In Pursuit of Truth and Care: Discourses of Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis Among Psychologists in Ontario

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Mann, Olivia

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University of Guelph


In the last half-century, members of the medical community have sought to establish a more valid method of diagnosing autism spectrum disorder (ASD). I argue that these methods, which have come to be predominantly rooted in a reductionist biomedical framework, obscure how ASD and its related experiences are necessarily mediated by social circumstance. Applying a social constructionist lens to the issue of ASD diagnosis, this thesis elucidates the discursive construction of ASD and its diagnosis in eight semi-structured interviews with Ontario-based psychologists who diagnose ASD. I demonstrate that psychologists’ talk about ASD diagnosis shifts around the notion of clinical impairment. Diagnosis is, on the one hand, a hypothetico-deductive process that is concerned with the accurate determination of an innate and discrete ASD and, on the other, an act of care concerned in which ASD is a diffuse and pragmatic label. I argue that while the variability in psychologists’ talk legitimizes diagnosis at the limits of biomedical discourse, ASD is ultimately constructed as a deficit.



Autism Spectrum Disorder, diagnosis, psychologists, Ontario