Negotiating Abnormality/Normality in Therapy Talk: A Discursive Psychology Approach to the Study of Therapeutic Interactions and Children With Autism

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Historically, autism and the related treatments have been studied through positivistic methodologies. However, in this article, a discursive psychology approach is taken to the study of therapeutic interactions with children with autism. This study illustrates the potential for taking up a discursive psychology approach to the study of therapy talk, illustrating how psychologized constructs can be repositioned as discursively bound. This article reports findings from a discourse analysis, informed by discursive psychology, that focused on video and audio-recordings of 175 hr of naturally occurring therapy talk from a pediatric clinic. Analytically, the focus was on how therapists and children with autism discursively negotiated the normality/abnormality binary, as related to behaving and communicating. Findings demonstrate how the therapists oriented to the behaviors and communication of the children with autism as being functional, meaningful, and relevant within the context of the therapy session. Implications related to the study are discussed, with a particular focus on the need to expand constructions of normality. I conclude by discussing how a discursive psychology approach to the study of therapy talk creates possibilities for researchers and clinicians to reorient to behaviors and communication patterns that fall outside the norm. A call for continued discursive psychology research is made, with the goal of gaining insights related to how therapists and children with autism navigate the task of doing therapy in a way that does not result in disempowerment or a return to simplistic applications of the normal/abnormal binary.

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