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Viewing Autism as Difference, Not Just Disability

Viewing Autism as Difference, Not Just DisabilityA provocative new article suggests society has been biased in its view of autism and should accept the condition as one in which an individual presents unique capabilities.

Dr. Laurent Mottron makes his argument in the journal Nature, saying that we must stop considering the different brain structure of autistic individuals to be a deficiency, as research reveals that many autistics – not just “savants” – have qualities and abilities that may exceed those of people who do not have the condition.

“Recent data and my own personal experience suggest it’s time to start thinking of autism as an advantage in some spheres, not a cross to bear,” Mottron said.

Mottron’s research team has documented that autistics sometimes have superior capabilites in multiple cognitive operations such as perception and reasoning. His group includes several autistics, and one of them, Michelle Dawson, has made major contributions to understanding of the condition through her work and insight, he said.

“Michelle challenged my scientific perception of autism,” Mottron said .

Dawson’s input has lead to an awareness of autistic strengths resulting from authentic intelligence rather than a kind of trick of the brain that allows them (autistics) to mindlessly perform intelligent tasks.

“It’s amazing to me that for decades scientists have estimated the magnitude of mental retardation based on the administration of inappropriate tests, and on the misinterpretation of autistic strengths,” Mottron added.

“We coined a word for that: normocentrism, meaning the preconception you have that if you do or are something, it is normal, and if autistics do or have it, it is abnormal,” Mottron said.

He points out that there’s a strong motivation for this perception, as it is the standard source of fund raising and grant applications, but that it comes at a cost in terms of how autistics are viewed by society.

“While state and nonprofit funding is important for advancing our understanding of the condition, it’s exceptional that these tools are used to work towards goals identified by the autistic community itself,” Mottron said.

Mottrom laments the fact that many autistics end up working repetitive, menial jobs, despite their intelligence and aptitude to make much more significant contributions to society.

“Dawson and other autistic individuals have convinced me that, in many instances, people with autism need more than anything opportunities, frequently support, but rarely treatment,” Mottron said.

Source: University of Montreal

Viewing Autism as Difference, Not Just Disability

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Viewing Autism as Difference, Not Just Disability. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 4 Nov 2011)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.