Day 72: Challenging Master Narratives

S5000238Following yesterday’s seminar on narrative methods I’ve been reflecting on whether Dylan’s story might challenge any ‘master narratives’. His story has raised questions about a range of issues in relation to autism  including, for example, early intervention, eye gaze and memory. These issues are, however, subjects of continuing debate in which no single narrative has taken precedence over others.

Assuming a ‘master narrative’ to be the dominant discourse about an issue, i.e. the taken-for-granted assumptions or prevailing view, I would suggest that Dylan’s story presents the following key challenges:

  • The construction of the category ‘autism’ tends to obscure and exclude the needs of those autistic children and adults with a co-morbid condition (learning disability, for example).

One of the things I find frustrating is the tendency of autism-related issues to be represented and discussed from the perspective of children and adults who are verbal. Almost equally frustrating is the assumption that a non-verbal child with autism can be facilitated to communicate (through a keyboard for example).  It is very difficult for young people with intellectual impairment as well as autism to claim the discursive space in relation to autism.  The ‘Rainman Effect’ is still alive and well in that the master narrative is of someone who is verbal and/or cognitively able (albeit with a spiky profile).

  • For some people with an autism diagnosis, particularly where a learning disability is also involved, social constructs such as ‘independence’ and ‘competence’ may require re-conceptualisation.

These ideas have become so much a part of the master narrative that they have been incorporated into monitoring and review systems across a range of contexts including, for example, health and social care.  As I have argued previously, however, ‘independence’  may not be an appropriate goal for some young people. Furthermore, the concept itself is open to challenge; why should we assume that independence is inherently a ‘good thing’?

  • For some autistic adults, a residential setting may be an appropriate model of care.

Since the Winterbourne View scandal there has been a backlash against residential settings for the learning disabled. The preferred model of health and social care is now community-based supported living in which bought-in care (from a personal budget) is provided to small groups of adults. While this is an appropriate framework for some people it is not suitable for everyone. Dylan’s story can be perceived as challenging this ‘master narrative’ through the construction of a competing narrative of residential homes as expert and caring places which can be well-managed and effectively run.

2 thoughts on “Day 72: Challenging Master Narratives

  1. I’m going from memory here – but I do think you’ve said some pretty groundbreaking things about issues such as gaze, language and art appreciation which would challenge very many professional (if not, master) narratives about both autism and learning disability related issues.
    I also think that you’ve highlighted (to me, anyway) that despite Dylan’s limited language use, he can demonstrate some quite refined communication skills.
    So, what I’m saying (or trying to articulate with some difficulty of my own) is that your blog has shown me how, whilst recognising Dylan’s learning difficulties, an autistic identity is central to him, as well as your understanding of him – and with that, you’ve successfully expanded as well as challenged what being autistic might mean for someone – and thereby rewritten more than a few narratives on autism, including the Rainman one.


    • Thank you Caroline – you are very generous to mention these other areas. I would like to think my narrative about gaze and art in relation to Dylan offer something fresh and original – but I wondered if perhaps on their own they weren’t enough to actually challenge a ‘master narrative’ (whereas I felt perhaps there was more weight of story in the three areas I do identify). The whole language issue I am just too nervous about to say anything with confidence. It is so complicated with Dylan. He has some quirky and quite poetic practice, in relation to language, but his communication sometimes is massively affected by his learning disability and I think over-estimation is as dangerous as under-estimation. So I think ‘story’ in relation to language practice probably serves to challenge everything and nothing. So I’m still musing on the evaluation of story – whether there needs to be a weight of story evidence from a single subject for example. I do love the suggestion you make though about my having claimed an autistic/LD identity for Dylan. In fact I love that whole paragraph of yours – thank you thank you – I will be re-reading to take heart from that I’m sure, xx


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