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

68 Citations (Scopus)
188 Downloads (Pure)


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
Pages (from-to)381–396
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Issue number4
Early online date3 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2021. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


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


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