This work is published in Transcultural Psychiatry, under the title: Seeing and inviting participation in autistic interactions
What does it take to see how autistic people participate in social interactions? And what does it take to support and invite more participation? Western medicine and cognitive science tend to think of autism mainly in terms of social and communicative deficits. But research shows that autistic people can interact with a skill and sophistication that are hard to see when starting from a deficit idea. Research also shows that not only autistic people, but also their non-autistic interaction partners, can have difficulties interacting with each other. To do justice to these findings, we need a different approach to autistic interactions—one that helps everyone see, invite, and support better participation. I introduce such an approach, based on the enactive theory of participatory sense-making and supported by insights from indigenous epistemologies. This approach helps counteract the homogenizing tendencies of the “global mental health” movement, which attempts to erase rather than recognize difference, and often precludes respectful engagements. Based in the lived experiences of people in their socio-cultural-material and interactive contexts, I put forward an engaged—even engaging—epistemology for understanding how we interact across difference. From this perspective, we see participatory sense-making at work across the scientific, diagnostic, therapeutic, and everyday interactions of autistic and non-autistic people, and how everyone can invite and support more of it.