Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Communication Studies

First Advisor

Darrin Hicks

Second Advisor

Joshua Hanan

Third Advisor

Mary Claire Loftus


Critical discourse analysis, Cultural identity theories, Higher education, Invisible disabilities, Neurodiversity, Pedagogy


In the United States, faculty and students are publicly claiming neurodivergent identities and support for the neurodiversity movement. This study uses Collier and Hecht’s cultural identity theories with Lang and Chen’s two-step process, critical thematic analysis (CTA), to examine avowals and ascriptions with four diagnostic terms, ASD, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and dyslexia, of students and professors from Rate My Professors (RMP) with Ritter’s frame of RMP as a phenomenon.

A total of 1,022 posts are analyzed to understand how students resist or re-inscribe popular medical model/deficit discourse in the classroom: student avowals (N = 232), professor avowals (N = 51), student ascriptions (N = 12), and ascriptions of professors (N = 736). Professors avowed dyslexia more often than the other neuro-terms. There were more ascriptions of professor’s bipolar disorder than ADHD, ASD, or dyslexia. Also, there were more student avowals and student ascriptions of ADHD than ASD, bipolar disorder, or dyslexia.

Step 1 of CTA revealed key themes for each group. Five themes emerged from student avowals: learning challenges, workload, accessibility, professor’s aptitude, and impact. Professor avowals revealed three themes: admission, blame, and disclosure. Three themes emerged from student ascriptions: diagnosis effects students’ self-perceptions, students (with the diagnosis) are disadvantaged in the classroom, and students are not treated equally or fairly by professors. Four themes emerged from ascriptions of professors: students declared or speculated professors’ neuro-identities and determined the frequency and severity of the professors’ behaviors.

Step 2 revealed neuro-identities as outside of the “typical” or normal; marked by atypical ways of learning and teaching. Students described ableism and disableism as inherent to traditional pedagogies, characteristics and behaviors, and federal/institutional policies. They also shared information about ways professors’ behaviors deviated and the extent to which deviations by professors were tolerated—and the terms thereof; including ways students corrected or worked around behaviors.

Cultural identity theories and CTA are useful for understanding neuro-identity as an important cultural identity that is discursively constructed and negotiated in the classroom. More scholarship is needed to understand how neuro-identities interact with other cultural identities to improve communication across and within neuro-identities.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Shaundi C. Newbolt


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

149 p.


Communication, Higher education, Disability studies