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Autistic Intelligence

Interaction, Individuality, and the Challenges of Diagnosis

Autistic Intelligence

Interaction, Individuality, and the Challenges of Diagnosis

Examines the diagnostic process to question how we understand autism as a category and to better recognize its intelligence and uncommon sense.

As autism has become a widely prevalent diagnosis, we have grown increasingly desperate to understand it. Whether by placing baseless blame on vaccinations or seeking a genetic cause, Americans have struggled to understand what autism is and where it comes from. In Autistic Intelligence, Douglas W. Maynard and Jason Turowetz focus on a different origin of autism: the diagnostic process. By looking at how autism is diagnosed, they ask us to question the norms we use to measure autistic behavior against, why we understand autistic behavior as disordered, and how we go about assigning that disorder to particular people.

To do so, the authors take a close look at a clinic in which children are assessed for and diagnosed with autism. Their research draws on hours observing assessment evaluations among psychologists, pediatricians, parents, and children in order to make plain the systems, language, and categories that clinicians rely upon when making their assessments. Those diagnostic tools determine the kind of information doctors can gather about children, and indeed, those assessments affect how children act. Autistic Intelligence shows that autism is not a stable category, but the result of an interpretive act, and in the process of diagnosing children with autism, we often miss all of the unique contributions they make to the world around them.

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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