Fundamental challenges for autism research: the science-practice gap, demarcating autism and the unsuccessful search for the neurobiological basis of autism

Med Health Care Philos. 2015 Aug;18(3):443-7. doi: 10.1007/s11019-015-9636-7.


One of the central aims of autism research is to identify specific neurodevelopmental mechanisms that cause and explain the visible autistic signs and symptoms. In this short paper, I argue that the persistent search for autism-specific pathophysiologies has two fundamental difficulties. The first regards the growing gap between basic autism science and clinical practice. The second regards the difficulties with demarcating autism as a psychiatric condition. Instead of the unremitting search for the neurobiological basis of autism, I suggest that basic autism research should focus on experiences of impairment and distress, and on how these experiences relate to particular (autistic) behaviors in particular circumstances, regardless of whether we are dealing with an autism diagnosis or not.

MeSH terms

  • Autistic Disorder / etiology*
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology
  • Biomedical Research*
  • Humans
  • Nervous System Malformations / complications*
  • Nervous System Malformations / etiology
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / complications
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / etiology
  • Professional Practice Gaps*