I first learned about autism in my high school psychology textbook. It was the mid-1990s so autism was not yet a household term and my book only provided a brief paragraph on the subject, yet it caught my attention. As I worked towards my BS in psychology at the University of Georgia, I taught my first autistic student—a young woman not much younger than myself. I continued learning autism as I worked on my Masters in Special Education at Vanderbilt University, where I studied under a grant designed to focus our education on autism. During this time, I was fortunate to take a class in Portugal through the Transatlantic Consortium on Early Intervention. Here, I became interested in the intersection of autism and culture, a topic I eventually focused on during my doctoral work at Emory University.
My dissertation, “Places of autism: Influences on experiences of autism in Atlanta, GA USA and Kerala, India”, focused on how autism impacts spaces and how spaces and places influence the ways parents and professionals understood and grappled with autism. This interdisciplinary project relied on medical anthropology, disability studies, human geography, and bio- and neuroethics—all fields I continue to look to in my more recent work.
I now teach for Emory’s Center for the Study of Human Health and continue to do research on intellectual and developmental disabilities, most recently on these disabilities in criminal justice settings and systems. My teaching and scholarship all revolve around ethics, justice, stigma, and health.
I focus on applicability in my work by thinking through real life, feasible solutions to access and diversity in the workplace, in education, and in our general communities. Here, I take an intersectional approach and explore how combinations of social identities—race, class, gender, sexuality, disability, et cetera—impact one’s experience of access and marginalization. Identifying the roots of exclusion enables us to find sustainable solutions to inclusion.