Symposium: What is autism?

15th of December 2016.

Stadscampus of the University of Antwerp.

The Centre for Ethics of the University of Antwerp, together with Autism Ethics Network, is organizing a half-day symposium in which we will discuss some of these questions, on the basis of two papers presented by Marie Deserno (Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam) and Andreas De Block (Insitute of Philosophy, KU Leuven).

The question ‘what is autism’ can be asked and answered on many different levels. Is autism a neurological or a psychiatric disorder? Is autism a difference or a disability or both? Is it a behaviour or the cause of behaviour? How is it related to other conditions? Is it one phenomenon, or several related phenomena?


Marie Deserno, speaking on the topic of Multicausal systems ask for multicausal approaches: a network perspective on ASD

In the contemporary diagnostic process for psychiatric disorders, behaviors, relational or emotional difficulties and personal experiences are seen as indicators of a particular underlying disorder. For example, specific neurodevelopmental mechanisms are believed to cause, sustain and explain repetitive behavior and deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, i.e. core autistic symptoms. There is good evidence, however, that ASD is genetically, cognitively and neurally heterogeneous and that ASD-related phenomena are fractionable and symptoms do not necessarily proceed from the same cause. A number of researchers have promoted the value of viewing psychiatric problems and mental disorders from a network perspective to psychopathology. Here, disorders are conceptualized in terms of systems of interacting factors, which may involve variables classically viewed as “symptoms”.  In this talk, I will explore what this novel psychometric paradigm has to offer for ASD research.

Andreas De Block, speaking on the topic of Mere difference and autistic identity

One of the central issues in philosophy of medicine is to explore whether it is possible to distinguish between a normal variant and an abnormal variant of a trait. In this talk, I will explore how the ‘mere difference view’ of autism/ASD is connected to views on identity and identitification of people with autism/ASD.

Preliminary agenda

14:00-15:00: Marie Deserno, Multicausal systems ask for multicausal approaches: a network perspective on ASD

15:00-16:00: Andreas De Block, Mere difference and autistic identity

16:00-17:00: Discussion

Attendance is free, but please register, either by sending an email to or by filling out the form on






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