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The Benefits And Drawbacks Of The Neurodiversity Movement In The Autism Community

An autistic student working on math with a teacher.
An autistic student working on math with a teacher.
Marc Romanelli/Blend Images RM/Getty Images

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The term “neurodiversity” was first coined by an Australian sociologist in the late 1990’s, who made the case that neurological differences should be respected by society, analogous to categories such as class, sexual orientation, ethnicity and disability. 

The neurodiversity movement has both supporters and critics in the autism community. In his recent Aeon piece “Against Neurodiversity”, neuroscientist Moheb Costandi argued that the movement has sidelined the needs of nonverbal autistic individuals over those of high-functioning autistic people, that it has romanticised autism and that some of its advocates are disregarding science by rejecting treatment and the understanding of autism as a medical condition 

Neurodiversity advocates have pushed back against the piece, arguing that the movement is actually about humanizing autistic people, creating treatments that accommodate and understand the autistic person rather than attempting to rewire them and that the movement helps change the narrative about autism to help families and society at large to understand their value and humanity, rather than trying to find cures. 

This schism points to a fundamental question of how autism should be defined -- is it a disability? A disease? A difference? These are all loaded terms in the autistic community. 

We bring together Costandi and a neurodiversity advocate to discuss the terminology and the pros and cons of the movement within the autism community. 

If you are autistic or are the family member of someone who’s autistic, what has been your experience with the neurodiversity movement? Do you think it’s a needed reframing of autism? Have you experienced any drawbacks? 

Call us at 866-893-5722. 

Thinking Person's Guide To Autism published a transcript of the segment. You can read it here


Moheb Costandi, neuroscientist and science writer, whose recent piece is titled “Against neurodiversity” for the online science publication, Aeon; author of the book, “Neuroplasticity” (MIT Press, 2016); he tweets @moc; he tweets @mocost  

Shannon Rosa, senior editor of ‘Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism,’ a neurodiversity oriented autism website and online community; she is the editor of a book by the same name; she tweets @shannonrosa