Volume 17 · Number 1 · Pages 033–047
The Construction of Autism: Between Reflective and Background Knowledge

Maciej Wodziński & Paulina Gołaska-Ciesielska

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Context: Numerous analyses emphasize the historical variability and social construction of the autism category. As a result, many beliefs and stereotypes about autism function unconsciously in social awareness as background knowledge. Problem: We present the results of a survey concerning the social perception of autism and we draw attention to the possible impact of the specific ways in which people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are perceived, as revealed in the survey, on how this social identity might be created. Method: A questionnaire consisting of two parts - closed-ended questions and free associations - was used in the survey. 355 participants answered the questions concerning the nature of autism, its causes, sources of information and experiences in contact with people on the spectrum. Results: The results shows that there exists a cognitively interesting divergence between the level of knowledge declared by the respondents, based on credible sources, which is indicative of a positive attitude toward people with ASD, and the more negative attitude seen in the free associations. Implications: Despite the level of social reflective knowledge, relations between people with ASD and neurotypical people seem to be lined with feelings such as fear, anxiety or uncertainty. This should draw attention to the need for a deeper and more conscious analysis of societal beliefs about autism. Constructivist content: The theoretical framework for this survey is social representations theory (SRT), which derives from the constructivist paradigm. By showing the important role of individuals’ background knowledge in the construction of autism social representation, the results of the survey confirm the usefulness of the constructivist approach to the analysis of the autism phenomenon. Keywords: Autism spectrum, constructivism, social perception of autism, reflective knowledge, background knowledge, identity.­


Wodziński M. & Gołaska-Ciesielska P. (2021) The construction of autism: Between reflective and background knowledge. Constructivist Foundations 17(1): 033–047. https://constructivist.info/17/1/033

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