Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind

Autism and the Pathology Paradigm

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I was late in being diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum – I was 60 years old at the time. At first I tried to prove that I was not autistic, but when that failed I reluctantly accepted that I had a disorder. It took quite a few years to realise that autism is no more a disorder than diversity in sexual orientation or gender identity are.

The following paragraphs from Autism and the Pathology Paradigm summarise my current understanding. You can read the full article by clicking the link in the citation at the foot of the quoted text below.

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.

At this time, sadly, the pathologization of autistic minds, bodies, and lives still has not been widely recognized – especially not within the academic and professional mainstream – as being yet another manifestation of this all-too-familiar form of institutionalized oppression and othering. The academic and professional discourse on autism, and the miseducation on autism given to each new generation of professionals, remain uncritically mired in the assumptions of the pathology paradigm. And since bad assumptions and unexamined prejudices inevitably become self-reinforcing when mistaken for facts, this entrenchment in the pathology paradigm has kept autism-related theory, praxis, and education stuck in a self-perpetuating cycle of ignorance and bigotry.

Autism and the Pathology Paradigm – NEUROCOSMOPOLITANISM June 23, 2016

Author: Barry

A post war baby boomer from Aotearoa New Zealand who has lived with migraines for as long as I can remember and was diagnosed as being autistic aged sixty. I blog because in real life I'm somewhat backwards about coming forward with my opinions.

One thought on “Autism and the Pathology Paradigm

  1. Yes. Absolutely. There is also the “Social model of disability”. People have varying abilities and difficulties, and the fact that a wheelchair user cannot enter a building is because of the way society is organised, and not because of that person’s need for a wheelchair.

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