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Beautiful Landscape

What's your snowflake autistic profile?

Photos of snowflakes inviting person to consider their neurodivergent autistic profile

During neurodiversity week (March24), I am thinking about how Wilson Bentley (February 9, 1865–December 23, 1931), at the age of 15 persuaded his family to give him a microscope for his birthday. His father wanted him to continue in his footsteps as a farmer, but Wilson was artistic, sensitive and curious about the world, and instead of potato picking, over the next 46 years this quiet, sensitive boy grew up with snowflakes, taking over 5000 photos as he captured what he called ‘miracles of beauty’.

Wilson strayed from what was expected of him in his farming family.

His divergence is in itself such a thing of beauty.

So while thinking about how Wilson dedicated his entire life to snowflakes and their uniqueness, I’m also thinking about the variations of neurodiversity — where does it begin and where does it end? I wonder what Wilson would have made of it all.

The neurodivergent subculture has lots of different label classifications; ADHD, autistic, AUDHD, PDA, RSD etc. We do need language to try and classify commonalities which are seen in groups of neurotypes. But at the same time, I think there is a danger of slipping into focusing on the commonalities and that then obfuscating the uniqueness within or beyond those commonalities. It’s important to keep a focus on the uniqueness of each individual within the label they identify with.

I think that a visually useful way of seeing a person’s neurotype profile could be as a ‘snowflake’ rather than as a spectrum. Imagine if people said, “what’s your particular snowflake?”

The snowflake metaphor is useful because autistic neurotype profiles are spiky, and each one is entirely unique like a snowflake (just like each neurotypical snowflake is unique!). For example, all autistic people have an ability to hyperfocus, but the length of time of that hyperfocus, the medium of that hyperfocus, the topic of that hyperfocus and the depth of that hyperfocus is different for everyone.


Autistic profile diagram taken from doing the Aspie quiz

Most snowflakes have the common classification of six sides, but at the same time there is no absolute classification of all the different snowflake types, and there can never really be one.

Each snowflake is unique. Each human is unique. Each brain is unique.

The majority of people are neurotypical but each person who is neurotypical is unique.

An uncommon number of snowflakes have twelve sides.

An uncommon number of people are another neurotype.

We name snowflakes for the same reason we name anything — so we can more easily talk about them. We need labels so we have a common language for talking about things. Language may have its problems, but it’s the best we’ve got for communication! And at the same time, I wonder if it’s worth challenging the language if it misrepresents a minority group.

Maybe though I shouldn’t be splitting hairs about language. Maybe what would be more worthwhile would be to just encourage people to remember that each person as unique and to simply ask ‘what does this mean for you?’

Find out more about the wonderful Wilson Bentley.


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