Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterised by impaired communication and social interaction, with pragmatic ‘deficits’ in autistic language use commonly attributed to an impaired theory of mind, or ‘mindblindness’- the inability to detect or make sense of the states of others. From this perspective the onus of failures in mutual understanding is placed within the brains/minds of the autistic individuals involved. However, recent research in the social sciences and critical autism studies is beginning to provide evidence of the difficulties that non-autistic people have understanding autistic people too, and to reframe the communicative difficulties as a two-way, ‘double empathy problem’.
The aim of this thesis is to apply this difference-not-deficit approach to an investigation of adult autistic language use. Can Relevance Theory, a cognitive account of utterance interpretation, make sense of what is happening pragmatically? Is a radical reframing of the difficulties observed in autistic-neurotypical communication as essentially an intercultural problem, valuable? Can English as a Lingua Franca and its associated accommodative efforts offer any insights? This thesis will draw on Sociology, Anthropology, Philosophy of Mind and Critical Autism studies to augment its core Pragmatics tools in attempting to answer these questions.