“I’m Not Sure I Even Know”: Therapists’ Tentative Constructions of Autism

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Jessica Nina Lester
Trena M. Paulus


discursive psychology, discourse analysis, constructions of autism


Autism has historically been constructed within and through biomedical discourses and practices. Therapeutic interventions have focused on “treating” and “curing” the individual diagnosed with autism, with therapists positioned as the “experts.” In this paper, we report findings from a discourse analysis informed by discursive psychology of eight interviews with therapists of children with autism labels. While the therapists were frequently positioned as “experts” with presumed “stocks of knowledge,” they were reluctant to definitively name autism as something with clearly defined characteristics, thereby making evident the shifting nature of knowledge surrounding what autism “really is.” We discuss implications for practitioners and others, as well as point to the importance of engaging in social constructionist studies of the discourses surrounding autism. 

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