Autism: disorder or identity? An argument in favor of a new understanding of autism
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Autism is a diagnosis described in the DSM-5, the diagnostic handbook of psychiatrists, with symptoms mostly in the fields of social communication and behavior. Nevertheless, there are people who strongly disagree with autism understood as a psychiatric disorder and claim that autism should be seen as an identity. The consequences of defining autism as a disorder or as an identity have an effect on the probability that someone receives medical care and on the level of stigmatization a person experiences. These two prominent explanations of how we should understand autism, as a disorder or as an identity, seem to be mutually exclusive. I will argue that it is possible to conceptualize autism as simultaneously a disorder and an identity. I will first explain the purpose of the search for a new understanding of autism by introducing the ameliorative approach for conceptual analysis by Sally Haslanger. Following a moral analysis of the two main ways to understand autism, I will provide an in-depth investigation of the concept of psychiatric disorder in order to decide whether autism belongs to this category. Finally, I will conclude that autism should be understood as simultaneously a disorder and an identity. This new understanding will result in a decrease in the stigmatization of people with autism, without taking away the beneficial medical aspects.