Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Medical vs. Social Model of autism and disability

This topic has been on my mind for awhile but other topics seem to take precedence when writing blogs.   It is the medical vs. social model when discussing disability.  In case you are not familiar with these concepts, there seems to be two different views when talking about disability.  The medical model looks at disability as a problem that needs to be fixed.  This school of thought breaks down the characteristics of different disabilities as a set of symptoms and focuses on treatments and cures.  On the other hand, the social model looks at disability as an important identity to a person and how different social forces can create either support or create barriers that affect the lives of these individuals.

A perfect example of the social and medical models at play is with autism.  For a long time, the dialogue of autism has been focused on the medical model of deficits, cures and symptoms.  Some examples of the medical model of autism include behavioral interventions that try to make autistic children "indistinguishable from peers," the use of  functioning labels,  big autism organizations that are runned by neurotypicals that funds research into the causes of autism with the hopes of preventing the condition.  The product of  all this medical rhetoric is negative stereotypes made about autistic people.  An example of a commonly held stereotype is that "autistic people lack empathy" or that we are "socially awkward and immature."    As a result, the medical model has led society to view autistic people as "less than human" and are not deserving of the same rights as humans without disabilities.  I believe this thinking has played a big role in the continued exclusion of the voices and experiences of adults on the spectrum.

Self advocates like myself had enough of the dialogue being focused on cure and deficits.  We asked for a more social model of disability to take place of the prevailing medical model.  This is what we call neurodiversity.  Neurodiversity states that people with different neurological conditions such as autism, Dyslexia, ADHD etc. are wired differently and that these different neurostyles need to be accommodated as well as accepted.  Critics accuse the neurodiversity movement of downplaying the challenges of autism and glorifying its strengths.    Most neurodiversity advocates (myself included) acknowledge the challenges and still see autism as a disability.  The main point of the movement is to remove the negative stigma of autism and that disability is not something to be feared or gets in the way of happiness.  Proponents of the neurodiversity movement believe that ignorance and negative societal attitudes get in the way of happiness in those who live with autism and other disabilities.   We demand the same human rights and civil liberties that are granted to nondisabled people.

 The social model of looking at autism is slowly taking force.   Some examples is the is the call for the inclusion of self advocates in setting the course of autism research; the relationship between acceptance of autism and mental health issues that commonly occur in autistic people is being finally explored; as well as the push for self determination and person centered planning in adults with developmental disabilities.  There are more autistic self advocates that are sharing their experiences than there was 10-15 years ago.  I believe if we embraced a new social paradigm of addressing the social barriers that autistic people (as well as others with other conditions) face,  the quality of life and outcomes of these individuals would be greater. 

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