Autism, Culture, and Representation

During a busy winter break in India, I read Roy Richard Grinker’s Unstrange Minds: Remapping Autism. I came back to Ann Arbor eager to learn more abut autism and sad that since my English class had ended, I wouldn’t really have a chance to do that. After trying out a variety of English classes, I was having trouble finding one that I really liked that fit my schedule.

I had been thinking about the idea of doing an independent study, but it seemed unlikely that I would be able to make it happen this semester. Luckily, thanks to Melanie’s enthusiasm and flexibility, it turns out that I will be doing an independent study this semester!

I’m going to start by delving deeper into the controversies that surround autism that were introduced in my English class last semester, English 416: Disability Cultures, Autism, Culture and Representation. After exploring these at a greater depth, I hope to focus in on how autism is represented through fictional characters in children’s literature or how literature is used to help children understand autism.

To dive back into autism, the facts, and the controversies, I read Stuart Murray’s Autism. It provided a great introduction to autism in just 100 pages.

One of the things that I found most interesting was Baron-Cohen’s idea that “suffering is integral” to autism (p 21). Suffering implies that those who are autistic are all in pain, and that their life is in some way compromised in comparison to the life of ‘normal’ people. The integration of the word ‘suffering’ in the understanding of autism reflects not only how autism is perceived as an abnormality, but also how it is a form of illness that needs to be cured.

The term ‘triad of impairments’ was also new to me (p. 25). I am interested in understanding how the definitions and the use of this phrase has evolved over time.


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