Pathology Paradigm

When it comes to human neurodiversity, the dominant paradigm in the world today is what I refer to as the pathology paradigm. The long-term well-being and empowerment of Autistics and members of other neurocognitive minority groups hinges upon our ability to create a paradigm shift – a shift from the pathology paradigm to the neurodiversity paradigm. Such a shift must happen internally, within the consciousness of individuals, and must also be propagated in the cultures in which we live.

THROW AWAY THE MASTER’S TOOLS: LIBERATING OURSELVES FROM THE PATHOLOGY PARADIGM • NEUROQUEER

Discourse and education on autism, in the academic and professional realms, has thus far been dominated by what I have termed the pathology paradigm. At the root of the pathology paradigm is the assumption that there is one “right” style of human neurocognitive functioning. Variations in neurocognitive functioning that diverge substantially from socially constructed standards of “normal” – including the variations that constitute autism – are framed within this paradigm as medical pathologies, as deficits, damage, or “disorders.”

In recent years a new paradigm has begun to emerge, which I refer to as the neurodiversity paradigm. The term neurodiversity, coined in the 1990s, refers to the diversity of human minds—the variations in neurocognitive functioning that manifest within the human species. Within the neurodiversity paradigm, neurodiversity is understood to be a form of human diversity that is subject to social dynamics—including the dynamics of oppression and systemic social power inequalities—similar to those dynamics that commonly occur around other forms of human diversity such as racial diversity or diversity of gender and sexual orientation.

AUTISM & THE PATHOLOGY PARADIGM

Through the lens of the neurodiversity paradigm, the pathology paradigm’s medicalized framing of autism and various other constellations of neurological, cognitive, and behavioral characteristics as “disorders” or “conditions” can be seen for what it is: a social construction rooted in cultural norms and social power inequalities, rather than a “scientifically objective” description of reality.

The choice to frame the minds, bodies, and lives of autistic people (or any other neurological minority group) in terms of pathology does not represent an inevitable and objective scientific conclusion, but is merely a cultural value judgment. Similar pathologizing frameworks have been used time and again to lend an aura of scientific legitimacy to all manner of other bigotry, and to the oppression of women, indigenous peoples, people of color, and queer people, among others. The framing of autism and other minority neurological configurations as disorders or medical conditions begins to lose its aura of scientific authority and “objectivity” when viewed in this historical context—when one remembers, for instance, that homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) well into the 1970s; or that in the Southern United States, for some years prior to the American Civil War, the desire of slaves to escape from slavery was diagnosed by some white Southern physicians as a medical “disorder” called drapetomania.

AUTISM & THE PATHOLOGY PARADIGM
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Published by Ryan Boren

#ActuallyAutistic parent and retired tech worker. Equity literate education, respectfully connected parenting, passion-based learning, indie ed-tech, neurodiversity, social model of disability, design for real life, inclusion, open web, open source. he/they

Navigating Stimpunks

Need financial aid to pay for bills or medical equipment? Visit our guide to requesting aid.

 

Need funds for your art, advocacy, or research? Visit our guide to requesting creator grants.

 

Want to volunteer? Visit our guide to volunteering.

 

Need a table of contents and a guide to our information rich website? Visit our map.