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Edinburgh Centre for Medical Anthropology: Events


Autism and Mental Health: Continuum and Boundary Approaches

Autism and Mental Health: Continuum and Boundary Approaches: Edinburgh Centre for Medical Anthropology (EdCMA) in partnership with Scottish Autism
Hosted by: Dr Joseph Long # Scottish Autism; Hosted by: Roslyn Malcolm # University of Edinburgh - Edinburgh Centre for Medical Anthropology (EdCMA)
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Introduced by
Date and Time
13th Jun 2019 10:00 - 13th Jun 2019 15:00
University of Edinburgh

Edinburgh Centre for Medical Anthropology (EdCMA) in partnership with Scottish Autism

This interdisciplinary seminar will build on the success of the 2018 Autism, Anthropology and Lived Experience symposium jointly hosted by the Edinburgh Centre for Medical Anthropology and Scottish Autism. The seminar will explore where autism and mental health paradigms have been entangled and where they might be bounded in diagnostic categories, support provision and contemporary discourse. The event will give voice to lived experience and take an interdisciplinary approach. We will ask what a critical engagement between anthropology and other disciplines might produce in understanding this relationship.

Autism is increasingly framed as a neurodevelopmental condition, or form of difference, rather than a mental health issue. Yet the history of autism is deeply intertwined with mental health. Autistic people frequently experience acute mental health difficulties. Social marginalization and exclusion, difficulty accessing public services, and environmental stressors are common experiences for people on the spectrum and can lead to anxiety and ill-health. Many autistic adults present to services with a mental health issue in the first instance, later obtaining an autism diagnosis.

Autism continues to be defined as a psychiatric condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) (APA 2013). Over the past century, evolving diagnostic criteria have seen autism shift from being defined as childhood schizophrenia, through psychoanalytic explanations, to a neurodevelopmental disability. The changing ways in which psychiatric conditions are bounded, clinical practices and services assigned, and the potential overlaps in somatic and behavioural systems involved in the conditions produce complex entanglements of autism and mental health paradigms.

This interdisciplinary symposium aims to help us to understand this history and its legacy, and to explore how the relationship of autism and mental health difficulties is understood and experienced. This is both in theoretical terms and in the context of the provision and design of care practices today. In the seminar we will hear from autistic experts, clinicians, psychology researchers, and anthropologists.

In this seminar we will explore the following: 

  • How do mental health difficulties blend with the lived experience of autism?
  • What boundaries do people experience between autism and mental health?
  • What do personal, historical and cultural approaches to the melding of autism and mental health tell us about the current blending of discrete psychiatric categories (including autism, schizophrenia, anxiety and depression) into a continuum of psychopathology?
  • How does this merging trouble distinctions between neurodevelopmental and psychiatric conditions?
  • What effects are these continuum and boundary approaches having on autistic people’s access to public services?

Presentations (10am - 12.45 pm TBC)


Jon Adams

Artist, Flow Observatorium and Researcher, University of Portsmouth

Dr Joseph Long

Research Manager, Scottish Autism

Roslyn Malcolm

PhD Student, Edinburgh Centre for Medical Anthropology

Dr Mary Stewart

Reader in Psychology, Heriot Watt University

Round Table (1.30 pm – 2.30 pm TBC)


Dr Stefan Ecks – EdCMA, Social Anthropology, Edinburgh University

Dr Joe Long – Scottish Autism and EdCMA, Social Anthropology, Edinburgh University

Roslyn Malcolm – PhD student, EdCMA, Social Anthropology, Edinburgh University

Dr Catriona Stewart – SWAN, Scottish Autism

Dr Mary A Stewart – Reader in Psychology, Heriot-Watt University

More discussants TBC

To register for attendance and for further details please sign up here: 

For further information contact the seminar convenors: Roslyn Malcolm:, Joe Long:  

Lunch will be provided. We aim to make our event as accessible as possible for participants with a range of requirements. Please contact the conveners if you would like to discuss any dietary requirements or specific accommodations that might help to support your attendance. A quiet room will be available throughout the event.

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