“By talking about it we can make it a positive thing”: Autistic people negotiating identity and understanding in discursive contexts
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Broderick and Ne’eman write that in the early 2000s autism took hold of “the public imagination internationally” becoming a “popular cultural obsession” (2008:462). Autistic people are discursively constituted within this cultural context. My goal in this research has been to better understand the dominant and counter discourses constituting autism, how young autistic people themselves embody discursive locations throughout their lives, and how they negotiate the intelligibility of their subject positions. Previous research has looked at how autistic people negotiate diagnoses, whether they feel understood, the discursive positions they embody, and how discourse constitutes their subjectivities. Using a qualitative exploratory research design, I conducted semi-structured interviews with four individuals, ages 22, 23, 23, and 26, who identified as having been labelled as autistic at some point in their life, either by themselves through a self-diagnosis or by a medical professional. I employed thematic analysis and emerging themes were: Diagnosis, Intelligibility, Terminology, Medicalization, Identity, Life Course, and Internalizing Responsibility. This research is significant in its contribution to representations of autistic people’s perspectives. It focuses on people in their 20s and people who do not have formal diagnoses, who have been underrepresented in research. The present research also builds on previous literature by addressing when autistic people lack language to talk about oppression, how they internalize responsibility for social interactions, and their reflections on their futures.