Autism Speaks & Articulately

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

One remarkable facet of disability studies: when the “disabled” actually speak, they do so with greater clarity and less jargon than those who would purport to study them.

“What to do when a philosopher in one breath claims theory of mind is a ‘fundamental aspect of human relationships,’ and then in the next claims that autistic people do not have a ‘fully functioning theory of mind?, ’” Melanie Yergeau stated in a paper she presented at the Modern Language Association (MLA) annual meeting in Chicago last week. “What to do when leading autism researchers claim that autistic writing is inherently unreliable and that ‘it might be a mistake to take what is said at face value?’”

“How does an autistic person argue against the above?”  Yergeau teaches at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

“Anything I claim here is held suspect on the basis of my very being—because I am autistic, I lack a theory of mind,” she told an audience at the MLA. “And because I lack a theory of mind, I lack both a theory of my mind and a theory of the minds of others.”

“And because I lack a theory of my mind and the minds of others, anything I say is inherently unreliable, idiosyncratic, and special.”

“One common stereotype of autistic people is the idea that we have difficulty with figurative language,” Sonya Loftis said in a presentation which followed Yergeau’s at the MLA. “Indeed, this notion is a microcosm of the larger cultural conversation regarding autism and self-expression, as it has frequently been suggested that autism (and other mental disabilities) resist rhetoric, narrative and story-telling at large.”

“But while scholarly and popular discourses are rendering autism the ultimately ineffable narrative, the past twenty years have seen an explosion of stories written by autistics about autism: from blogs to chat in online communities to best-selling autobiographies [Yergeau calls them autie-biographies], people on the spectrum are telling all kinds of narratives about themselves.”  Loftis teaches at Morehouse College.

Conversely, she notes that “disability studies scholars have pointed to metaphor as one of the primary ways in which disabled people can reconstruct medical discourses and popular misrepresentations.”