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Changing perspectives on autism: Overlapping contributions of evolutionary psychiatry and the neurodiversity movement (paper published in 'Autism Research')

Myself and Tanya Procyshyn published a paper in 'Autism Research' examining the relationship between evolutionary psychiatry and neurodiversity, the first to do so. You can read it open access here and a summary tweet is here.



This figure summarises the relationship, and the abstract is below.


Abstract

Perspectives on autism and psychiatric conditions are affected by a mix of scientific and social influences. Evolutionary psychiatry (EP) and the neurodiversity movement are emerging paradigms that reflect these distinct influences, with the former grounded in scientific theory and the latter driven by political and social principles. Despite their separate foundations, there is a significant overlap between EP and neurodiversity that has not been explored. Specifically, both paradigms reframe disorders as natural cognitive differences rather than disease; expand the concept of “normal” beyond that implied in modern psychiatry; focus on relative strengths; recognize that modern environments disadvantage certain individuals to cause functional impairment; emphasize cognitive variation being socially accommodated and integrated rather than treated or cured; and can help reduce stigmatization. However, in other ways, they are distinct and sometimes in conflict. EP emphasizes scientific explanation, defines “dysfunction” in objective terms, and differentiates heterogenous cases based on underlying causes (e.g. autism due to de novo genetic mutations). The neurodiversity movement emphasizes social action, removes barriers to inclusion, promotes inclusive language, and allows unrestricted identification as neurodivergent. By comparing and contrasting these two approaches, we find that EP can, to some extent, support the goals of neurodiversity. In particular, EP perspectives could be convincing to groups more responsive to scientific evidence and help achieve a middle ground between neurodiversity advocates and critics of the movement.

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