Legault, M. , Bourdon, J. and Poirier, P. (2019) Neurocognitive Variety in Neurotypical Environments: The Source of “Deficit” in Autism. Journal of Behavioral and Brain Science, 9, 246-272. doi: 10.4236/jbbs.2019.96019.


As recent developments in autism research offer alternative explanations to the mainstream options, it can now be argued that the so-called cognitive deficits in the social domain associated with autism have been mischaracterized or, at least, oversimplified. We will use predictive models within a 4E (i.e., embodied, embedded, enactive and extended) conception of cognition to address the question of cognitive impairment in psychiatrics and autism. Such models force us to reassess what “cognitive deficit” means by integrating the environment not only in its usual sense (evo-developmental), but by understanding all cognitive performances as embedded in environments (or fields of affordances) that shape and sustain them. By adopting a predictive 4E perspective, we aim to show that the “cognitive deficits” associated with autism are in fact mismatches between environmental resources and the particular form of neurological functioning of autistic people (neurodiversity), brought about by the fact that the cultural niches that set up the relevant fields of affordances are structured by and for neurotypicals. This mismatch leads to epistemic injustices, both testimonial and hermeneutic, that feed back into research on autism and clinical approaches, thereby making the “deficits” appear based on individual shortcomings. In this context, autism interventions should partly focus on the development of social policies aimed at modifying those aspects of cultural niches that make environments unsuitable for the full development of all individuals.