Moral hierarchies within autism parenting: Making parent-therapists and perpetuating disparities within contemporary China
Drawing upon 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in China from 2013 to 2014, this article argues that moral hierarchies within autism parenting in fact reproduce local socioeconomic inequalities. In China, medical specialists, special education teachers and prominent parent advocates attempt to manage autism in a context of scarce resources by teaching parents how to serve as their children’s lifelong therapists. Yet, by focusing primarily on parents’ love for their children, while neglecting pragmatic issues related to social–economic disparities, autism advocates fail to understand the difficulties of parents with few socioeconomic resources. I illustrate my arguments by delving deeply into two case studies which illustrate both extremes of the moral hierarchy in autism parenting within China. In ethnographically attending to how parents are made into behavioral therapists and the moral hierarchies within autism parenting in China, this paper describes a culturally specific adoption of ABA. This article argues that scholars and local disability advocates need to pay closer attention to local particularities, including cultural histories of parenting, as well as the complex interactions between disability and social and economic inequalities, so as to better comprehend and address the immediate, existential, and long-range challenges which parents with little social capital face in managing autism.
KeywordsAutism Disability Family care Social contract China
The research in this article was funded by the National Science Foundation (Grant No. 1330398), the Wenner-Gren Foundation (Grant No. 8666), the American Council of Learned Societies, and MIT. I also sincerely thank Stefan Helmreich, David Jones, Heather Paxson, Amanda Chan, Molly Mullin, Anne McCants and Amah Edoh for their critical comments. I am most grateful to my three anonymous reviewers for their constructive and incisive comments, and to the editors for the helpful guidance.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest
Emily Xi Lin has no competing interests in the research detailed in the manuscript.
This manuscript is comprised of original material that is not under review elsewhere, and the studies on which the research is based has been subject to, and approved by the appropriate ethical review at MIT’s Committee on the Use of Humans as Experimental Subjects.
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