Date of Award
Master of Education (MEd)
In his essay, Don’t Mourn for Us, Jim Sinclair describes autism as a “way of being.” He maintains there is “no normal child hidden behind the autism” and that “it colors every experience, every sensation, perception, thought, emotion, and encounter, every aspect of existence.” In an attempt to appreciate the depth of Sinclair’s statements, this thesis approaches autism as a “way of being” through the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan. By applying Lacan’s conceptual framework to first-person writing and scientific research, I lay an interdisciplinary foundation for the case I make. Although this project requires significant conceptual scaffolding across different epistemological systems, I consider how Lacanian theory possesses a unique capacity to conceive of autism as a way of being and to open new ways of approaching the source material.
Implicitly, Sinclair asks that we consider the question of what it means “to be” – autistic, neurotypical, or otherwise. I approach this from the premise that an individual exists as a thinking being, or a “subject.” Because psychoanalysis is concerned with the constitutive role of the unconscious in structuring consciousness, this thesis invests substantial space in consideration of how the Lacanian subject is oriented around a fundamental lack. To this end, I return frequently to Lacan’s concept of objet a, understood as a representative of the subject’s lack in the perceptual realm that is itself lacking. Further, Lacan’s unique interpretation of Freud consists in placing language as the ultimate mediating structure of subjectivity; it both generates lack and establishes a system for mitigating it. One’s way of being is always a way of being in language.1 Given the predominant roles of language and social communication impairments in the DSM-V diagnostic criteria for autism, a main goal of this project is to consider how an autistic way of being entails a unique structuration of lack.2
Autism and psychoanalysis share a history that extends back to the origins of the diagnosis. I explore this history with a focus on how different psychoanalytic theories conceptualize the autistic subject and to what extent they honor or undermine Sinclair’s position. Contemporary Lacanian thinkers of autism do both. Unique to Lacan’s structural approach, the concept of the Other is inclusive of a radical alterity, yet also the system of language, the body, and certain aspects of the maternal and paternal functions. The subject is unthinkable apart from the Other. I suggest an autistic way of being is discernible in the autistic subject’s relation to each aspect of the Other. I find support for this claim in recent sensorimotor research. Referred to loosely as the movement perspective, this research suggests that differences in how autistic individuals move and perceive others is a “unifying characteristic” of autism.3 Importantly, the movement perspective is proactively inclusive of first-person knowledge. Read through Lacan’s conceptual framework, movement differences address the underlying mechanism of the autistic subject’s relation to the Other, and thus its way of being.
Most fundamentally, this thesis is a work of theory that attempts to articulate something universal about being a subject, without simultaneously eliding what is unique about being an autistic subject
Number of Pages
Poulin, Adam Neil, "On the Subject of Autism: Lacan, First-Person Writing, and Research" (2019). Graduate College Dissertations and Theses. 997.