Crying in the park: Autism stigma, school entry and maternal subjectivity
Rozanna Lilley is a social anthropologist currently researching maternal perspectives on autism diagnosis, early intervention and schooling. Awarded a PhD (Anthropology) from the Australian National University in 1994, Rozanna has been the recipient of two postdoctoral awards. She has also taught anthropology and cultural studies in universities in Australia and Hong Kong. From 2004 to 2008, she was the editor of the Australian Journal of Anthropology. In 2009 Rozanna embarked on a second PhD at the Children and Families Research Centre, Institute of Early Childhood, Macquarie University, on the experiences of mothers whose children with autism are transitioning to primary school in Sydney, Australia. She has published widely in scholarly journals, books, popular parenting magazines, as well as literary journals and is the author of Staging Hong Kong: Gender and Performance in Transition (1998, ConsumAsian Book Series, Curzon Press and University of Hawaii Press). Rozanna's youngest child is diagnosed with Autistic Disorder.
In this article I focus on the experiences of mothers of children diagnosed with autism as they respond to, and are shaped by, encounters with stigmatising practices at primary school entry. Analysing narratives recorded during interviews with 22 mothers of children diagnosed with autism in Sydney, Australia, I argue that Erving Goffman's theorising around 'courtesy stigma' is inadequate to the task of understanding the felt experiences of these women. I propose the notion of 'attachment stigma', which more readily does the double work of referring to both the intersubjective mother/child relationship, often intensified and prolonged due to disability, and the role of mothering ideologies in shaping stigmatising responses. Mothers' school exclusion narratives point to the salience of experiences of stigmatisation in the lives of families of children with autism, and to the continuing force of gendered moral rationalities underpinned by punishing notions of 'good' and 'bad' mothering.