Thesis

Enabling autistic sociality: unrealised potentials in two-sided social interaction

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Abstract

Research on autism, which is defined as a life-long developmental disability affecting social interaction, has focussed predominantly on how autistic individuals perceive and interact with others with less emphasis on the perspectives of their interactional partners. Yet autistic viewpoints have highlighted how other people are part of a two-way breakdown in interaction originating from differences between people rather than the deficit of any one individual, a phenomenon known as the double empathy problem. A gap therefore exists in the literature in terms of understanding how autistic sociality (i.e. the range of social opportunities possible for a given individual on the spectrum) is shaped by different interactional partners. This thesis examines the double empathy problem in three interactional contexts. Study 1 examines relationships between autistic people and their family members through focussing on perspective-taking, the ability to impute mental states to others. In light of prior research where autistic abilities have been assessed using abstract scenarios, Study 1 implements a two-way measure of perspective-taking which considers both sides of 22 real-life relationships (n=44) consisting of autistic adults and their family members, to understand how autistic people are seen by familiar others as well as vice versa. It uses a mixed-methods approach, where members of each dyad were individually asked about 12 topics, providing quantitative scores and qualitative explanation of their rating of Self, their rating of their partner, and their predicted rating by their partner. Comparison of perspectives provided a means for detecting misunderstandings and their underlying rationale. The contribution of Study 1 is that it shows perspective-taking is two-sided: family members can be biased in underestimating the perspective-taking of their autistic relatives, while autistic adults are aware of being negatively viewed despite disagreeing with such views. Study 2 examines interactions between autistic adults (n=30) partaking in a naturally occurring activity of video-gaming at a charity. It is a qualitative study using participant observation, with each conversational turn systematically rated in terms of coherence, affect and symmetry to identify the key features of neurodivergent intersubjectivity, the process through which autistic people build shared understanding in their own non-normative ways. The contribution of Study 2 is to identify two forms of neurodivergent intersubjectivity which enable shared understanding to be achieved, but which have traditionally been viewed as undesirable from a normative social viewpoint: a generous assumption of common ground that, when understood, lead to rapid rapport, and, when not understood, resulted in potentially disruptive utterances; and a low demand for coordination that ameliorated many challenges associated with disruptive turns. Study 3 examines interactions involving lay people (n=256) who believe they are interacting with an autistic partner through an online collaborative game, when in fact they are playing with an intelligent virtual agent (IVA) who behaves the same way for all participants. Its contribution is methodological as it develops a new application for simulating interactions in experimental research called Dyad3D. Study 3 uses Dyad3D to explore how disclosure of an autism diagnosis by the IVA affects social perception and social behaviour in comparison to a disclosure of dyslexia and a condition where there is no diagnostic disclosure. Combined with a post-game questionnaire, Study 3 triangulates self-reported (quantitative rating scales and qualitative explanation) and behavioural measures (quantitative scores of actions within the game) to understand the interplay of positive and negative discrimination elicited through using the label of autism. It highlights that diagnostic disclosure of autism leads to significant positive bias in social perception when compared to a disclosure of dyslexia or a no disclosure condition; yet participants are not as helpful towards the autistic IVA as they think they are, indicating a potential bias in helping behaviour. The thesis takes an abductive methodological approach which integrates with a wider call for a more participatory model of research in the study of autism. Abduction is a form of reasoning which involves the iterative development of a hypothesis that holds the best explanatory scope for the underlying phenomena observed. It is inherently aligned with a participatory model of research because abduction involves the ongoing exploration of ideas that may originate from multiple sources (i.e. interactions with autistic people as well as research outputs). Taking a more holistic approach to the development of knowledge with autistic people which recognises the legitimacy of different claims to knowledge is important, because prior research in the field has often failed to critically reflect on researcherparticipant positionality and the principals underlying the development of research agenda. For this reason, the thesis details the participatory activities which surround and interconnect with the development of the three empirical studies. Overall the thesis contributes to understanding autistic sociality as a dynamic, interactionally shaped process. It reasons that autistic people have unrealised social potential, both in terms of imagining other perspectives (Study 1) and coordinating with others (Study 2). However, such social potential may not be easily recognised by other non-autistic people who may be biased in their assumptions about autism (Study 1 and Study 3). Consequently, the evidence presented in this thesis helps to explain some of the processes that underscore the double empathy problems reported in literature, including poor mental health (because autistic people are aware that they are misunderstood by others, see Study 1), employment prospects (because autistic social potential is under-recognised by others, see Study 1 and 3), and quality of life (because neurotypical standards of communication are not compatible with neurodivergent forms of intersubjectivity, see Study 2). The thesis therefore makes suggestions for how we design enabling environments which are sensitive to the dynamic factors that can enable autistic sociality to flourish.

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Chapter
The aim of this chapter is to understand how the imagination of the self is mediated by cultural technologies, showing how major new inventions (such as language, writing, digitization) qualitatively change the ways in which we imagine ourselves. First, the authors look at how technology can support cognition in general and imagination specifically, examining traditional technologies such as narrative (stories, novels, and films), which have long facilitated humans’ imagination of themselves and others. Second, the authors explore how digital technologies, especially online avatars, are used to open up spaces for imagining alternative lives and virtual selves. Finally, the authors focus on future possibilities for moving human imagination out of fixed narratives and off the screen into dynamic real-world avatars and cyborg bodies. They argue that cultural technologies are becoming increasingly powerful, enabling humans not only to imagine diverse potential selves but also to institute these potential selves in practice.
Chapter
This introductory chapter presents the goals, scope, and organization of the Handbook. The main goals are to bring back imagination from the frontiers of psychology to its center and to show the fundamental role that imagination plays in individual lives and in society. The chapter opens with a series of examples of daily imagination, suggesting the centrality of this cultural phenomenon. It then presents the paradox of bringing together "imagination"-often thought as inner and individual, and "culture"-often thought as external and collective. Here, the authors propose a sociocultural psychology that considers these phenomena as mutually constitutive. The chapter presents the four epistemological assumptions of the approach and sketches the contributions of other disciplines that at least partially share these assumptions. On this basis, a first definition of imagination is proposed. Finally, the structure of the book is presented.
Article
Progress in psychological science can be limited by a number of factors, not least of which are the starting assumptions of scientists themselves. We believe that some influential accounts of autism rest on a questionable assumption that many of its behavioral characteristics indicate a lack of social interest—an assumption that is flatly contradicted by the testimony of many autistic people themselves. In this paper, we challenge this assumption by describing alternative explanations for four such behaviors: (a) low levels of eye contact, (b) infrequent pointing, (c) motor stereotypies, and (d) echolalia. The assumption that autistic people's unusual behaviors indicate diminished social motivation has had profound and often negative effects on the ways they are studied and treated. We argue that understanding and supporting autistic individuals will require interrogating this assumption, taking autistic testimony seriously, considering alternative explanations for unusual behaviors, and investigating unconventional—even idiosyncratic—ways that autistic individuals may express their social interest. These steps are crucial, we believe, for creating a more accurate, humane, and useful science of autism.
Book
Dialogue has become a central theoretical concept in human and social sciences as well as in professions such as education, health, and psychotherapy. This ‘dialogical turn’ emphasises the importance of social relations and interaction to our behaviour and how we make sense of the world; hence the dialogical mind is the mind in interaction with others - with individuals, groups, institutions, and cultures in historical perspectives. Through a combination of rigorous theoretical work and empirical investigation, Marková presents an ethics of dialogicality as an alternative to the narrow perspective of individualism and cognitivism that has traditionally dominated the field of social psychology. The dialogical perspective, which focuses on interdependencies among the Self and Others, offers a powerful theoretical basis to comprehend, analyse, and discuss complex social issues. Marková considers the implications of dialogical epistemology both in daily life and in professional practices involving problems of communication, care, and therapy.
Article
Access to justice is a key theme in the family justice system, especially for those with particular vulnerabilities. Autism, a development condition characterised by difficulties in social communication and interaction, and the presence of rigid, repetitive behaviours, presents particular challenges in this area. This paper reports the findings of a mixed-methods study with legal professionals working in the family justice system, asking about their knowledge of autism, their perceived self-efficacy when working with autistic clients, and their experience of cases involving autistic litigants. The study reports high levels of knowledge, but low levels of confidence, by legal professionals (N = 204), and addresses the experiences of particular cases in follow-up discussions (N = 10). The paper concludes by making a series of recommendations for legal professionals to assist autistic people to engage fully in family court proceedings.
Article
There is a high incidence and prevalence of mental health problems among young people, with several barriers to help-seeking noted in this group. High rates of mental health problems have also been reported in children and adults on the autism spectrum. Taken together, young autistic people may be a particularly vulnerable group when it comes to mental health. Yet, there has been remarkably little work on the mental health needs and experiences of young autistic adults (16–25 years). Adopting a community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach – in which academic researchers and young autistic adults collaborated in an equitable research partnership – we explored young autistic people’s experiences of mental health problems and their perspectives on the support they sought, if any, for these problems. A total of 130 young autistic adults took part in the research: 109 completed an online survey and 21 took part in detailed interviews. The results highlight how young autistic people find it difficult to evaluate their mental health, experience high levels of stigma and often face severe obstacles when trying to access mental health support. The findings also demonstrate how listening to – and learning from – young autistic people is crucial in ensuring that their mental health needs are met.
Article
Social cognitive impairments in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are well-documented, yet little research has examined whether ASD is also characterized by difficulties in meta-perception, or the ability to gauge how one is perceived. In this study, ASD and TD adults (N = 22) largely did not differ on the self-perception of their personality traits or on how they expected to be perceived by unfamiliar observers. However adults with ASD were rated less favorably by TD observers (N = 412) on 19 out of 20 personality items, and adults with ASD were less accurate at predicting how they would be perceived. These findings suggest impaired meta-perception in ASD that may serve as a potential mechanism through which reduced social cognitive ability contributes to social impairment.
Article
A practical consideration for many intellectually able adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is whether to disclose their diagnostic status or try to mask their autistic characteristics to avoid judgment and discrimination. Here, we assessed first impressions of adults with ASD and typically developing controls ( N = 40) made by typically developing observers ( N = 215) when their diagnostic status was either withheld, accurately provided, or inaccurately provided. First impressions were less favorable for ASD participants compared to typically developing controls across a range of judgments, but were significantly more positive when accurately labeled as ASD compared to when no label was provided, when mislabeled as typically developing, or when mislabeled as having schizophrenia. For typically developing participants, ratings did not change when accurately labeled but improved when mislabeled as ASD. Greater autistic traits for the ASD and typically developing participants were associated with less favorable first impressions, and females were rated more favorably than males. Autism knowledge of the raters, but not age, IQ, or autistic traits, was positively associated with more favorable impressions of ASD participants. Collectively, these findings suggest that first impressions for intellectually able adults with ASD improve with diagnostic disclosure and increased autism understanding on the part of peers.
Article
In this essay Walter Okshevsky addresses the question of whether a certain form of dialogically derived agreement can function as an epistemic (universal and necessary) criterion of moral judgment and ground of moral authority. Okshevsky examines arguments for and against in the literature of educational philosophy and develops Jürgen Habermas’s affirmative answer as presented in his discourse theory of morality. Habermas’s position is articulated as a moral epistemology (“strong dialogicality”) and is developed through his critique of the “monologism” of certain aspects of Immanuel Kant’s moral theory. Okshevsky concludes with a consideration of some educational implications of Habermas’s position.
Article
Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to recognise communication as a central challenge between autistic and non-autistic individuals as the autistic voice is not silent, but lacks involvement at any level other than that of the observed participant (Milton and Bracher, 2013; NAS and Ask Autism, 2014; Parsons et al., 2009). The main research question, therefore, explores data to understand how some autistic individuals conceptualise their experiences. Design/methodology/approach: The research design, informed by autistic people, used a flexible methodology to accommodate their communication preferences. Methods contextualised autistic narratives regarding support requirements and service provision and located power within these, acknowledging autistic individuals as the expert “insider”. This is critical in tackling access to services and social barriers to inclusion impacting negatively on well-being. Visual and written data were gathered using collage and narrative diary methods, and presented and analysed as three individual case studies (anonymised as Michael, Sophie and Peter) and as a meta-analysis providing a broad picture of themes. Findings: Findings showed similarities and differences in a number of key areas, so highlighting the importance of the smaller narratives within the broad picture of autism. Originality/value: This study’s key contribution to autism research is that it blends IPA, narrative analysis and discourse analysis with distinct sites of analysis (narrative process, images of autism, audiencing, turning points and discourse). Furthermore, the flexible methodology employed facilitates inclusion of autistic voices by embracing their diverse communication preferences.
Article
Background: In the United States, adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) experience high rates of unemployment and underemployment in relation to adults with other disabilities and the general population. Yet there is little research examining their employment experiences and the predictors of employment status. Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine the employment characteristics and histories of both employed and unemployed adults with ASD, and the factors that contributed to their employment status. Methods: This cross-sectional study used an online survey and the Short Effort Reward Imbalance (ERI) Scale to gather data. Multivariate logistic regression analyses were used to examine predictors of employment status and self-reported health. Results: Of the 254 adults with ASD who participated in this study, 61.42% were employed and 38.58% were unemployed. Over half of the participants reported job imbalance on the Short ERI Scale and the vast majority did not receive any job assistance. Participants who disclosed their ASD diagnosis to their employer were more than three times as likely to be employed than those who did not disclose. Education level was also a significant predictor of employment status. Conclusions: This study suggests disability disclosure and education level are factors that contribute to employment status.
Article
Theorists have long noted the nebulousness of dyadic rapport and its nonverbal correlates. In response to Tickle-Degnen’s call for a more theoretically complete analysis of the rapport construct, we empirically evaluated her adaptation of Csíkszentmihályi’s optimal experience model with the hope of better conceptualizing rapport’s behavioral manifestations. Dyads (Ndyad = 50) engaged in two interdependent tasks and completed a battery of post-task measures gauging their mood and experiences of rapport. To complement self-report measures, we coded rapport-based behavior using both subjective (thin-slice judgments) and objective (Motion Energy Analysis) methodologies. According to Tickle-Degnen’s model, dyadic exchanges with moderate levels of expressivity and interpersonal coordination should yield the highest levels of rapport. Although data from our objective coding did not trend in this manner, subjective measurements of coordinated expressivity matched the paradigm’s prediction. To our knowledge, this is the first study to empirically support Tickle-Degnen’s hypothesis and a novel step toward clarifying the rapport construct.
Article
This study examined the extent to which gender-related social behaviors help girls with autism spectrum disorder to seemingly mask their symptoms. Using concurrent mixed methods, we examined the social behaviors of 96 elementary school children during recess (autism spectrum disorder = 24 girls and 24 boys, typically developing = 24 girls and 24 boys). Children with autism spectrum disorder had average intelligence (IQ ⩾ 70), a confirmed diagnosis, and were educated in the general education classroom. Typically developing children were matched by sex, age, and city of residence to children with autism spectrum disorder. The results indicate that the female social landscape supports the camouflage hypothesis; girls with autism spectrum disorder used compensatory behaviors, such as staying in close proximately to peers and weaving in and out of activities, which appeared to mask their social challenges. Comparatively, the male landscape made it easier to detect the social challenges of boys with autism spectrum disorder. Typically developing boys tended to play organized games; boys with autism spectrum disorder tended to play alone. The results highlight a male bias in our perception of autism spectrum disorder. If practitioners look for social isolation on the playground when identifying children with social challenges, then our findings suggest that girls with autism spectrum disorder will continue to be left unidentified.
Article
Based on Habermas' Theory of Communicative Action, this paper critiques the transparency and legitimacy of participatory scenario planning, considering a case study of scenario development for the livestock industry within Scotland. The paper considers the extent to which the case study approximates the conditions for ‘ideal speech situations’ and how these conditions could be applied more widely in participatory scenario planning. The authors explore the rationale for participatory scenario planning within the science–policy interface with critical reference to the corporate context in which scenario planning has evolved. The aim is to optimise the potential for its use in the context of socio-technical and environmental governance. Researcher co-reflections on the case study are mapped within a matrix of indices representing conditions for ideal speech situations. Further analytical categories highlight the extent to which ideal speech was approximated. Although many of the constraints on achieving ideal speech situations reflect intransigent, practical logistics of organising participatory exercises, our novel approach enables the systematic identification of some important issues and provides a conceptual framework for understanding how they interrelate that may prove useful to practitioners and theorists alike.
Chapter
For over 50 years Jürgen Habermas has pursued and developed a project which is rooted in the idea of communication. This concern, which as Habermas himself declared, expresses deeper biographical themes, has been addressed directly in The Theory of Communicative Action (TCA from now on), a two-volume book published in 1981 (English translations appeared in 1989–92). At the core of Habermas’s contribution is the idea of communication as mutual understanding, a universal human ability embedded in the structures and rules we all learn when we learn how to speak a language. As we learn to speak we learn more than language: we also learn how to communicate for reaching mutual understanding.
Chapter
Since the release of the first edition of this book, much has changed in the field. The title of this chapter, while seemingly unremarkable, is wrapped in controversy. The title implies that Asperger syndrome is so different from autism that assessment of Asperger’s would require a completely unique process. While evaluation of Asperger’s requires some specific skills and training, there are commonalities to providing quality evaluation regardless of where the individual may be on the spectrum.
Article
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0in 0in 10pt;"> This article examines challenges to the quality of life experienced by autistic adults. The author, who is an autistic researcher, first shares how a neurodiversity perspective offers an important alternative to the deficit model of autism. Whereas the deficit model portrays autistic people as ill, broken, and in need of fixing, the neurodiversity perspective portrays it as a form of human diversity with associated strengths and difficulties. The article’s discussion then shifts to presenting Schalock’s (2000) quality of life framework as a neurodiversity-compatible lens through which domains of quality of life can be viewed. The article analyzes in detail these core domains in relation to the lives of autistic adults. The author suggests that a collaborative approach between professionals/researchers and autistic adults is needed to develop meaningful solutions to these challenges, and he presents possibilities for collaboration. Keywords Autism, Neurodiversity, Quality of life, Autistic Adults </span