The Deficit View and Its Critics

Janette Dinishak


This paper investigates what it is to understand human differences in terms of deficits and examines criticisms of this approach. In the past few decades, across many fields of inquiry and outside the academy there has been a surge of interest in critiquing "the deficit view" of all manner of group differences and deviations from the norm.  But what exactly is meant by "deficit view" and related terms when they figure in accounts of human differences?  Do critics of the deficit view claim that they are never appropriate or that particular applications of the approach are inappropriate?  The aim of this paper is twofold: to identify and articulate some of the conceptual issues at the heart of debates about deficit approaches and to examine how these issues matter. Autism is my focus case. As we will see, many critiques of the deficit view of autism tend to characterize what is problematic about taking a deficit view in terms of the personal and social harm that deficit views can or do effect.  One important upshot of my discussion, I argue, is that there is another kind of drawback to deficit thinking that is independent of the deficit view's potential negative personal and social consequences, a drawback that deserves serious consideration and sustained critical attention: in some instances, at least, deficit views impede scientific and philosophical progress in our understanding of the phenomena themselves.  Thus, articulating and assessing deficit approaches is of practical and theoretical importance. 


autism; deficit view; neurodiversity; pathologization

Full Text:



Copyright (c) 2016 Janette Dinishak

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Beginning with Volume 36, Issue No. 4 (2016), Disability Studies Quarterly is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license unless otherwise indicated. 

Disability Studies Quarterly is published by The Ohio State University Libraries in partnership with the Society for Disability Studies.

If you encounter problems with the site or have comments to offer, including any access difficulty due to incompatibility with adaptive technology, please contact the web manager, Terri Fizer.

ISSN: 2159-8371 (Online); 1041-5718 (Print)