The Deficit View and Its Critics


  • Janette Dinishak University of California, Santa Cruz



autism, deficit view, neurodiversity, pathologization


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. 


Additional Files