Understanding the Spectrum: Autism, Intellectual Disability, and Societal Stigmas

A Personal Reflection

Seth Underwood
Short. Sweet. Valuable.

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Image- By vejaa Generated with AI, sourced and licensed by Author using Adobe Stock.

About the mid-20th century, the term mentally retarded became popular to replace “more offensive” terms of idiot, imbecile, and moron. All these terms were used by psychology to describe people of certain IQs.

Today, these terms are grouped under the umbrella of neurodevelopmental disorders, and sometimes specifically intellectual disability.

So, while Autism was first described back in 1911, and later more average to above-average intelligence versions were described in 1944, none of these were a form of “mental retardation” unless the person’s IQ fell into that category. Autism was originally described as a form of schizophrenia.

But there’s this phenomenon called “euphemism treadmill” where a word or phrase designed to be less stigmatizing ends up just the opposite, like mental retardation.

The problem becomes the higher end of the current Autism spectrum, which now includes once conditions called Asperger’s Syndrome and High Function Autism.

Those people who have average to higher IQs. That’s where I am on the spectrum, we look and talk normally, but some of us can appear as “jerks”, “narcissists”, and dare I say “assholes.”

The more high-end spectrum people that enter the neurodevelopmental conditions, the more those with intellectual disabilities are forgotten by society. Thus, these people, like my youngest, become oddly stigmatized as the ones who should have been aborted.

They are socially pushed aside by a group of highly intelligent, yet neurodevelopmentally troubled, people.

Meanwhile, the CDC has approved the condition of Profound Autism to help push back.

Time will tell if the word “profound” will be like that of “mental retardation.”

Growing up in metro-Washington DC area, I saw this ad countless times.

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Seth Underwood
Short. Sweet. Valuable.

54+ autistic, undiagnosed dyslexic, sufferer of chronic migraines, writer of dark science fiction, player of video games and Mike Pondsmith Fan. Race- Human.