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Autistic' as figure of speech in Austrian newspapers

In this study I investigated the use of the word 'autistic' as a figure of speech in three major Austrian newspapers from different categories (derStandard, Kronen Zeitung, and Heute) between 2012–2016. The aim of the study was to evaluate how the autism spectrum disorder is understood by the general public, what are the most salient symptoms and stereotypes, in what contexts and by which category of people are they employed. For this purpose, I selected from the online archives of the three newspapers with the keyword 'autistisch' (en. 'autistic') 23 articles in which this term appeared in a non-medical context and analysed them based on the critical discourse analysis (Foucault, 1961, 1971; Fairclough, 1995; Jäger, 2012). The results revealed that the word 'autistic' was used in non- medical contexts varying from politics to art, to illustrate inappropriate behavior, (self)-isolation, and distance. The majority of articles belonged to derStandard, the newspaper with the youngest and most educated readership. In my presentation I will discuss the implications of applying a negative connotation to a medical condition, the social power relations in mental health, and how language in the media can shape stereotypes and (re)frame the public understanding of autism.