Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Communication

First Advisor

Karen Tracy

Second Advisor

Robert T. Craig

Third Advisor

David Boromisza-Habashi

Fourth Advisor

Lisa A. Flores

Fifth Advisor

Amy C. Wilkins

Abstract

This dissertation offers a critical, action implicative discourse analysis of neurodiversity (ND) advocacy online. The neurodiversity movement is a contemporary disability rights movement aimed at autism acceptance grounded in an understanding of autism as natural neurological variation. ND advocacy is a site of discursive struggle where advocates work to redefine autism and combat stigma. This study takes a novel, hybrid discourse analytic approach in an effort to understand why ND advocacy is needed and how its emancipatory potential might be developed. Using a critical discourse analytic lens the author first examines dominant autism discourse in order to better understand how oppressive discursive mechanisms disadvantage autistic individuals in the U.S. Next, ND advocacy practices are reconstructed using action implicative discourse analytic methods to foster normative reflection about what ND advocacy ought to look like. The author finds that, while ND advocacy is making important strides in changing public conversations around autism, the young movement has yet to address its own problems of exclusion. The concluding chapter offers some ideas for ways in which advocates might work to include disenfranchised members of the autistic community and more parent advocates.

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