Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Moving Beyond Love and Luck: Building Right Relationships and Respecting Lived Experience in New Zealand Autism Policy

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posted on 2021-11-11, 23:36 authored by Stace, Hilary

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnoses have been rising rapidly in recent years and New Zealand is just one country grappling with the policy challenges this presents. Currently, love, such as a supportive family, and luck, that appropriate services are available, are required by people with autism and their families for good outcomes, a situation that is neither equitable nor sustainable. Autism was first named as a separate condition in 1943. The concept of autism has developed significantly since then in many ways, including as the cultural identity that many autistic adults now claim. Influenced by the international disability rights movement and local activism, New Zealand policy is now based on the social model of disability, whereby society as a whole has responsibility for removing disabling barriers. In 1997, a New Zealand mother, unable to find appropriate support at a time of crisis, killed her autistic daughter. A decade of policy work followed, leading to the 2008 publication of the New Zealand Autism Spectrum Disorder Guideline (Ministries of Health and Education, 2008) which is the first whole-of-spectrum, whole-of-life, whole-of-government, best practice approach in the world to address the extensive issues surrounding ASD. Prioritisation and initial attempts at implementation revealed new problems. The complexity, lack of simple solutions and fragmentation of autism policy indicates that this is a 'wicked' policy problem. To move beyond this situation requires innovative and collaborative approaches. The 'transformative paradigm' is a research methodology which builds on recent developments in participatory and emancipatory research, and disciplines such as disability studies. It advocates approaches based on mixed methods, social justice, ethics and partnership, so is particularly suited to examining a problem such as autism, and indicating ways forward. There is untapped expertise among those with lived experience of autism and their families to tackle the 'wicked' aspects of autism, but to harness this expertise requires relationship building which addresses power imbalances and past injustices. This thesis analyses New Zealand autism policy and suggests ways this lived experience could be better respected and incorporated into policy processes, in an attempt to move past the currently required variables of love and luck.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Public Policy

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Government


Cumming, Jackie; Hall, Lesley