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Not everyone likes putting children with autism on a spectrum
Rose Eveleth wrote for The Atlantic this week, outlining the difficulty of putting a person's level of autism on a spectrum. - photo by Herb Scribner
Rose Eveleth has two autistic brothers, and shes often asked where they fall along the autism spectrum, which, she wrote for The Atlantic this week, is a way for people to ask how "bad" or "high-functioning or low-functioning" her brothers are.

But, in truth, Eveleth wrote its impossible to measure people with autism spectrum disorder on a spectrum at all since often people with the disorder have a wide range of issues that cant be cemented on one point.

"After talking to doctors, epidemiologists, self-advocates and anthropologists, I learned that the more you try to pin down what the autism spectrum actually looks like, the looser your grasp on it will become," she wrote.

More than 3.5 million Americans have autism spectrum disorder (about 1 in 68 births), according to The Autism Society. Autism is a fast-growing disorder, too, as autism rates in the U.S. have climbed by almost 120 percent from 2000 to 2010, The Autism Society explained.

The most severe level of autism is classic autism, but many are also known to have Aspergers Syndrome or PDD-NOS, also known as atypical autism, according to HelpGuide, a nonprofit information organization on mental health.

But people with these disorders share similar symptoms, which makes it hard to put them on a spectrum and imply that one level is more severe than another, HelpGuide explained.

"Since the autism spectrum disorders share many similar symptoms, it can be difficult to distinguish one from the other, particularly in the early stages," according to HelpGuide.

Researchers and medical professionals agree, according to Eveleth.

"Its almost like if you look in the stars in the sky and say, 'Oh, theres Orions Belt. And oh, theres the Big Dipper.' You could also look at the stars and say they cluster a different way. And I think thats still where we are with autism," Jeffrey Broscoe, the director of the population health ethics department at the University of Miami, told The Atlantic.

Other researchers told Eveleth that the spectrum covers such a wide range of symptoms that its hard for medical professionals to pinpoint where one should specifically fall on the spectrum.

And theres still a lot of ongoing research for autism in general, making it difficult to create a spectrum with specifics about where patients should fall that works for medical professionals, researchers and patients alike, according to Eveleth.

But the spectrum still has its supporters, like Roy Grinker, author of Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism, who told The Atlantic that medical professionals need a way to distinguish between people with different symptoms.

Its especially good to have a spectrum when peoples severe autism symptoms dwindle, Grinker said.

"There are good parts and bad parts," Grinker told The Atlantic. "The bad part is that the term is used so promiscuously, its used so much that it lacks specificity. The good part is that it has less stigma now and they see a capacity for change within it, if you have a spectrum, you can move along a spectrum."

As the debate continues about whether or not there should be a spectrum, parents who fear their child may have some sort of autism will want to seek their doctors help to see what kind of autism he or she has, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There are two steps to diagnosing a child with autism, the CDC explained. The first is called "developmental screening," where doctors give children a short test to see if they know basic learning skills, according to the CDC.

"During developmental screening the doctor might ask the parent some questions or talk and play with the child during an exam to see how she learns, speaks, behaves and moves," according to the CDC. "A delay in any of these areas could be a sign of a problem."

Doctors will then do a comprehensive diagnosis evolution, which monitors a childs behaviors and development, CDC explained.

"It may also include a hearing and vision screening, genetic testing, neurological testing, and other medical testing," according to the CDC. "In some cases, the primary care doctor might choose to refer the child and family to a specialist for further assessment and diagnosis."