Annual Research Review: shifting from ‘normal science’ to neurodiversity in autism science

Elizabeth Pellicano*, Jacquiline den Houting

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Since its initial description, the concept of autism has been firmly rooted within the conventional medical paradigm of child psychiatry. Increasingly, there have been calls from the autistic community and, more recently, nonautistic researchers, to rethink the way in which autism science is framed and conducted. Neurodiversity, where autism is seen as one form of variation within a diversity of minds, has been proposed as a potential alternative paradigm. In this review, we concentrate on three major challenges to the conventional medical paradigm – an overfocus on deficits, an emphasis on the individual as opposed to their broader context and a narrowness of perspective – each of which necessarily constrains what we can know about autism and how we are able to know it. We then outline the ways in which fundamental elements of the neurodiversity paradigm can potentially help researchers respond to the medical model’s limitations. We conclude by considering the implications of a shift towards the neurodiversity paradigm for autism science.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship, awarded to E.P. (FT190100077) and a Macquarie University Research Fellowship awarded to J.d.H. E.P and J.d.H also acknowledge the financial support of the Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism (Autism CRC), established and supported under the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centres Program. The views expressed are the views of the authors alone and do not necessarily represent the views of their organisations or funding sources. The authors are extremely grateful to Marc Stears for critical discussion and for comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. The authors have declared that they have no competing or potential conflicts of interest. Key points

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • autism
  • ethics
  • medical model
  • neurodiversity
  • social model of disability


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