Autism Rights Movement/Neurodiversity Movement

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The Autism Rights Movement (ARM) is a branch of the neurodiversity movement that advocates for autism awareness and the eschewing of the medical model. The medical model focuses on finding a “cure” for autism, as well as implementing treatment programs to teach people with autism to act neurotypical. “Neurodiverse” refers to those whose neurology differs from the norm. “Neurotypical” refers to those who think and behave in concordance with the norm. The neurodiversity movement strives to show all of the capabilities that autistic people have, including making their own medical decisions (Kapp, Gillespie-Lynch, Sherman, and Hutman 2013). In essence, ARM and other agents for neurodiversity fight against normalization.

Early autism intervention claimed “parental rejection” as the reason why this condition occurred. This was particularly evident in the 1959 Bettelheim study of Joey, whose mother was classified by the researcher as “schizophrenogenic,” meaning she was cold and unemotional towards her son (Baker 2010). The autism movement rejects the idea of parental blame and incorporates parental involvement in the discussion of autism. Parents are now allies instead of enemies.

New York Magazine published an article about a particular protest that involved ARM. New York University distributed advertisements “from” autism and Asperger’s, saying that children with these disorders would live in isolation and have little to no social interactions (Solomon 2008). The protest utilized a letter-writing campaign that encompassed multiple disability associations. This was essentially the beginning of the neurodiversity movement; prior to this, autism advocates were far and few.

People who are described as “high functioning autistic” primarily lead the neurodiversity movement. According to an article by John Elder Robison, who has autism, this particular group of individuals has been pioneers because their abilities are often downplayed, and they are put in similar categories as those with progressive and terminal illnesses. After Bettelheim’s work in the late 1950s, intervention was structured around neurotypicality. Autistic people were taught to imitate certain behaviors that those without autism might exhibit. Robison discusses the three distinct opinions about neurodiversity. There are people in the “high functioning” group, who promote the movement and advocate for “tolerance and understanding” (Robison 2009). Those who have more severe impairments often seek a cure, because their disabilities have more of an impact on their daily lives. Parents of children with autism just want their children to live happy lives.

The reason why there has been a halt in the progress of the neurodiversity movement is because there is disagreement within the autism community. Some people want minimal intervention, while those who have more severe disabilities advocate for a cure. The movement has not been around for an extended period of time. People are still searching for a cure, regardless of whether or not people who are higher functioning want to be “cured.”

I believe that social justice movements and protests are essential parts of exercising freedom of speech. Without these movements, we would still live in a world of Jim Crow laws, a world where people could not marry their same-sex partners or partners of different races, and where women were treated as men’s property. I am able to attend college, get a job outside of the home, and live independently because of the women who marched and protested for women’s rights. As a country, we still have a long way to go—women still have to protest for reproductive rights, and Black people march to protest police brutality, and the underlying racism that accompanies it. Other people do not take part in protesting unless the cause pertains directly to them, which is hypocritical. How can you march for your own rights and ignore the rights of others? I attended the Love Rally in Washington Square Park, where we marched against President Trump and his racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and Islamophobic (did I cover them all?) ideologies. As a woman, I have faced some hardships, but not as many as other groups. As I fight for my own rights, I am determined to fight for others.


Baker, J. P. “Autism in 1959: Joey the Mechanical Boy.” Pediatrics 125.6 (2010): 1101-  103. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.

Kapp, Steven K., Kristen Gillespie-Lynch, Lauren E. Sherman, and Ted Hutman. “Deficit, difference, or both? Autism and neurodiversity.” Developmental Psychology 49.1 (2013): 59-71. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.

Robison, John Elder. “The “Cure” for Autism, and the Fight Over It.” Psychology Today. N.p., 12 Oct. 2009. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.

Solomon, Andrew. “The Autism Rights Movement.” New York Magazine,

25 May 2008. Web. 08 Mar. 2017. <>.


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