A different conversation: psychological research and the problem of self in autism

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Observations about peculiarities in the autistic population concerning type and frequency of references to subjective states, and lack of perspective taking, have been on the whole referred to as the paradox of the autistic self, i.e. a co-presence of ego-centeredness and weak self-referentiality (Lombardo & Baron Cohen 2012). Prevalent approaches in autism ascribe these peculiarities to high order disfunctions caused by neurological factors, such as defective self-encoding processes. Two narratives told by an adult man with Asperger during counselling are examined with Conversation Analysis; the analysis identifies features that may lead to descriptions like the paradox of autistic self, but also reveals competences related to perspective-taking and narrative construction. Drawing on Bruner’s narrative theory, as well on recent interactional research on autism and the psychology of self, it is suggested that a relatively limited practice with narrative co-construction might be at the origin of the peculiarities observed. A socio-developmental approach to the understanding of autism not only can provide explanations compatible with first and second person accounts of life with autism, but can also open new paths for researching ways of self-construction that are less reliant on social interaction. The article finally challenges assumptions in psychological research about the ability of humans to access their internal states, and discusses how such assumptions can deter understanding of atypical populations
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)611-631
Number of pages21
JournalIntegrative Psychological and Behavioral Science
Issue number4
Early online date23 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


  • Autism
  • Paradox of autistic self
  • Conversation Analysis
  • Jerome Bruner
  • Self
  • Narrative


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