The term ‘critical autism studies’ was coined in 2010 by Joyce Davidson and Michael Orsini.

Although the definition of CAS is subject to some debate, it is thought to comprise three elements:

  1. Critically exploring the power dynamics that shape autism – who has the power to define what autism is, where are its diagnostic boundaries and why do diagnostic categories change. A focus on power also requires a critical consideration of the research agendas that dominate the field of autism.
  2. Enabling narratives that challenge the dominant negative medical autism discourses, which includes challenging ‘functioning’ labels of autism. Notions of functioning correspond to the value attached to human beings and seriously misrepresent the complexity and diversity of autistic experience.
  3. Creating ways of understanding and researching autism that are emancipatory and respect the highly individualised nature of autism. These new frameworks challenge the orthodoxy of autism knowledge and offer radical opportunities to study autism and autistic culture in all their myriad ways and that are sensitive to the highly individualised manifestations of autism. In particularly, there is a rejection of research that marginalises or dismisses autistic voices and a commitment to approaches that are inclusive and based on principles of co-design.