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Is autism a disability?

Many people are asking themselves this question. There are people who think of autism in the category of dysfunction. There are people who say - autism is a superpower. Who is right?


When talking about disability, one must start with the fact that it is an outdated concept. What does it mean? That a person is not fully functional, relative to some standard. And this is where the problem arises. What is this norm? Who is to set it? Who is to decide what is "normal" and what is not?

However, accepting the awkwardness of the term disability, let's return to the question of whether autism is a disability. 

In the medical context

According to the definition developed by the WHO, disability is a limitation or lack of ability to perform activities in a manner or to the extent considered normal for a human being, resulting from damage and impairment of bodily functions. 

This approach focuses on a person's dysfunction. It may be needed when a person seeks support and wants to obtain a document confirming that he or she needs it. In Polish terms, this is, for example, a certificate of disability or a certificate of need for special education. Although there are already countries where disability documents also indicate a person's strengths and potential.

The problem begins when a dysfunctional approach to autism becomes widespread in the public sphere. This can hurt many people and limit their life chances. It also promotes ableism, or discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities. Ableism is based on the belief that people without disabilities are better than people with disabilities. And that any person with a disability would be happy to get rid of their disability. And this is not true.

Many people on the autism spectrum indicate that the ablesity narrative is dominant:

"I knew he was disabled because he didn't play with us normally."

"She is such a pretty girl, it is impossible that she is disabled."

"You don't look like you have autism. You're faking it!"

Ideally, dysfunctions and disabilities should be talked about only wondering: how can I help? And not forgetting that every person has his strengths, his assets, his potential.

In the social context

This approach focuses on showing how a person can be supported to enable him or her to live independently.

People on the autism spectrum often point out that disability is part of them, another characteristic that describes them just like eye color or height. They give arguments as to why they prefer to be referred to as people with disabilities rather than people with disabilities. For them, disability is part of their identity. Many see their disability as a trait from which they draw strength:

"Hi, I am disabled. This is my greatest asset ."

"My disability drives me to live."

"Autism is my superpower".

A social approach to disability, based on human rights, acceptance of diversity and targeting support is key to integrating people with disabilities into society.

In this view, it is also possible to speak of autism as a disability. Autistic people can realize their potential and lead independent, autonomous lives, even if they experience some limitations. Sometimes they need support, sometimes they are independent.

So, is autism a disability?

Autism can be a disability. But at the same time: Autyism may not be a a disability. It depends on how the person concerned identifies.

Let individuals speak - yes, I am autistic and I am disabled. Or - my child is autistic and is disabled.

Let's also let others speak -. yes, I am autistic and I have a disability. I like my disability.

And finally, let's also allow people to say -. I am autistic, I am not disabled. Autism is my superpower.

There is room for each of these viewpoints in the autism community.

And you will learn more about the different points of view in October at the 13th International Congress of Autism-Europe.


See also
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