The following is a story I wrote based on an explanation I gave to someone who wanted an easy-to-visualize metaphor of how strange and arbitrary the designation of things like “kinds of autism” and “severity” and stuff are when performed by the average diagnostician/etc. It’s also relevant to my last post about assumptions.
Once upon a time, there were three renowned autism experts: Dr. Johnson, Dr. Smith, and Dr. Shaw. Through meticulous research, they had noted that most autistic people had animals living in their homes with them. Level of function was determined by the amount of iguanas and canaries in a person’s home: five was mildly autistic, ten was moderately autistic, fifteen was severely autistic, and twenty was profoundly autistic. They carried out their assessments of the presence of autism and level of functioning by visiting homes and counting the animals. In reality, the presence of any animals living in the home signaled autistic traits, but the experts were – being non-autistic and Very Professional – overly focused on unimportant details about autistic people.
The first person they assessed was named Julio. Julio had five canaries, ten iguanas, and five pigeons. Dr. Johnson was best at noticing canaries, so he wrote down that Julio was mildly autistic. Dr. Smith was best at noticing iguanas, so she wrote down that Julio was moderately autistic. Dr. Shaw was good at noticing both, so xe wrote down that Julio was severely autistic.
Next, they assessed Jane. Jane had five iguanas, ten canaries, and five ferrets. Dr. Johnson wrote down that Jane was moderately autistic. Dr. Smith wrote down that Jane was mildly autistic. Dr. Shaw wrote down that Jane was severely autistic.
Then, they assessed David. David had twenty iguanas. Dr. Johnson wrote down that David was not autistic at all. Dr. Smith and Dr. Shaw agreed that David was profoundly autistic.
Now they came to Kazuko’s house. Kazuko had twenty canaries. This time it was Dr. Johnson and Dr. Shaw that agreed Kazuko was profoundly autistic, and Dr. Smith who believed that she was not autistic at all.
The next person on their list was named Geoffrey. Geoffrey had nineteen canaries and a tarantula. Dr. Johnson was terrified of tarantulas, but did not want to tell anyone that. He pretended to have assessed Geoffrey and found him not to be autistic. Because he disliked being at Geoffrey’s house so much, though, he wrote down that Geoffrey had a personality disorder that was extremely hard to treat and outside his specialty. This ensured that he would never have to see Geoffrey again. Dr. Smith was not afraid of tarantulas, but because she did not see any iguanas she concurred that Geoffrey was not autistic. Dr. Shaw noted all the canaries and said that Geoffrey was profoundly autistic.
Next came Helen. Helen had fifty cats. The three doctors agreed that Helen was not autistic at all.
Alex’s house had three canaries, five iguanas, a hamster, a pig, four ferrets, a dog, three mice, and two boa constrictors. Dr. Johnson wrote down that Alex had a few autistic traits and might have Asperger’s or PDD-NOS. Dr. Smith wrote down that Alex was mildly autistic. Dr. Shaw was extremely interested in ferrets, and spent xyr entire time at the assessment playing with and watching the ferrets. To make up for lost time, xe wrote that xe had found that Alex was not autistic at all but had several highly interesting neurological traits that were worthy of further study. This was so xe could come back and play with the ferrets.
Penelope had eight canaries, eight iguanas, a rabbit, a ferret, a bear, and a bonded pair of rabbits. While Dr. Johnson would have otherwise written that Penelope was approaching moderately autistic, he was fascinated by rabbits. He spent his whole time hanging around with the rabbits and forgot to count the canaries. He wrote instead that Penelope was highly gifted because she had rabbits in her house. Dr. Smith would have also written that Penelope was hovering around moderately autistic, but she took one look at the bear and ran off screaming. She wrote that Penelope was an extremely disagreeable person with behavior problems, but not autistic. Dr. Shaw played with the ferret and wrote Penelope up, like Alex, as deserving further study for interesting neurological traits.