Contemporary society is marked by the ideology of ableism, which devalues disabled people on the basis that they are less than humans and should be cured or ameliorated (Campbell, 2009). However, disabled people and scholars are challenging this view by creating a social perspective on disability, distinguishing between impairment as a physical, sensory or cognitive functional limitation; and disability, a consequence of disabling physical and social barriers (Goodley, 2011). Autism is also seen through these perspectives, the medical ableist and the social. As an ideology, ableism is defined as an "attitude that devalues or differentiates disability through the valuation of able-bodiedness equated to normalcy", treating disability as an inherently negative condition that "should be ameliorated, cured or indeed eliminated" (Campbell, 2009, p.5). Meanwhile, in the case of autism the social perspective presents the neurodiversity movement, embracing autistic neurological difference and understanding it as formed by challenges and strengths (Armstrong, 2011). Since ableism is still a pervasive ideology, the formation of a positive identity is essential to promote neurodiversity.
One of the places where disabled people can perform identity is on the Internet. By affording the creation of a public sphere in which "collective opinions can be formed and voiced" (Song, 2009, p.4), the online medium allows not only personal expressions, but also the formation of communities where disabled identities can be performed. The identities present online may be uneven, as different values coexist in society; however, the Internet does open space for people to contest and deconstruct the idea of ableism. Such acts are seen "as crucial to the future of minority people and their quest for social justice and inclusion" (Siebers, 2013, p.284).
Based on these insights, the current project seeks to explore how perceptions of autism are transposed to and changed by social media in Brazilian society, which lacks investigation in the proposed topics. This investigation is guided by two research questions:
1. How do autistics and their supporters use social media to create an autistic cyberculture, focusing on individual and collective identities?
2. What are the consequences of this usage for autistic people?
To answer these questions, we analyze cyberculture, that is: how people use digital media to create representations and narratives, and how this affects their lives, including aspects such as forms, practices, politics and, a key focus in this project, identities (Bell, 2006). We analyze this culture using digital ethnography, which offers both the methodological tools, combining elicitation methods with online participant observation (Boelstorff, 2013), to investigate the online culture of autism; and a way to effectively include the communities studied into the research, presenting them as subjects of their own histories.
By the end of this project, we expect to comprehend how autistics and their supporters are creating an online culture of autism in Brazil, mainly in terms of identity, and what are the consequences of the social media usage for those people.