Something About Models of Disability and why Neurodiversity is so Important.
So, this is a piece about how the language we use can have a profound effect on the way we view ourselves and our loved ones, especially when it comes to autism.
Traditionally the medical model of disability has viewed autism and every other condition, both obvious physical differences and hidden differences, as based wholly in the individual and as a problem to be fixed, with the medical personel at the top of the decision chain and the 'disabled' person the passive recipient of any treatment. In some cases, such as a severe medical emergency this is exactly what is needed, there have been times myself where I've needed competent doctors and nurses to treat me, without the need of a conference or debate. But in the case of living with long term differences, shouldn't the most important person in the decision chain be the person with the difference?
In oppostion to this model is the social model of disability, here it states that the person with the difference should be at the centre of any decision making process. It also looks at how society can support the person and places the responsibilty on society to make accommodations rather than the person. The problem with this model is it tends to focus on physical, more obvious difficulties and ignores the more hidden difficulties that autistics can experience.
For a better description of these models; Scope have a good page on their website which can be found at
If neither of these models are really suitable when looking at how best to represent autistic people then, is there another one? There is a suitable alternative, it is the neurodiversity paradigm. Not a model as the other two are but it is the best way to represent not only autistic people but anyone with a neurological difference. Its simple really, there are lots of different types of brains out there and each one is as valid, valuable and necesary as the next. No neurotype is broken and in need of fixing, accomodations should be made to allow each person to reach their full potential and to access the world on an equal footing. For a better description and some in depth definitions try this article:
by Nick Walker, its very useful.
So, as I discussed earlier, using the medical model to define autism, doesn't properly address their needs. Further to that though, the language of illness and desease that is inherent in the medical model has a direct impact on how autism is viewed. From day one, a person is 'diagnosed' with autism, in the same way that a person is diagnosed with cancer or any one of a myriad of devastating, chronic ilnesses. A specialist will sit you down and say 'I'm sorry, your child has autism'. They're 'sorry'. They will tell you that there will be 'a grieving process for the child you have lost as they quietly hand you a box of tissues so you can wipe away your tears'. They will say they can't cure it, but there are ways to 'manage' it. I know this, it happened to me with my two youngest.
For parents new to autism who's only knowledge is filtered through the medical model, it is terrifying. Now imagine that someone else comes to them and says they know how to 'cure' their child, or 'recover' their child through therapies and protocols; throw in a large dose of pseudoscience and a touch of parental guilt tripping and its easy to see how they could be persuaded to give it a try.
This is why the neurodiversity paradigm is so important. Instead of 'diagnosing' autism we should be 'identifying' it, people 'are autistic' they don't 'have autism', people shouldnt be 'sorry' someone is autistic, they should at the very least accept it. Autism is a neurological difference, not an illness or desease and autistic people need accommodations and understanding not, 'cures' and 'therapies to recover' them. If we continue to use the language of the medical model, we continue to expose new parents and newly identified children and adults to people willing to peddle dangerous and risky 'cures' such as MMS.
So I've made a promise to myself to avoid using medical language about autism what will you do?
Thanks for reading
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