Defense Date


Graduation Date

Summer 1-1-2017


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Clinical Psychology


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Jessie Goicoechea

Committee Member

Kareen Malone

Committee Member

Eva Simms

Committee Member

Elizabeth Fein


Asperger; Autism; Critical Autism Studies; Lacan; Phenomenology; Psychoanalysis


This research project examines Asperger’s Syndrome (now, with the DSM 5, Autism Spectrum Disorder) through the lens of Lacanian psychoanalysis and speaks to current debates in the field regarding the structural diagnosis of autism. Framed by critiques of Lacanian psychoanalysis, the project takes up autism and treatments for the disorder from within mainstream psychological approaches, from the viewpoint of neurodiversity and autistic self-advocates, and from within Lacanian psychoanalysis, with specific attention paid to the diagnostic approach in Lacanian thinking and the assumed relationship between autism and psychosis. Four published autobiographies written by autistic adults were subjected to two types of qualitative analysis in order to elucidate the experience of autistic adults, as described by them, to consider where autism fits within the Lacanian structural system, and to determine potential treatment needs for autistic adults. In order to strike a balance between autistic and clinical perspectives, the first examination utilized interpretive phenomenological analysis to gain a deeper understanding of the experience of autism and the potential issues at stake as they are presented by individuals on the spectrum. Following that, the second analysis compared the autobiographical material to the conceptual elements of Lacanian structural theory. The results of the analyses show that autism does not fit within the Lacanian structural definition of psychosis and also does not comprise its own, unique structural category. Using findings generated from both analyses, commonalities and divergences in lived experience as described by the authors are explored, and the potential impact of those findings on how autism is conceptualized and treated within Lacanian psychoanalysis and mainstream treatments is discussed, with special attention paid to questions of power, identity, and politics within both approaches.