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Attitudes toward developmental disability (including intellectual disability, autism, and other conditions affecting development) underpin the treatment people receive in society.

Typically-developing people may view people with developmental disabilities as childlike, unpredictable, or subhuman. They may dehumanize them or see them as burdens.


People with developmental disabilities are frequently infantilized.

People with developmental disabilities may be denied basic rights or equal treatment because they are viewed as too immature to deserve it.


"Could it be that so few people see autistic children as “innocent”?  Could it be that autistic children are stigmatized with words like “unemotional,” “lacking in empathy,” and “inhuman,” language that makes it nearly impossible to see the children as the actual living, breathing, whole human beings they are?" - Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg[1]

Dehumanization is a common problem for many people with developmental disabilities. This may be blatant or subtle (e.g. denying agency).[2]

Dehumanization of autistic people is common.[3] They may be seen as animalistic or machine-like.[2]

View as burden[]

The notion that disabled people are burdensome is sometimes used to justify murder.[1]


Some people see people with intellectual disability as unpredictable and even potentially violent or dangerous. This may be due to a lack of education and/or empathy.

Angels or demons[]

People with developmental disabilities may not be seen as complex people. They may not even be treated as moral agents. This often ties heavily into infantilization and it separates them from other human beings.

Angelic stereotypes[]

"The word “angel” sneaks by because it’s such a positive word, but it frames people with Down syndrome as an “other” – they are not like everyone else.... Angels don’t have civil rights. Angels don’t receive fair pay for work." Meriah Nichols[4]

Some people view people with developmental disabilities as sweet, innocent, and unusually happy.

They may view such people as incapable of sin (due to a perception that they don't know the difference between right and wrong).

People with Down syndrome have often been compared to angels,[4] including in the 1953 book "Angel Unaware," written from the perspective of a short-lived baby with Down syndrome returning to heaven.[5]


Some people view people with developmental disabilities (especially autism[6]) as evil, violent, or unpredictable.

See also[]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Cohen-Rottenberg, Rachel. Disabilism and the Demonization of Autistic Children, Shift
  2. 2.0 2.1 Kim SY, Cheon JE, Kim YH. A Cross-Cultural Examination of Blatant and Subtle Dehumanization of Autistic People. J Autism Dev Disord. 2024 Jan 13. doi: 10.1007/s10803-023-06217-x. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 38217799.
  3. Cage E, Di Monaco J, Newell V. Understanding, attitudes and dehumanisation towards autistic people. Autism. 2019 Aug;23(6):1373-1383. doi: 10.1177/1362361318811290. Epub 2018 Nov 21. PMID: 30463431.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Nichols, Meriah. That Down Syndrome Angel!, Meriah Nichols
  5. Herman, Ellen. DALE EVANS ROGERS, ANGEL UNAWARE, 1953, The Autism History Project
  6. Neff, Megan. Autism Narratives vs. Autistic Stories, Neurodivergent Insights