Social support, well-being, and quality of life among individuals on the autism spectrum

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Diverse theoretical perspectives1–3 and empirical findings4,5 reveal development as a complex interaction between nature and nurture, yet the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder is used to classify neurodevelopmental disability mainly on the basis of individual-level social dysfunction. Self-advocates have organized the neurodiversity movement to reclaim autism as a part of identity (eg, using identity-first language such as “autistic person,” as in the case of the author, rather than person-first language such as “person with autism”6,7) and support civil rights. We argue that social environments contribute substantially to disability and seek quality of life, defined in terms of “objective” factors of adaptive functioning, such as independent living and employment, as well as in terms of subjective well-being, which requires self-determination to play as active a role as possible in making decisions to have the experiences one wants. Yet we argue against normalization and “cure,” in part because many autistic traits can function in neutral or positive ways, although other people may misunderstand or stigmatize atypical behaviors.8–10 Indeed, the following narrative review developed from empirical evidence replicated by independent research teams argues against a linear relationship between autism symptoms and impaired functioning, across developmental periods and in multiple domains of both "objective" quality of life and in subjective well-being. In the following syntheses, I suggest that effective social support and subjective well-being mediate whether autistic people achieve a high quality of life.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere20164300
Pages (from-to)S362-S368
Number of pages7
Issue numberSupplement 4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018


  • Wellcome Trust
  • 108676/Z/15/Z


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