AUTISM AND THE PERPETUAL PUZZLE: A RHETORICAL ANALYSIS OF THREE EXPLANATIONS FOR AUTISM
Jodlowski, Denise M.
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Autism awareness has increased in recent years in part because it is marked by confusion and controversy. The confusion and controversy stem from the fact that there are many beliefs about autism but little agreement. In this dissertation I examined the rhetoric produced by three primary groups?professional autism experts, caregivers to children with autism and mainstream media. In particular, I studied how each group explains autism. Explanations are vehicles for persuasion; they advance particular viewpoints about an illness. I conducted a rhetorical analysis of the three discourses produced by these groups, highlighting the most cohesive themes to emerge from the discourse. To study professional autism experts? explanations, I analyzed articles in autism?s flagship research journal and research articles from other journals and key books for additional insight. A computer metaphor guided expert explanations of autism. To define autism through one of most advanced and culturally accepted technological devices lent significant credibility to the explanations. Next, I studied the caregiver explanations, first conducting interviews with 19 parents to children with autism and then I analyzed the transcripts. Caregivers described autism as a social pathology; their children with autism were different and distant, or alien-like. The pathology affected people with autism, their caregivers and their families, many other neuro-typical people, and it also determined the course of treatment for the person with autism. Finally, mainstream media often explained autism in terms of its conflicts, framing its explanations of autism with a war metaphor. The vaccine debate received a significant attention, recharacterizing the role of medical institutions and health practitioners. Caregivers became the heroes, using their personal experiences as weapons against healthcare practitioners and their science. Caregivers also dealt with the invasion of autism, struggling for ways to return their children closer to the boundary that exists between the child with autism and the neuro-typical child.