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Autism: A New Conceptualization
Melinda Macht-Greenberg, PhD

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Most people agree that Autism is a complex condition. This graphic reconsiders Autism as an interconnected set of developmental lines, that can have an impact on other developmental lines, rather than a traditional view of Autism as one static, unchanging spectrum.  As you can see in the graphic, people have a variety of skill areas.  How well we function can change along a spectrum of skill abilities depending on a number of conditions. For example, a person with Autism might have a high level of emotional stability if they are engaged in a preferred activity. However, their emotional functioning might change if they are challenged to do a non-preferred activity. In this way, skills are fluid and can change depending on internal or external factors. 

Similarly, skill levels fluctuate depending on the impact from another skills area. For example, let's imagine that 10-year-old George is usually a student who has high cognitive abilities. However, in a stressful situation, George might struggle to manage his emotional reactions. If George becomes upset emotionally, it may be harder for him to think clearly on an intellectual level. So, even though George is highly intelligent, his ability to apply these skills might be lower on the spectrum if he is in an emotionally reactive place. 

Why is this important? It is helpful to understand everyone with Autism as a person with a unique constellation of ever-changing strengths and challenges. As we create intervention strategies, it is essential to be mindful of what might trigger a change in the functioning of skill areas and the impact of these changes on other skill areas. 

If we keep the interplay of skill areas in mind, we will improve our capacity to help students with Autism in the development of further skills and abilities to increase well-being and the capacity for growth.

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