Autism, Culture, and Representation

In my excitement to respond to Bard’s guest blog post, I didn’t do the best job with following instructions. So instead, I’m going to use this blog post to not only reflect on the readings but also on her comment.

In my comment, I asked Bard the following questions:

Do you feel like having an autism spectrum that distinguishes between these different syndromes creates this Goldilocks Rhetoric?

Do you think that these labels, such as Asperger syndrome or PDD-NOS or CDD or Rett syndrome, are unproductive to uniting the autism community at large?

Do you think that the move towards the general term of ‘autism spectrum disorder’ is better for the autistic community, or do you think that the differences between these individual syndromes is important to acknowledge?

Reading Bard’s response made me think about these questions in an entirely different way. In fact, they made me think about language differently. I’ve always thought that it was interesting how language can place restrictions on society by labeling and categorizing people. But at the same time, this language can also be a reflection of society.

In To Persevere by Ralph Savarese, he describes how his son, who supposedly has “no sense of self or others”,  expressed his love through his Father’s Day card. First of all, can I just say how much I loved this moment in the poem?  This boy, who society has decided is “incapable of love”, expresses himself in a way that others did not believe was possible. And it just shows how restraining language can be. Pinning this child down with phrases like these closes the minds of people around him by forcing them to lower their expectations. Language stands as a barrier, hindering others from understanding him. Language can do the same with the Goldilock’s Rhetoric; by simplifying the complex nature of autism in individuals down to a stereotype, language can limit open minds.

On the other hand, Bard brought up a great point by saying that “Nothing is going to change even if we remove the diagnostic divisions.” And now that I think about it, I think I knew that even before I asked my questions. Just because language may seem to label and separate people doesn’t mean that this segregation wouldn’t happen without these different terms. Even if there was no official distinction between Asperger syndrome and Rett syndrome and so on, people within the autistic community would likely distinguish between them. And it makes sense that people who do not know much about autism tend to blindly stereotype autistic individuals and separate HFAs from LFAs based on obvious manifestations of autism such as verbal abilities. While the official terminology may help encourage this sort of stereotyping, it would likely occur without these labels as well and is not necessarily a main cause of the Goldilock’s Rhetoric.

I think language is largely a representation of Goldilock’s Rhetoric as well. The way people speak, the things they say, the words they choose, are all indicators of their understanding of autism. And language is a fundamental distinguisher between the “NT allies” and the “jerks.”

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