Autism, Culture, and Representation

Now that I’ve had a chance to get back into the basics of autism, I’m moving towards learning about autism in children’s literature. I started my search for children’s books on the University of Michigan library catalog and the Ann Arbor District Library catalog, and was unsuccessful.

I journeyed to Barnes and Nobles in the hope of having more success. Instead, I stumbled upon this bookshelf:

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I have to say, I was impressed that this bookshelf existed. I didn’t really know what I was expecting to find, but I thought these books would be buried within a larger disability section.

When I took a closer look at the books, I was slightly bothered by one in particular.

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I guess being slightly bothered might be a bit of an understatement. I was shocked that this actually the title of a book. “I wish I were engulfed in flames: my insane life raising two boys with autism” not only seems ridiculously overdramatic, but it also paints a horrifying picture about the challenges of raising an autistic child. This image depicts a mother who dreams of suicide because of the struggles inherent in raising an autistic child. Someone who does not know much about autism might see this book and have a skewed perception about how horrifying it might be to raise a child with autism.

Another book on the shelf looked interesting to me, but there was one word that stood out to me.

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I thought that the word “threatened” seemed a bit extreme. To view autism as a threat is to imply that autism is bad and that it can cause damage to a person’s life. Autism is portrayed as an obstacle to be overcome, or something dangerous. It’s interesting how word choice can have subtle implications.

Although none of the children’s books that I was looking for were there, the store is having the books shipped over. So soon enough, I’ll be able to take a look at them and see what I can find!

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Comments on: "Searching for autism in children’s books" (1)

  1. I too was horrified by the engulfed in flames book — wow… just… wow. (I posted the image to Facebook, and lots of other people were horrified as well.) I also started looking through some of the initial pages of the book (via the free preview on Amazon), and it seems you were correct in predicting its overdramatization, play on tired stereotypes, etc. I’m bothered that B&N would place a book so front and center on its autism shelf!

    See you soon — looking forward to hearing about the children’s books you’re considering!

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