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Document Type

Feature Article

Publication Date

Spring 5-1-2009

Publication Title

Washington University Undergraduate Research Digest: WUURD 4(2)


Peer Editor: Danille Wallis; Faculty Mentor: Rebecca Lester

This project takes an anthropological approach to autism spectrum disorders (ASD) by interrogating the historical and cultural context of ASD within families. It draws from research conducted over summer and fall of 2008 within support groups for parents of children with ASD. It addresses three main philosophies that see ASD as (1) a disability to be treated; (2) a disease to be cured; or (3) a positive “neuro-variation” to be embraced and treated only in ways that assist, not change, the individual. This thesis analyzes the presence of these philosophies in the discourse of parents in support groups, and professionals in the St. Louis field of autism. I find all three are present and often co-existing within one informant’s descriptions. Informed by these approaches, this project looks at the affect of ASD on constructions of American families. I find that ASD challenges expectations of childhood, while simultaneously emphasizing expectations of motherhood and writing out expectations of fatherhood. This work aims to de-naturalize assumptions regarding medicine and family, put different viewpoints in conversation, and serves as a pilot study for further research. These three goals ultimately may lead to new avenues of research for ASD theory and practice.

From the Washington University Undergraduate Research Digest: WUURD, Volume 4, Issue 2, Spring 2009. Published by the Office of Undergraduate Research.

Henry Biggs, Director of Undergraduate Research and Associate Dean in the College of Arts & Sciences; Joy Zalis Kiefer, Undergraduate Research Coordinator, Co-editor, and Assistant Dean in the College of Arts & Sciences; Kristin Sobotka, Editor.


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