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Autism as a Natural Human Variation: Reflections on the Claims of the Neurodiversity Movement


Neurodiversity has remained a controversial concept over the last decade. In its broadest sense the concept of neurodiversity regards atypical neurological development as a normal human difference. The neurodiversity claim contains at least two different aspects. The first aspect is that autism, among other neurological conditions, is first and foremost a natural variation. The other aspect is about conferring rights and in particular value to the neurodiversity condition, demanding recognition and acceptance. Autism can be seen as a natural variation on par with for example homosexuality. The broad version of the neurodiversity claim, covering low-functioning as well as high-functioning autism, is problematic. Only a narrow conception of neurodiversity, referring exclusively to high-functioning autists, is reasonable. We will discuss the effects of DSM categorization and the medical model for high functioning autists. After a discussion of autism as a culture we will analyze various possible strategies for the neurodiversity movement to claim extra resources for autists as members of an underprivileged culture without being labelled disabled or as having a disorder. We will discuss their vulnerable status as a group and what obligation that confers on the majority of neurotypicals.

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Correspondence to Pier Jaarsma.

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Jaarsma, P., Welin, S. Autism as a Natural Human Variation: Reflections on the Claims of the Neurodiversity Movement. Health Care Anal 20, 20–30 (2012).

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