Following 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.