The Concept of Neurodiversity and the Social Model of Disability in Relation to Autism

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Autism Spectrum Disorder is a Neurodevelopmental disorder this diagnosis can lead to impairments in both verbal and nonverbal communication, social interaction and repetitive restricted behaviour - The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), according to The American Psychiatric Association (APA 2013). The above statement is a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, if one is reading this for the first time and you are autistic how does it make you feel?

The concept of neurodiversity in relation to autism can raise many questions such as, would and should the term ‘disorder’ need to be replaced by the term ‘condition’ –The Autistic Rights Movement (ARM) believes that autism is a ‘differing’ of cognitive style and using the term disorder was a ‘label’ which they felt stigmatised the condition. (ARM) now use’s the term Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC). It is not to long ago when homosexuality was once termed a disorder by DSM 1 and DSM -11 until the civil rights movement had it removed (Baron-Cohen, 2017).

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Self empowerment is important in autism, advocacy is important when it comes to autism, parents of children with autism were their voice and that voice needed to be heard loud and clear, for a number of reasons - parents where ‘blamed’ for autism this can be seen in his 1943 paper, 'Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact” which was published in the Journal Nervous Child (Kanner 1943) were Kanner put the blame on parents by saying that the parents showed a “genuine lack of maternal warmth”. Parents fought back against these theories, but they spoke for their children, there children did not speak for themselves. Parents needed to recognise this very important fact, but thanks to Jim Sinclair who is a leading activist in the self –advocacy movement, which believes that autistic people can and should speak for themselves. In 1993, Sinclair’s essay, ‘Don’t Mourn for us’ (which was published in Our Voice, 1993.). Sinclair addressed parents in relation to their despair on learning of this diagnose of autism for their child. Would these sentiments of parents lead to a need to ‘fix the child’ and not recognise that the child has weakness but also strengths, do they see there child as being autistic and not take the view that of the child having autism? Temple Grandin in her autobiography she stated that: ‘‘if I could snap my fingers and be nonautistic, I would not. Autism is part of what I am’’ (Grandin T, 2006).

One example of how children who don’t have autism (neurotypical) can gain an understanding of autism it being done by Sesame Street which is a pre-school educational programme. The programme has introduced a puppet who is autistic into the television show. From this puppet know as ‘Julia’ who is four and has red hair and big green eyes, children will see that ‘Julia’ may not make eye contact with other puppets, or she may repeat herself or flap her arms (stimming). Children, who are autistic and are watching Sesame Street, will recognise that they may also flap their arms, or not make eye contact – but they will also recognise that the other puppets (neurotypical) accept her for who she is. This is a very positive move and introducing a ‘girl’ puppet is a good concept, in general boys are diagnosed with autism earlier and more often than girls (Suskind, R, 2017).

The social model of disability in relation to autism could be looked at the way barriers. There can be many barriers in society towards disability that can be seen in a visual way such as the physical barriers for a person who may be in a wheel chair and there is no ramp access, but their can be invisible barriers that we as a society may not see when it comes to autism sensory issues, according to the National Autistic Society (19 March, 2018).

When we talk about the social model of disability, what part does the Irish Government play in regards to legislation in Ireland, one example that can be seen is that it took eighteen years the Irish Government to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), this ratification was done on 7th March, 2018, but they did not ratify the Optional Protocol, which would have allowed a person or group to make a complaint in regards to there right, in fact the Disabled People of Ireland say the convention is ‘toothless’ without option to complain to UN, according to an article in The Irish Times Newspaper. (Holland K, Tues, March 13, 2018).

One issue in relation to the social model and autism is the education of children in school, should an autistic child be placed in ASD classroom environment or educated in a mainstream class room like the rest of their peers, should it not it be all inclusive for all concerned, but is that achievable if the child is not able to communicate, or may have sensory issues that may be triggered by noise or lights. Should the child be destined to a special classroom and not encouraged to go to the mainstream class room? Could the child have a little bit of both - Bunscoil Rinn an Chabhlaigh in Cobh, in Co Cork is fostering an inclusive approach (McGrath, M, 2016). According to The Principal Donal O’Brien, who believes that integration is important for all concerned; they encourage children with ASD to participate in mainstream class rooms as much as possible, but also offer the option special classroom or of sensory rooms if the child may have any sensory issues.


  1. American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. Arlington, VA, American Psychiatric Association [This article was published in the Autism Network International newsletter, Our Voice, Volume 1, Number 3, 1993.]
  2. Accessed online [1/01/2019].
  3. Baron-Cohen, S. Neurodiversity: a revolutionary concept for autism and psychiatry. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines [Accessed on line 5/01/2019].
  4. Cohmer, Sean, ''Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact' (1943), by Leo Kanner'. Embryo Project Encyclopedia (2014-05-23). ISSN: 1940-5030 [Accessed online 7/1/2019].
  5. Editorial Perspective: Neurodiversity – a revolutionary concept for autism and psychiatry – Baron-Cohen 2017 Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry/Volume 58,Issue 6. [Accessed online 01/01.2019]
  6. Citation: Zehner A, Chen X, Aladsani M. Implementing Universal Design for Learning in Classrooms with Minorities with Autism. J Child Dev Disord. 2017, 3:2. doi: 10.4172/2472-1786.100048
  7. Accessed online [06/01/2019].
  8. Grandin, T. (2006). Thinking in pictures and other reports from my life with autism. London: Bloomsbury Holland, K, Tue, Mar 13, 2018, 10:57 Accessed online 6/1/19].
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The Concept of Neurodiversity and the Social Model of Disability in Relation to Autism. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 24, 2024, from
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