Bioethics Blogs

Conceptualizing Autism Around the Globe — A special issue of Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry by Aaron Seaman

The current issue of Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry is a special issue, edited by M. Ariel Cascio and entitled “Conceptualizing Autism Around the Globe“. Along with six original articles, the issue is framed by an introduction by Cascio, “Cross-Cultural Autism Studies, Neurodiversity, and Conceptualizations of Autism“, and a closing commentary by Roy Richard Grinker, “Reframing the Science and Anthropology of Autism“. As Grinker writes, pointing toward the importance of a comparative approach to studying autism:

The concept of culture in autism research is…useful not just for characterizing a community’s system of meanings that influence how autism is identified, managed, experienced, etc., but for showing that those meanings are constructed and can therefore be changed. In an earlier volume on autism, published in Ethos, Nancy Bagatell (2010) describes the recent emergence of autistic communities and autistic identities as both a rejection of biomedical and deficit model, and as a new form of sociality made possible by historical conditions. In Silicon Valley, for example, autism is increasingly less stigmatized and more valued as employers begin to associate autism with the cognitive skills necessary for innovation in high technology. Bagatell (2010: 51) writes, “It is evident that as society is transformed by technology, the nature of human sociality may be scaffolded and transformed in ways that come to mirror an autistic sociality and thus reframe the disabling properties of autism itself in more positive terms.” … Cultural practices thus can shape the experience of autism, and autism can in turn shape cultural practices. …All of these authors focus on what people with autism can do, rather than what they cannot do, or what might have been; and they equally focus on what societies can do to change the lives of people with autism.

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