On the ontological status of Autism


Much of autism research conducted since it was first identified in the early 20th century has largely been neurotypical observations about how autistic people are assumed to differ physiologically, psychologically or cognitively. The autistic person usually had little or no participation other than the ‘research object’ of the neurotypical ‘expert’. Chown (2014) states, “There are no public criteria of an autistic ontological state to assist the non-autistic to understand the autistic. Arguably, it is those public criteria of a non-autistic state that enable many autistic people to eventually develop the understanding of other (non-autistic) minds that, in turn, enables them to survive, and even thrive, in a hostile world.” (2014.P.1675) Jennifer Sarrett describes an autism-based model, “built on a foundation of dependence, individuality, and valuing human diversity, allowing for the inclusion of the entire sphere of cognitive, intellectual, physical, and psychiatric traits within the human condition.” (2012)  Autistic people have had their natural responses to unacceptable or problematic environments or support deemed ‘challenging behaviour’ for decades without acknowledgment of the part played by exterior factors. Chronic lack of funding to the Health and Wellbeing sector, based on austerity and neoliberal economic ideology has had appalling impact on the lives of millions of people.

Damian Milton applies Young’s ‘Five faces of Oppression’ to point out that autistic people, “…are some of the most marginalised in society, historically depicted as embodying ‘deficits’ in their social being, incapable of full socialisation and personhood.” (Milton 2014. P.1405) Sarrett states, “Human rights is presumed to be shielded from considerations of social worthiness as well as social or civil rights.” (ibid) This is widely apparent within the support offered to autistic people within our current society. Our ‘value’ has to be demonstrated by the level we are able to “function” within society, neoliberalism to the core. Our worth is based upon comparability with non-disabled or neuro-common counterparts. Pitonyak states that we, “need not forget the person’s problem behaviors, but we must understand that people have gifts and capacities that eclipse our labels (or, as Herb Lovett has said, our “clinical accusations.”)” (2005.P5.)

Published by neurodiversityacceptance

An autistic man trying to make the world a kinder and more equitable place for all neurodivergent people.

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