Like many other autistic individuals, I struggle to find language to appropriately describe my experiences. Furthermore, within the Autistic community, debates over appropriate language use are frequent, including discussions on person-first language versus identity-first language, functioning language, and medical terminology. Through this research, I examine how rhetorical constructions of Autism gain power, focused on the role of language choice with regard to personal identity and self-advocacy and conduct a discourse analysis of the #StopCombatingMe movement on Twitter. Spearheaded by ASAN, a grassroots organization which seeks to challenge public dialogue on Autism, #StopCombatingMe sought to argue against the reauthorization of the Combating Autism Act. Namely, ASAN's proponents claimed that the title of the act was offensive and that the act's funding of research for a cause and cure of Autism was misguided. I collected data from tweets and blog posts associated with the campaign, with the purpose of exploring how Autistic individuals articulate their identities in response to hegemonic narratives of Autism.
Through my research, I found three ideological themes: disability pride, self-determination, and the genetic origin of Autism. In the discourse, disability pride provided the reasoning behind the pervasive use of identity-first language, a refusal to use functioning language, and a rejection of the need to pass or conform to neurotypical expectations. Additionally, disability pride provided a foundation for a rejection or redirection of many of the metaphors frequently used to describe Autistic people, including AUTISM AS ILLNESS, AUTISM AS WAR, and AUTISTICS AS LOST. Within #StopCombatingMe, Autistic individuals made strong arguments for self-determination, self-advocacy, and Autistic agency, emphasizing the validity and importance of Autistic perspective within decision-making. Though research has yet to find a cause for Autism, within #StopCombatingMe, the overwhelming opinion was that Autism is genetic. My analysis led to intriguing conclusions about the salience of identity labels, reappropriation in a "safe" space, the applicability of functionality in determining human worth, and entailment relationships of Autism metaphors.
Date of Degree
Master of Arts (MA)
Arts and Humanities
Benham, J. (2015). Proud to be Autistic: Metaphorical Construction and Salience of Cultural and Personal Identity in #StopCombatingMe [Master’s thesis, Minnesota State University, Mankato]. Cornerstone: A Collection of Scholarly and Creative Works for Minnesota State University, Mankato. https://cornerstone.lib.mnsu.edu/etds/420/
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