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Deficit, difference, or both? Autism and neurodiversity

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The neurodiversity movement challenges the medical model's interest in causation and cure, celebrating autism as an inseparable aspect of identity. Using an online survey, we examined the perceived opposition between the medical model and the neurodiversity movement by assessing conceptions of autism and neurodiversity among people with different relations to autism. Participants (N = 657) included autistic people, relatives and friends of autistic people, and people with no specified relation to autism. Self-identification as autistic and neurodiversity awareness were associated with viewing autism as a positive identity that needs no cure, suggesting core differences between the medical model and the neurodiversity movement. Nevertheless, results suggested substantial overlap between these approaches to autism. Recognition of the negative aspects of autism and endorsement of parenting practices that celebrate and ameliorate but do not eliminate autism did not differ based on relation to autism or awareness of neurodiversity. These findings suggest a deficit-as-difference conception of autism wherein neurological conditions may represent equally valid pathways within human diversity. Potential areas of common ground in research and practice regarding autism are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-71
JournalDevelopmental Psychology
Issue number1
Early online date30 Apr 2012
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013


  • Deficit_difference_or_both

    Rights statement: ©American Psychological Association, [2012]. This paper is not the copy of record and may not exactly replicate the authoritative document published in the APA journal. Please do not copy or cite without author's permission. The final article is available, upon publication, at: 10.1037/a0028353.

    Accepted author manuscript (Post-print), 379 KB, PDF document

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