2019/09/12/Against neurodiversity/woozle

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This article takes a subtle issue (the diversity of feelings around neurodiversity) and paints it as a problem (autistic people are being harmed) with a single cause, the neurodiversity community (labeled here as a "movement").

The factually-problematic part of the article begins with this:

Due partly to a lack of understanding of its causes, current discourse on this subject is a narrative jungle strewn with young, overgrown and ill-conceived ideas jostling for a spot in the sun, including uncompassionate ‘refrigerator mothers’, microbial infections, vaccinations, and environmental pollutants and toxicants, to name but a few.

The prevalence of these ideas in the neurodiversity community is rather overstated:

  • "refrigerator mother" theory: this has been history at least since the late 1990s
  • microbial infections: I haven't seen this theory floated much, if at all; a brief search of the web suggests there is some evidence for it. (Search for autism microbial infection for more.)
  • the autism vaccination theory has been roundly rejected by the mainstream, and only remains embraced by a segment of underinformed neurotypical carers
  • environmental pollutants / toxicants: there has been very little study of this, as I understand it

Into this maelstrom came the neurodiversity movement, whose advocates celebrate autism as a gift that is an integral part of identity.

Not all of them do, no. That's not an essential part of the movement. The author appears to be conflating the neurodiverse community's assertion that "not all autistic traits are impairments" (e.g. kids shouldn't be forced not to flap their hands in public) with "all neurodiverse traits are great".

It also seems like a slimy bit of manipulation to refer to the neurodiverse community as a "movement", implying some sort of political power.

However, in recent years, there has been a backlash against this – growing numbers of people are now speaking out against the neurodiversity movement, claiming that it does not represent them and, more importantly, that it ignores the plight of those with severe autism.

No citation or other evidence is given for this claim. In reality, it's understood that not all aspects of neurodiversity are fun to live with.

Today, the internet and mass media are replete with articles proclaiming the benefits of employing people with autism, who have a hidden potential that can benefit endeavours such as branding and design – if only we can stop thinking of them as being disabled.

No citation or evidence given. Reality: Nobody is claiming that neurodiverse traits are not sometimes disabilities.

But the movement is proving to be harmful in a number of ways. Firstly, neurodiversity advocates can romanticise autism. While many with mild forms of autism might lead relatively ‘normal’ daily lives with little or no assistance, many who are more severely affected cannot function properly without round-the-clock care. Yet John Marble, the self-advocate and founder of Pivot Diversity – an organisation in San Francisco that aims to ‘pivot autism towards solutions which empower autistic people, their families and employers’ – posted on Twitter in 2017[1]: 'THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS SEVERE AUTISM, just as there is no such thing as "severe homosexuality" or "severe blackness".'

This is an example of a single prominent figure making a misleading statement, not evidence of widespread agreement. There was a lot of immediate pushback. Marble explained himself more clearly in the discussion that followed:

My point is that "severe autism" often writes off autistic people & ignores the external factors which make autism difficult, that's all...

We need MORE support for autistic people and parents. "Well, his kid is severely autistic, so..." is a dismissal I cringe at... [...] A good illustration of why no person is "severely autistic" despite severity in engaging with the world around us: https://themighty.com/2016/05/rebecca-burgess-comic-redesigns-the-autism-spectrum/

It seems clear that the author didn't bother to explore the nuance behind a single (misleading and somewhat ill-considered[2]) Tweet from a prominent figure in the community, and instead used it as a clear and accurate representation of the entirety of the neurodiverse movement.

At this point, searching for the tweet led me to a much more thorough rebuttal, so further analysis here seems unnecessary.


  1. 2017-10-07 John Marble on Twitter original, archive.is (the thread is easier to read in the archive; there was considerable pushback).
  2. 2019-05-01 John Marble on Twitter original, archive.is: "Hi! I didn’t claim that, but I do admit that my wording wasn’t the best. The point that I was trying to make was that spectrum conditions (autism, epilepsy - of which I have both) aren’t linear spectrums. Rather traits manifest uniquely in each person."