Disability, Diversity, and Autism: Philosophical Perspectives on Health

New Bioeth. 2016 Apr;22(1):56-70. doi: 10.1080/20502877.2016.1151256.


This paper aims to explore the connection between health and developmental disorders, particularly in regard to the notion of 'neurodiversity', which considers high-functioning autism not as a lifelong disability but a neurological form within a diversity of human minds. In recent years, autistic activist movements have called for a more positive, humanizing, identity-first language when describing this condition, rejecting negative language such as 'disorder', 'deficit', and 'impairment', and instead describing autism as a way of being, part of one's personal identity, which does not always need to be cured. Is a different form of neurodevelopment necessarily a degenerate one? Is well-being mostly affected by disability itself or by its being classified as abnormality? Drawing on philosophical insights, as well as autism research papers and popular science, I explore advantages and disadvantages of these classifications and the connections between health, autism, personhood, and disability.

Keywords: autism; disability; health; neurodiversity; philosophy.

MeSH terms

  • Autistic Disorder*
  • Disabled Persons*
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Personal Autonomy