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"It's like you are just a spectator in this thing": experiencing social life the 'aspie' way

Sara Ryan, DIPEx Research Unit, University of Oxford
Co-author(s): Ulla Raisanen


People diagnosed with Asperger syndrome (AS) are commonly characterised as having difficulties with social interaction, social imagination and communication (Attwood, 2006). These differences have been the focus of a substantial body of work often located within the disciplinary fields of psychology, neurology and psychiatry. In this paper, we explore this from a sociological perspective to see what insights the work of interactionists and ethnomethodologists, such as Goffman, Schutz and Garfinkel, can provide into experiencing social encounters the 'aspie' way. In-depth interviews were conducted with 16 people with AS and three key themes of 'feeling different', 'trying to fit in' and 'safe spaces' are considered here. We suggest that people with AS develop a different symbolic capacity which has implications for the internalisation of what are usually taken for granted norms and values (within mainstream society). While these differences can be overcome to some degree, not being able to derive a firm sense of reality from spontaneous involvement in social encounters, led to some participants feeling "unruled, unreal and anomic" (Goffman, 1967).

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