Cognitive difference in a postmodern world : Asperger's, autism, stigma, and diagnosis




Gates, Gordon

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Asperger’s was eliminated as a distinct diagnosis in the DSM-5. While controversy lingers over the assimilation of Asperger’s into autism spectrum disorder, my study explores the experience of stigma through interviews with four adults with Asperger’s and two with high functioning autism. I examine the phenomenology of autistic stigma, stigma management, and how stigma is impacted by diagnosis. The results provide an understanding of stigma as it is experienced by individuals who, in the words of one participant, suffer from a “relationship disability.” The term ASHFA evolves during the write-up to become more than an acronym for Asperger’s/high functioning autism; it comes to represent a way of being present in the world that transcends diagnosis. A relational methodology derived from Gadamer’s hermeneutics and Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology provides a philosophical framework for the project and also guides ethical engagement during the study. Methods used in the data analysis are drawn from constructivist grounded theory. The report itself may contain clues into ASHFA because I, the organizing participant, am also diagnosed with Asperger’s. I attempt to make sense of the paradoxical conclusion that diagnosis can provide a therapeutic explanation for autistic difference even as medicalization disempowers us as a validating narrative



Asperger's, autism, stigma, diagnosis, hermeneutical phenomenology, constructivist grounded theory, authentic presence, Merleau-Ponty, Gadamer, DSM-5