somewhat directionally challenged when driving and I am told to turn left at the next corner, and proceed to turn right. LOL.

          I have consulted general therapists through my health insurance, but I have always felt that something was missing why I am the way I am. It is part of my character to want to analyze until I understand the root causes. Then I can effectively at least learn to listening more carefully and most importantly, ask my better half if I correctly interpret her verbal and non-verbal cues as to her emotions. Because this is a neurological disorder I do NOT intuitively understand how she feels. I feel remorse and I apologize when I am in the wrong. I’m not a psychopath; I’m a normal human being whose brain is wired differently than neurotypical people. As such, I have endured bullying,as a child, I am still uncomfortable in large groups, I am most happy when I can read a good book and I don’t need to be surrounded all the time with other people. In spite of all that, I was a successful business professional in the automotive sector in Quality Engineering, Marketing research, Community Development. I earned three academic degrees: BA with distinction in Japanese language along with a minor in Asian Studies; MA in International Studies (Modern Japanese Government and Politics); and an Associate of Arts in Culinary Arts — a bucket list item) and I worked as a Chef. I’m retired now.

          It would be nice if more neurotypicals would understand the loneliness of not being able to fit in, to be marginalized, or wanting desperately to be able to provide the support and love my spouse needs in a way she needs it. The level of stress we often endure is something you will never comprehend. It occurs as a negative aspect of masking our feelings to cope in this neurotypical-centric world. The worst is when our anger becomes a meltdown. That is when things can become dangerous.

          This disorder occurs on a world-wise basis. I do hope you take away something new about what being an autist is like. I am high functioning person, though I am not a savant. Autism is a spectrum of disorders and there are many people who cannot speak and/or suffer intellectual and physical disabilities as well. I understand you experienced pain in a relationship with someone who is/was neurodivergent. I am sincerely feel empathy towards you about that. I do not, however, appreciate when you disparage neurodivergent people thinking that we are all the same. That is the basis of discrimination and intolerance, which I abhor in all its forms.

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