Advertisement

Subjectivity

, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 323–345 | Cite as

‘Wired up differently’: Autism, adolescence and the politics of neurological identities

  • Francisco Ortega
  • Suparna Choudhury
Original Article

Abstract

With the rapid rise in neuroscience research in the last two decades, neuroscientific claims have travelled far beyond the laboratory and increasingly, ‘facts’ about the brain have entered the popular imagination. As cognitive neuroscience steps up its focus on neurological distinctions between different ‘kinds of people’, researchers in the social sciences and humanities have begun to investigate the role of neurological vocabulary in the constitution of identities. In this article, we explore the terrain of ‘neurological identities’ through a comparative analysis of identity issues among individuals diagnosed with autism, and among adolescents – two categories of people who constitute important objects of study in current work in cognitive neuroscience and psychiatry. In particular, we explore the social conditions that render neuroscience a language palatable to autistic self-advocates and controversial to adolescents. Through these case studies, we demonstrate the heterogeneity of the role of the brain in projects of identity formation, and the many possible meanings conferred by the notion of ‘being wired up differently’.

Keywords

identity cerebral subject neuroscience autism adolescence neurodiversity 

References

  1. American Psychiatric Association (APA). (2000) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV-TR. Washington DC: American Psychiatric Association.Google Scholar
  2. Baron-Cohen, S. (1995) Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  3. Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A.M. and Frith, U. (1985) Does the autistic child have a ‘theory of mind’? Cognition 21 (1): 37–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Beddington, J. et al (2008) The mental wealth of nations. Nature 455 (7216): 1057–1060.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Blume, H. (1997) ‘Autism & The Internet’ or ‘It's the Wiring, Stupid’, http://web.mit.edu/comm-forum/papers/blume.html, accessed January 2010.
  6. Brownlow, C. and O'Dell, L. (2006) Constructing an autistic identity: AS voices online. Mental Retardation: A Journal of Practices, Policy and Perspectives 44 (5): 315–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Burnett, S., Bird, G., Moll, J., Frith, C. and Blakemore, S. (2008) Development during adolescence of the neural processing of social emotion. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 21 (9): 1–15.Google Scholar
  8. Casey, B. et al (1997) A developmental functional MRI study of prefrontal activation during performance of a Go-No-Go task. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 9 (6): 835.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Charman, T. (2006) Autism at the crossroads: Determining the phenotype matters for neuroscience. Nature Neuroscience 9 (10): 1197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Choudhury, S., Merten, M. and McKinney, K.A. (under review) Rebelling against the brain: Public engagement with the neurological adolescent. Social Science and Medicine.Google Scholar
  11. Clarke, J. and van Amerom, G. (2007) ‘Surplus suffering’: Differences between organizational understandings of Asperger's syndrome and those people who claim the ‘disorder’. Disability & Society 22 (7): 761–776.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Crone, E.A.M. (2008) Het puberende brein: Over de ontwikkeling van de hersenen in de unieke periode van de adolescentie. Amsterdam: Bakker.Google Scholar
  13. Dahl, R.E. (2004) Adolescent brain development: A period of vulnerabilities and opportunities. Keynote address. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1021, (Adolescent Brain Development: Vulnerabilities and Opportunities), doi: 10.1196/annals.1308.001.Google Scholar
  14. Davis, L.J. (1995) Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body. London/New York: Verso.Google Scholar
  15. Davis, L.J. (2002) Bending Over Backwards: Disability, Dismodernism and Other Difficult Positions. New York: NYU Press.Google Scholar
  16. Dumit, J. (2003) Is it me or my brain? Depression and neuroscientific facts. Journal of Medical Humanities 24: 35–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Dumit, J. (2004) Picturing Personhood: Brain Scans and Biomedical Identity. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP.Google Scholar
  18. Dumit, J. (2006) Illnesses you have to fight to get: Facts as forces in uncertain, emergent illnesses. Social Science & Medicine 62 (3): 577–590.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dumont, L. (1986) Essays on Individualism: Modern Ideology in Anthropological Perspective. Chicago, IL: Univ. of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  20. Ehrenberg, A. (2004) Le Sujet cerebral. Esprit 309: 130–155.Google Scholar
  21. Elias, N. (1978) The history of manners. In: E. Dunning, J. Goudsblom and S. Mennell (eds.) The Civilizing Process, Vol. I. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  22. Elias, N. (1982) State formation and civilization. In: E. Dunning, J. Goudsblom and S. Mennell (eds.) The Civilizing Process, Vol. II. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  23. Epstein, R. (2007) The Case against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen. Sanger, CA: Quill Driver Books.Google Scholar
  24. Epstein, S. (2008) Patient groups and health movements. In: E.J. Hackett, O. Amsterdamska, M. Lynch and J. Wajcman (eds.) The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, 3rd edn. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 499–539.Google Scholar
  25. Eshel, N., Nelson, E.E., Blair, R.J., Pine, D.S. and Ernst, M. (2007) Neural substrates of choice selection in adults and adolescents: Development of the ventrolateral prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices. Neuropsychologia 45 (6): 1270–1279.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Feinstein, S. (2009) Inside the Teenage Brain: Parenting a Work in Progress. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education.Google Scholar
  27. Fombonne, E. (2003) Modern views of autism. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. Revue Canadienne De Psychiatrie 48 (8): 503–505.Google Scholar
  28. Foucault, M. (1978) The History of Sexuality: An Introduction. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin.Google Scholar
  29. Foucault, M. (1985) The Use of Pleasure. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin.Google Scholar
  30. Foucault, M. (1986) The Care of the Self. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin.Google Scholar
  31. Freeman, B.J. and Cronin, P. (2002) Diagnosing autism spectrum disorder in young children: An update. Infants and Young Children 14 (3): 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Frith, U. (1989) Autism: Explaining the Enigma. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  33. Frith, U. and Frith, C. (2010) The social brain: Allowing humans to boldly go where no other species has been. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 1537 (365): 165–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Frith, U. and Happé, F. (1994) Autism: Beyond ‘theory of mind’. Cognition 50 (1–3): 115–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gibbon, S. and Novas, C. (eds.) (2008) Biosocialities, Genetics and the Social Sciences. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  36. Gogtay, N. et al (2004) Dynamic mapping of human cortical development during childhood through early adulthood. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 101 (21): 8174–8179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Goswami, U. (2008) Cognitive Development and the Learning Brain. Hove, UK: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  38. Hacking, I. (ed.) (2002) Making up people. In: Historical Ontology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, pp. 99–114.Google Scholar
  39. Hacking, I. (2006) What is Tom saying to Maureen? London Review of Books 28 (9), http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n09/hack01_.html, accessed May 2007.
  40. Hacking, I. (2007) Kinds of people: Moving targets. Proceedings of the British Academy 151: 285–318.Google Scholar
  41. Hacking, I. (2009a) Autistic autobiography. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 364: 1467–1473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hacking, I. (2009b) Humans, aliens & autism. Daedalus 138 (3): 44–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Hacking, I. (2010a) Autism fiction: A mirror of an internet decade? University of Toronto Quarterly 79 (2): 632–655.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Hacking, I. (2010b) How we have been learning to talk about autism. In: E.F. Kittay and L. Carson (eds.) Cognitive Disability and Its Challenge to Moral Philosophy. Chichester, West Sussex: Willey-Blackwell, pp. 261–278.Google Scholar
  45. Hall, G.S. (1904) Adolescence: Its Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion and Education. New York: D. Appleton and Company.Google Scholar
  46. Hare, T.A., Tottenham, N., Galvan, A., Voss, H.U., Glover, G.H. and Casey, B.J. (2008) Biological substrates of emotional reactivity and regulation in adolescence during an emotional go-nogo task. Biological Psychiatry 63 (10): 927–934.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Hirsch, M. (1993) Resisting images: Rereading adolescence. In: M. de Ras and M. Lunenberg (eds.) Girls, Girlhood and Girls’ Studies in Transition. Amsterdam: Het Spinhuis, rpt. In: J.K. Gardiner (ed.) Provoking Agents: Theorizing Gender and Agency, Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press (1994).Google Scholar
  48. Hyman, S.E. (2007) Can neuroscience be integrated into the DSM-V? Nature Reviews Neuroscience 8 (9): 725–732.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Illes, J. (ed.) (2005) Neuroethics: Defining the Issues in Theory, Practice, and Policy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  50. Illes, J. et al (2010) Neurotalk: Improving the communication of neuroscience research. Nature Reviews Neuroscience (11): 61–69.Google Scholar
  51. Kirmayer, L. (1988) Mind and body as metaphors: Hidden values in biomedicine. In: M. Lock and D. Gordon (eds.) Biomedicine Examined. London: Kluwer Academic Publishers, pp. 57–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Lebreton, M. et al (2009) The brain structural disposition to social interaction. European Journal of Neuroscience 29 (11): 2247–2252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Lesko, N. (2002) Making adolescence at the turn of the century. Discourse and the exclusion of girls. Current Issues in Comparative Education 2 (2): 182–191.Google Scholar
  54. Loveland, K.A., Bachevalier, J., Pearson, D.A. and Lane, D.M. (2008) Fronto-limbic functioning in children and adolescents with and without autism. Neuropsychologia 46 (1): 49–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Luhrmann, T. (2000) Of Two Minds: The Growing Disorder in American Psychiatry. New York: Knopf.Google Scholar
  56. Luna, B. and Sweeney, J.A. (2004) The emergence of collaborative brain function: FMRI studies of the development of response inhibition. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1021: 296–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Mackinlay, R., Charman, T. and Karmiloff-Smith, A. (2003) Remembering to remember: A developmental study of prospective memory in a multitasking paradigm. Poster presented at the Society for Research in Child Development, Biennial Meeting, 24–27April, Poster, Tampa, Florida.Google Scholar
  58. Martin, E. (2000) Mind–body problems. American Ethnologist 27: 569–590.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Martin, E. (2007) Bipolar Expeditions: Mania and Depression in American Culture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP.Google Scholar
  60. Martin, E. (2010) Self-making and the brain. Subjectivity 3 (4): 366–381.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. McCabe, D.P. and Castel, A.D. (2008) Seeing is believing: The effect of brain images on judgments of scientific reasoning. Cognition 107 (1): 343–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. McFarlane, A. (1992) On individualism. Proceedings of the British Academy 82: 171–199.Google Scholar
  63. Mitchell, S.R. et al (2009) Neuroanatomic alterations and social and communication deficits in monozygotic twins discordant for autism disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry 166 (8): 917–925.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Morein-Zamir, S. and Sahakian, B.J. (2010) Neuroethics and public engagement training needed for neuroscientists. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 14 (2): 49–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Moreira, T. and Palladino, P. (2005) Between truth and hope: On Parkinson's disease, neurotransplantation and the production of the ‘self’. History of the Human Sciences 18 (3): 55–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Moss, P. and Teghtsoonian, K. (eds.) (2008) Contesting Illness: Processes and Practices. Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Nadesan, M. (2005) Constructing Autism: Unravelling the ‘Truth’ and Understanding the Social. London/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  68. Ortega, F. (2009) The cerebral subject and the challenge of neurodiversity. BioSocieties 4 (04): 425–445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Ortega, F. and Vidal, F. (2007) Mapping the cerebral subject in contemporary culture. RECIIS – Electronic Journal of Communication Information & Innovation in Health 2 (1): 255–259.Google Scholar
  70. Ortega, F. and Vidal, F. (eds.) (2011) Neurocultures. Glimpses into and Expanding Universe. Frankfurt am Main/New York: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  71. Ozonoff, S., Pennington, B.F. and Rogers, S.J. (1991) Executive function deficits in high-functioning autistic individuals: Relationship to theory of mind. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 32 (7): 1081–1105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Rabinow, P. (ed.) (1996) Artificiality and enlightenment: From sociobiology to biosociality. In: Essays on the Anthropology of Reason. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, pp. 91–111.Google Scholar
  73. Racine, E., Bar-Ilan, O. and Illes, J. (2005) FMRI in the public eye. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 6 (2): 159–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Rees, D. and Rose, S. (eds.) (2004) The New Brain Sciences: Perils and Prospects. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Rose, N. (2007) The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, Power, and Subjectivity in the Twenty-first Century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Rosenberg, C.E. (2002) The tyranny of diagnosis: Specific entities and individual experience. The Milbank Quarterly 80 (2): 237–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Rosenberg, C.E. (2006) Contested boundaries: Psychiatry, disease, and diagnosis. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 49 (3): 407–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Scott, W.R., Ruef, M., Mendel, P.J. and Caronna, C.A. (2000) Institutional Change and Healthcare Organizations: From Professional Dominance to Managed Care. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  79. Shapiro, J. (2006) Autism movement seeks acceptance, not cures, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5488463, accessed January 2010.
  80. Silverman, C. (2008a) Brains, pedigrees and promises: Lessons from the politics of autism genetics. In: S. Gibbon and C. Novas (eds.) Biosocialities, Genetics and the Social Sciences: Making Biologies and Identities. London: Routledge, pp. 38–55.Google Scholar
  81. Silverman, C. (2008b) Fieldwork on another planet: Social science perspectives on the autism spectrum. BioSocieties 3 (03): 325–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Singer, J. (1999) Why can’t you be normal for once in your life? From a ‘problem with no name’ to the emergence of a new category of difference. In: M. Corker and S. French (eds.) Disability Discourse. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press, pp. 59–67.Google Scholar
  83. Singer, J. (2007) Light and dark: Correcting the balance, http://www.neurodiversity.com.au/, accessed January 2010.
  84. Sowell, E.R., Thompson, P.M., Holmes, C.J., Batth, R., Jernigan, T.L. and Toga, A.W. (1999) Localizing age-related changes in brain structure between childhood and adolescence using statistical parametric mapping. NeuroImage 9 (6 Pt 1): 587–597.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Strauch, B. (2003) The Primal Teen: What the New Discoveries about the Teenage Brain Tell Us about Our Kids. New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  86. Taylor, C. (1989) Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  87. Vidal, F. (2009) Brainhood, anthropological figure of modernity. History of the Human Sciences 22 (1): 5–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Volkmar, F.R., Lord, C., Bailey, A., Schultz, R.T. and Klin, A. (2004) Autism and pervasive developmental disorders. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 45 (1): 135–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Vrecko, S. (2006) Folk neurology and the remaking of identity. Molecular Interventions 6 (6): 300–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Weisberg, D.S., Keil, F.C., Goodstein, J., Rawson, E. and Gray, J.R. (2008) The seductive allure of neuroscience explanations. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 20 (3): 470–477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Wickelgren, I. (2005) NEUROLOGY: Autistic brains out of synch? Science 308 (5730): 1856–1858.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Williams, J.H.G., Whiten, A., Suddendorf, T. and Perrett, D.I. (2001) Imitation, mirror neurons and autism. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 25 (4): 287–295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Wing, L. (1997) The history of ideas on autism: Legends, myths and reality. Autism 1 (1): 13–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Wing, L. and Gould, J. (1979) Severe impairments of social interaction and associated abnormalities in children: Epidemiology and classification. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 9 (1): 11–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. World Health Organization (WHO). (1992) International Classification of Diseases and Related Disorders (ICD-10). Geneva: World Health Organization.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Francisco Ortega
    • 1
  • Suparna Choudhury
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute for Social Medicine, State University of Rio de JaneiroBrazil
  2. 2.Max Planck Institute for the History of ScienceBerlinGermany

Personalised recommendations