Charting where an individual falls on the autism spectrum, though, is nearly impossible. I know because I recently tried to figure out how to do it. 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. "Right now the best way to approach autism is to think about it as a spectrum condition, but it’s quite possible that in the next 10 to 15 years, we’ll start understanding these better—not just genetics but the real pathophysiology," says Broscoe. One day it might be lots of different diagnoses, each pinned to a specific cause or mutation or biological breakdown. Just as people once thought of all cancers as singular, and now think about and treat breast cancer and lung cancer and colon cancer differently. Autism, Broscoe says, "may look more like cancer one day." Roy Grinker, an anthropologist whose book, Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism, combines his personal experiences with an autistic daughter, and academic research into autism, laughed about the idea that autism was a single, "real" thing. "There’s not a real thing out there called autism! There are complex neural pathways that lead to different behaviors and traits that we have decided right now is best understood by a framework called autism. But I have no confidence that in 30 years we’ll still use the word autism."
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