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 “normalNormal was created, not discovered, by flawed, eccentric, self-interested, racist, ableist, homophobic, sexist humans. Normal is a statistical fiction, nothing less. Knowing this is the first step toward reclaiming your… More” – 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 powerThe 20th Century political scientist Karl Deutsch said, “Power is the ability not to have to learn.”I quote this statement often, because I think it’s one of the most important… More inequalities—similar to those dynamics that commonly occur around other forms of human diversity such as racial diversity or diversity of genderDue both to their ability to denaturalize social norms and to their neurological differences, autistic individuals can offer novel insights into gender as a social process. Examining gender from an… More and sexual orientation.AUTISM & THE PATHOLOGY PARADIGM
Through the lens of the neurodiversity paradigm, the pathology paradigm’s medicalized framingWhen we successfully reframe public discourse, we change the way the public sees the world. We change what counts as common sense. Because language activates frames, new language is required… More 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 autisticAutistic ways of being are human neurological variants that can not be understood without the social model of disability.If you are wondering whether you are Autistic, spend time amongst Autistic people, online and offline. If… More 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 queerBeing queer means constantly questioning what’s considered “normal” and why that norm gets privileged over other ways of being. It means criticizing who sets these norms and recognizing the privilege… More 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 “objectivityThe interpretation of objectivity as neutral does not allow for participation or stances. This uninvolved, uninvested approach implies “a conquering gaze from nowhere” (Haraway 1988). In many ways, claims of… More” 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