Medicine, Nursing and Allied Health Professions

Social-cultural perspectives on diagnosis: autism as a case study ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2020 - 2021

Jennie Hayes’s ESRC Fellowship in the Relational Health Team focusses on how clinicians make decisions about the diagnosis of autism spectrum conditions. The process of diagnosis is complex and multi-faceted, and can be particularly challenging when cases are considered ‘borderline’ or where there are coexisting conditions. By observing multi-disciplinary team working in diagnostic teams, and interviewing clinicians, Jennie has been able to explore in detail how diagnostic decisions are made and impacted by social and interactional factors.

Jennie’s work draws on sociology of diagnosis, which argues that diagnosis cannot be separated from wider influences of human agency and deliberation (1). A sociology of diagnosis approach challenges the taken-for-granted fit of diagnostic categories to their conditions and instead considers them as socially framed and shaped by wider social forces and interaction (2). Jennie’s research explores how the process of autism assessment itself may impact on decision-making.

As part of her fellowship, Jennie is developing both academic and non-academic outputs from the research. This includes commissioning an animation and producing a leaflet for clinicians. She is working on new academic publications based on her interview study, and on enhancing communication in multi-disciplinary team meetings.

The study was made possible by a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award, Grant number 108676/Z/15/Z, and Jennie’s current work is supported by an ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship.

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Links to publications

Clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder in adults and children in the UK: a narrative review

'Not at the diagnosis point': Dealing with contradiction in autism assessment teams

Drawing a line in the sand: affect and testimony in autism assessment teams in the UK 


  1. Jutel A. Putting a Name To It: Diagnosis in Contemporary Society. Baltimore: John Hopkins; 2011.
  2. Brown P. Naming and Framing: The Social Construction of Diagnosis and Illness. J Heal Soc Behav Extra Issue Forty Years Med Sociol State Art Dir Futur. 1995;(May):34–52.