It occurred to me that I haven’t presented a definition for autism. And I know how much healthcare professionals like definitions. They give us a point of reference for comparing what we see with what we have read, or have been taught during our training. Definitions help us identify findings, and communicate those findings to others. So, what is the definition of autism? Let me start by saying – it’s complicated. Very complicated.

In fact, I have missed two self-imposed deadlines for posting this because I wanted to give you the correct answer. And now, based on my extensive research and marginal understanding of autism so far, I can tell you that the answer is: it depends.

I have found that autism as a concept, as a process, as a study, as a status, as a reality – is in a state of evolution, and one’s view of autism heavily depends on where they stand in that state. During the seventy-plus years since “autism” and “autistic” were first used to describe the general characteristics of what we currently identify as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) there has been a long history or misconceptions and misinformation intertwined with the facts.

I have also found that for every blog, forum, and advocacy site I read, I can find another blog, forum, and advocacy site that takes a nearly opposite stance on autism. I am not here to say one is right or the other is wrong. I just want to find ways to help Lia live her life to its fullest.

So, rather than attempt to deliver a tidy little definition, wrapped in a neat little package and tied with a pretty little bow, I have decided that I am going to do two things: First, I am going to invite you to spend some time doing your own research. It’s one of the better ways to get a feel for what autism is, and isn’t, and to develop your own perspective. Second, I will continue to share what I am learning, in bite sized pieces, in future posts.

While I can’t offer a succinctly accurate definition at this time, I can say that the language of autism, much like the language of medicine, is quite fascinating. Making an effort to learn this language helps me understand the varied complexities that I have discovered. I’m confident you will find it helpful as well. Much like Medical Terminology 101 helped us understand the difference between an ilium and an ileum.

In closing, I think the words of Dr. Jeffrey Baker – pediatrician, medical historian, and author – accurately sum up the intent of this post:

Rather than argue over the true definition of autism, it may be more helpful to ask what definition is appropriate for the task at hand.”

Thank you Dr. Baker.


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