Employing Niche Construction to Clarify Ethical Responsibilities in Cases of Autism Spectrum Disorders
Objectives: The objective of this study is to assess the prospects for employing the model of niche construction to clarify the interconnections between impaired functioning and the (un)supportive environment and thereby to clarify the nature of ethical responsibilities in cases of ASD.
Methods: This study employs research methods that are both theoretical and data-driven. The theoretical methods involve conceptual analysis of claims regarding “functioning,” in light of the inferential implications of competing models. The data come from recent studies showing the effects of “scaffolding” behavioral niches on cognitive performance (in neurotypicals and autistics).
Results: From both an explanatory and an ethical perspective, the key result of this study is that the model of “niche construction” is better able to accommodate the agency of individuals in their ongoing and dynamic shaping of their environmental affordances. This helps to clarify the nature of ethical responsibilities in cases of ASD in a way that previous models (such as the “social model of disability” or radical forms of relativism) have not been able to do, in particular by integrating agentic and situational aspects of an individual’s ability to meet context specific demands for social communication and social interaction.
Conclusions: These results also serve to help orient new empirical and theoretical research in autism into the ways in which individuals with autism and caregivers intentionally or unconsciously construct the niches in which they must function.
Anderson, J., & Philips, J. (Eds.). (2012). Disability and Universal Human Rights: Legal, Ethical, and Conceptual Implications of the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities. Utrecht: Netherlands Institute of Human Rights.
Clark, A. (2008). Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
Hellendoorn, A. (2014). Understanding Social Engagement in Autism: Being Different in Perceiving and Sharing Affordances. Front Psychol, 5, 850.
Sterelny, K. (2007). Social intelligence, human intelligence and niche construction. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 362(1480), 719-730.