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Autistic Intelligence

Interaction, Individuality, and the Challenges of Diagnosis

Autistic Intelligence

Interaction, Individuality, and the Challenges of Diagnosis

An examination of diagnostic processes that questions how we can better understand autism as a category and the unique forms of intelligence it glosses.
As autism has grown in prevalence, so too have our attempts to make sense of it. From placing unfounded blame on vaccines to seeking a genetic cause, Americans have struggled to understand what autism is and where it comes from. Amidst these efforts, however, a key aspect of autism has been largely overlooked: the diagnostic process itself. That process is the central focus of Autistic Intelligence. The authors ask us to question the norms by which we measure autistic behavior, to probe how that behavior can be considered sensible rather than disordered, and to explore how we can better appreciate the individuality of those who receive the diagnosis.
Drawing on hundreds of hours of video recordings and ethnographic observations at a clinic where professionals evaluated children for autism, the authors’ analysis of interactions among clinicians, parents, and children demystifies the categories, tools, and practices involved in the diagnostic process. Autistic Intelligence shows that autism is not a stable category; it is the outcome of complex interactional processes involving professionals, children, families, and facets of the social and clinical environments they inhabit. The authors suggest that diagnosis, in addition to carefully classifying children, also can highlight or include unique and particular contributions those with autism potentially can make to the world around us.

280 pages | 22 halftones, 1 line drawings, 1 tables | 6 x 9

Disability Studies

History of Science

Sociology: Medical Sociology, Occupations, Professions, Work


“A creative and original ethnographic study of a clinic at which developmental disabilities are diagnosed. Maynard and Turowetz introduce new analytical tools to understand the nature and varieties of autistic intelligence.”

Mitchell Duneier, Princeton University

"An authoritative challenge to conventional public and expert orientations toward autism, this is an ethnography about meaning-making that is brilliant in its own way.”

Harvey Molotch, New York University

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Common Sense and the Interaction Order of the Clinic
Chapter 2: A Brief History and Biology of Autism Diagnosis: Why We Need an Interactional Approach
Chapter 3: An Interactional Entrance to Autism Diagnosis
Chapter 4: Autistic Intelligence as Uncommon Sense
Chapter 5: Varieties of Autistic Intelligence
Chapter 6: Doing Diagnosis: Narrative Structure
Chapter 7: Is Autism Real?
Chapter 8: Interaction and the Particular Autistic Person

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