Edge Hill University Critical Autism Studies

Highly Recommended – A long needed contemporary approach to autism which sits perfectly with the move towards autism positive support. Actively supports recruiting autistic people as well.

This taught Masters degree provides you with specialist training in critical autism studies within an interdisciplinary department. You will gain a range of perspectives on autism in order to appreciate the ways in which discourses of autism shape autistic people’s lived experiences. Tracing the development of autism interventions and engaging with contemporary debates in policy and practice, you will develop critical study skills, receive training in social science research methodologies and deliver a substantial research project. An optional international field trip enables you to gain an international perspective and outlook, with an additional opportunity to apply your knowledge and understanding in a work setting. The programme is suitable for professionals, teachers, support workers, recent graduates and those working with autistic people. We particularly welcome applications from ‘experts by experience’, including those with autism, as well as family members or carers of those with autistic spectrum conditions.

See the Courses tab at the top of the page for full details.

On the ontological status of Autism


Much of autism research conducted since it was first identified in the early 20th century has largely been neurotypical observations about how autistic people are assumed to differ physiologically, psychologically or cognitively. The autistic person usually had little or no participation other than the ‘research object’ of the neurotypical ‘expert’. Chown (2014) states, “There are no public criteria of an autistic ontological state to assist the non-autistic to understand the autistic. Arguably, it is those public criteria of a non-autistic state that enable many autistic people to eventually develop the understanding of other (non-autistic) minds that, in turn, enables them to survive, and even thrive, in a hostile world.” (2014.P.1675) Jennifer Sarrett describes an autism-based model, “built on a foundation of dependence, individuality, and valuing human diversity, allowing for the inclusion of the entire sphere of cognitive, intellectual, physical, and psychiatric traits within the human condition.” (2012)  Autistic people have had their natural responses to unacceptable or problematic environments or support deemed ‘challenging behaviour’ for decades without acknowledgment of the part played by exterior factors. Chronic lack of funding to the Health and Wellbeing sector, based on austerity and neoliberal economic ideology has had appalling impact on the lives of millions of people.

Damian Milton applies Young’s ‘Five faces of Oppression’ to point out that autistic people, “…are some of the most marginalised in society, historically depicted as embodying ‘deficits’ in their social being, incapable of full socialisation and personhood.” (Milton 2014. P.1405) Sarrett states, “Human rights is presumed to be shielded from considerations of social worthiness as well as social or civil rights.” (ibid) This is widely apparent within the support offered to autistic people within our current society. Our ‘value’ has to be demonstrated by the level we are able to “function” within society, neoliberalism to the core. Our worth is based upon comparability with non-disabled or neuro-common counterparts. Pitonyak states that we, “need not forget the person’s problem behaviors, but we must understand that people have gifts and capacities that eclipse our labels (or, as Herb Lovett has said, our “clinical accusations.”)” (2005.P5.)

The Neurodiversity Reader

The Neurodiversity Reader collection brings together work from pioneering figures within and beyond the neurodiversity movement to critically explore its associated concepts and how they might be translated into practice.

The Neurodiversity Reader collection brings together work from pioneering figures within and beyond the neurodiversity movement to critically explore its associated concepts and how they might be translated into practice. The concept of neurodiversity can be traced to the late 1990s and the work of the autistic Australian sociologist Judy Singer (1998), with its origins within the autistic rights movement that had begun in earnest some years prior to that. In the 20 years since the inception of the concept, a strong international movement championing the civil rights of those deemed ‘neurodivergent’ from idealised norms has grown, rallying behind the slogan ‘Nothing about us without us’. Alongside this political movement has been an increasing academic interest in the concept of neurodiversity and how such ideas can relate to practice and service provision.

This collection will explore the history of the movement, the concepts that have shaped it, and where the future might lead to. Through a variety of accounts, the relevance and criticisms of these concepts in understanding ourselves and one another will be examined, as well as implications for practice.

Declaration of interest: I wrote Chapter 12.

“Congratulations! You have won this item. Check out now.”

The commissioning of Autism Support Services.

I remember feeling really quite elated when I ‘won’ a pooper scooper on a very well know internet auction site. I had carefully read the description that came with it and the reviews it received on how it behaved in action and decided that I wanted it. Not only that, but I finally got it quite a bit cheaper than I was prepared to pay and thought, “Result!” I took possession of the said item and despite it taking some getting used to initially, I have become quite attached to it. I appreciate there will come a point when it will have outlived its usefulness and will be discarded but don’t give it much thought to be honest. We all have an item like that, an inanimate object we have bid on or purchased ‘on the cheap’ and we know we should have invested more and does it really matter if the environment we brought it into didn’t suit the item? It’ll do. Let’s face it, it’s not like it is important or anything, not like say…a person.

But this happens to human beings on a daily basis across the UK via the service commissioning process. Autistic and other disabled peoples’ care or support is auctioned off on dedicated internet portals, with streams of emails with nameless, genderless individuals, reduced to a list of “challenging behaviours” or vague likes or dislikes. E.g. “Person 1 likes reading.” Potential service providers then read these bleak biographical documents and look at how much the Local Authority or Health Commissioner is prepared to pay and a decision is made as to whether to bid or not. Data protection will be cited to protect the identity of the person in question – or the auction item. The official position will be that it is the organisation tendering for the service that is being judged, but it is still a human being who has been reduced to an item, a thing, an object and their life and existence effectively placed ‘up for sale’. The modern equivalent of a livestock auction.

Charity Sector organisations, starved of funding are often placed in the invidious position of wanting to offer support but it not being financially viable so do not apply; money before people. Can, or more importantly, should, any life truly be reduced to such an inhuman and formulaic process? The answer would appear to be yes when it is a disabled or vulnerable person. Life changing decisions are made every day based on financial implications and a commissioning process that frequently looks to the cheapest option rather than the best resolution for the individual. People for whom, constant, secure care and support is the best option for them have been moved from these (arguably) ‘safe spaces’ and dropped into the community without appropriate frameworks being in place. The damage that can be caused by this is immeasurable but would appear to rarely be factored into decisions and one is left to wonder, whatever happened to ‘no voice unheard, no right ignored’?

Neurodiversity Acceptance

We believe in a contemporary approach to autism which views our cognitive differences as natural human differences

‘Nothing about us without us!’

The term ‘neurodiversity’ and the neurodiversity movement have become synonymous with the Autism Rights Movement, but it is primarily a focus on neural and cognitive difference. As opposed to being an exclusively autism-focused approach championed by the Autism Rights Movement, it also includes people with diagnoses such as ADHD, dyslexia and bipolar disorder. The central theme is that, rather than being a disorder, these ‘ways of being’ are simply a natural part of human diversity. This does not deny the struggle that many people face, it never has, although it has been misconstrued or misunderstood that this is the case. It is an inclusive and liberating agenda that seeks to benefit everybody. The continued prominence of arguments and theories that view autistic cognitive processes as disordered or a biogenetic puzzle only serve to further alienate, disenfranchise and marginalise us.

Different not Disordered