Writing by

Tania Melnyczuk

Working definition of autism

Boy, as though all the definitions of autism out there are not enough, that I couldn’t just pull one off the Web from a site that I like to explain this quickly in two sentences for a 5-minute talk to a corporate audience, along with talks by Louise, Debbie and Dudley. Even this definition, from a research lab’s site at usually has good stuff, isn’t helping me:

Autism is an untapped reservoir of creative solutions, by nervous systems that grow and evolve in uniquely different ways.

New Jersey Autism Center of Excellence

In this article, which I wrote exactly two years ago, I talk about how difficult it is to define autism, leaving me with just another too-broad-to-be-meaningful placeholder definition:

Autism is an umbrella term for a specific cluster of neurodevelopmental endophenotypes — or, more accurately, a cluster of clusters. As such, it sometimes makes sense to speak of autisms, the plural, rather than just autism.

But hey, tomorrow is our dry run, so lemme panel-beat this into something a little more specific for tomorrow:

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disability—in other words, it’s about how our nervous system has developed from before we were born. We are different from most people in how we take in and process information, and how we think and move. This also affects how and what we communicate. Autism is an umbrella term: there’s a lot of variety among us. Most of us struggle if the environment isn’t ideal for our sensory and other information-processing differences. We generally have strong pattern-recognition, and some of us are good systems thinkers. Although many autistic people cannot rely on speech to communicate, most nonspeaking autists not have an intellectual disability.

Now how do we make this short?