Katie Blair’s Final Paper

Color in Autism Literature

Without color, the world would be dull, however, color is often taken for granted. Colors can symbolize, contrast, draw attention, and alter perceptions, especially in literature. While reading Jim Sinclair’s “Don’t Mourn for Us,” I was reminded of how much color influences a piece of literature. This gave me reason to explore how color has impacted the literary works during the autism unit. Jim Sinclair’s “Don’t Mourn for Us,” Amanda Baggs’s “Up in the Clouds and Down in the Valley: My Richness and Yours,” and Rebecca Foust’s “Apologies to my OBGYN” all are examples of how literature is enhanced by color.

Perhaps the most obvious example of color in “Don’t Mourn for Us” is the entire background of the article. The screen is completely made up of rainbow colors, spanning from the left to the right of the screen. At first, I wasn’t sure if the background would relate to the article, but with more analysis, it becomes a strong amplification of Sinclair’s messages. The contrast, joyful symbolization, and constant reminder of color in the background initiate deeper thoughts on its meaning. In the beginning, Sinclair’s article discusses the grief that a parent bears when learning that their child has autism; this grief is described as “the loss of the normal child the parents had hoped and expected to have” (Sinclair). With the content being upsetting and dull, it creates a large contrast between the darker tones in the article and the bright colors in the background; this gives an unconscious sense of hope to parents reading this, who intend to grow past their grieving. A sense that although the parents lost a child that they had expected, the child with autism will still bring light and joy into their lives, even if it’s different than what they had prepared for. Later in his article, Sinclair explains that when parents say they wish their child didn’t have autism, it is the same as saying “I wish the autistic child I have did not exist, and I had a different (non-autistic) child instead” (Sinclair). These few sentences in his article stand out tremendously and contain one of the most strong and meaningful messages in the piece. This idea carries on throughout the rest of the article, reiterating the idea that “autism is a way of being” rather than being an outer shell to be broken through or something that can be taken away. This point that autism is a way of being is shown by the blending of the colors in the background, symbolizing the blending of autism in a person, and how someone with autism cannot be separated from what makes them who they are. At the end of Sinclair’s article, the bright background is then brought full circle with a more upbeat, hopeful ending. After discussing the darkness of grief and loss of the expected, Sinclair wraps up by saying to the parents of autistic children, “come join us, in strength and determination, in hope and joy…the adventure of a lifetime is ahead of you” (Sinclair). This joyful ending creates a parallel with the bright background that has been contrasting the article up until that point and finally gives hope and light at the end. Therefore, the color in this article creates a sense of hope at the end of a tunnel in the way that a parent has to learn to overcome the loss of what was expected and learn to find joy for the child they have. 

Amanda Baggs’ “Up in the Clouds and Down in the Valley: My Richness and Yours” incorporates color to enhance the message that just because autistics don’t speak the same language as most, they shouldn’t be seen as different or not ‘normal.’ One of Baggs’ main critiques is on non-autistics describing autistics as absent and having a “lack of soul” (Baggs). She builds up this critique with the element of color, by relating it to a mountain analogy where autistics are in seen in a valley while non-autistics are up on the mountain, saying, “they call that valley ‘not mountain’ and proclaim it dry, barren, and colorless because that’s how it looks from a distance” (Baggs). I especially like this analogy because it sets forth the idea that non-autistics rarely try to find different ways to connect with autistics because it is too different or unnatural for them. The way that Baggs incorporates color in this analogy gives it more of a lasting impact because it causes the reader to create a colorless image in their heads, causing a deeper understanding of the dullness in the way non-autistics often see autism. The addition of the word colorless creates that deeper meaning because a colorless world is something that many people don’t like, similar to how most people would choose a colored movie over a black and white one. The word also connects to the other ways that autism has been described as an absence and as a lack of a soul. This provides a plain picture for readers of the unfortunate ways that the world looks at autism. Later in the analogy, Baggs’ further explains how the valley has “all kinds of trees, many of which can’t grow in the mountain” and how “each experience is like a new rainbow for every sense,” she contradicts the colorless life that is assumed by most (Baggs). The contrast between the way people perceive autism compared to how autistic people live is explained in a more meaningful and impactful way by creating the large contrast between colorless life and rainbows. 

In Rebecca Foust’s “Apologies to my OB-GYN,” the color that transforms the poem’s influence on readers is blue. From the sad and hopeless tone in the poem to the blue background surrounding the stanzas, the color blue sets the mood for the entire poem. In general, society usually groups words with colors: happiness is more often than not associated with bright yellows, love is represented by pinks and reds, and sadness is matched with blues. With three out of the four stanzas beginning with the word ‘sorry,’ a sad, despairing tone is immediately given off, creating that blue tone. Furthermore, the addition of a dark and dullish-blue background is important in giving off the message that this poem is meant to be hopeless and sad, as it is about parents whose child is having complications in the prenatal nursery. When a parent’s baby is having a difficult time after birth, it is simply sad and blue, just like Foust’s poem. Sometimes the tone of a poem can be hard to read, but the straightforwardness of the blues and sad imagery in “Apologies to my OB-GYN” makes even more of an impact because of its simplicity.

Color in literature is a beautiful and powerful addition to any piece and I am glad that it was added within so many pieces in the autism unit. For someone who didn’t know much about autism before taking this class, I have a much stronger understanding now because of these literary works and the imagery, attention, and contrast that they presented to me with color. 

Word Count: 1186

Katie Blair’s thoughts on Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay’s “Misfit”

When reading “Misfit,” I immediately recognized the disparity between the responses to someone with autism in humans versus nature. In the poem, the narrator says, “the birds knew I was Autistic; they found no wrong with anything,” followed by the contrast of the narrator saying, “men and women stared at my nodding; they labeled me as a misfit” (Mukhopadhyay). The idea that the birds see the narrator’s autism as no wrong, or nothing out of the ordinary symbolizes a sort of innocence from the ablest mindset of normalcy compared to disability. I perceive the birds as being innocent of societies wrongful influence on young people’s view of those with disabilities such as autism, compared to the men and women who have already been influenced by the harmful idea that able bodies are the only “normal” bodies. I relate this concept to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird because of the way Scout perceives Tom Robinson. Although I am comparing Scout’s perception of race and the bird’s perception of disability, I believe both characters relay the same idea of innocence to societies false interpretations that some people are superior to others. For example, in To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout is often confused about why Tom Robinson’s race is the reason for the townspeople rooting against him and for his guilty sentence even though he was innocent. Since Scout grew up with Atticus teaching her to treat everyone as equals, from treating Walter Cunningham respectfully to defending Tom Robinson in court, she hasn’t been introduced to the racist ideologies within other people in Maycomb. Scout not knowing the ideas of racism resembles the birds in “Misfit,” since the birds don’t know that humans have set ideas of what is normal and what is seen as different or “misfit.”  The views that Scout and the birds have on both Tom Robinson and the narrator with autism are refreshing since they don’t carry any negative and false societal impressions of racism or ableism. 

Katie Blair’s response to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper is a story about a woman who’s described by her husband as having “nervous depression.” Although the main focus of the story is the woman’s fixation with the yellow wallpaper, the aspect that interested me the most was her husband’s belief that she wasn’t sick. This reflects the issue that many people still believe mental disabilities don’t exist, or just don’t take the time to understand how intense they can be. The woman describes her husband as “practical in the extreme” and that he “he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures.” Many doctors are stereotyped as being more factual than theoretical, and this is definitely seen through the husband. However, I want to focus on their husband-and-wife relationship as well, rather than just the doctor-patient one. 

With the presence of mental disabilities in a family, the recognition and response from the family is an important factor in the person with the mental disability’s life. Unfortunately, mental disabilities such as depression and nervousness are still neglected by many people. While the issue of mental disability awareness is growing tremendously, there is still a lot of work to be done; The Yellow Wallpaper does a great job of portraying this issue. Along with the wife’s husband’s belief that her sickness isn’t real, his opinions are also seen through his treatment choices. It seems as though he wants to hide her away from everyone, as if he was ashamed of her mental disability, by bringing her to the country estate house to “rest” for the summer. Especially since the woman says herself that she personally disagrees with that form of treatment and that “more excitement and change would do [her] good,” it is clear that the husband ignores her input, possibly to hide her mental disability from others. Also, the husband’s lack of understanding is evident since he discourages the things that make the woman happy, such as writing. Although the husband remains loving and caring towards his wife during the whole story, his lack of understanding for her mental disability is apparent through his stubborn treatment, causing more pain for his wife. 

It is impossible for someone to make judgements about those with a disability that they don’t have themselves, yet this is exactly what the husband does. One line that particularly stood out to me was when she said her husband told her, “no one but [herself] can help [her] out of it, that [she] must use [her] will and self-control and not let any silly fancies run away with [her].” This line angered me tremendously because it is basically like telling someone with depression ‘not to be sad’, which is insensitive and arrogant to assume that overcoming an illness such as depression is a ‘simple’ task to do. These misconceptions about how impactful mental illnesses can be in people’s lives is a problem that needs to be fixed because it is why so many people with mental illnesses don’t get the help that they need. If the husband would’ve listened to his wife’s needs and didn’t hide her away in a room for a full summer, she might have been able to get her mental disability under control, however his decisions ultimately made it worse for he in the end. At the end of the story, it is even more clear that the husband chose to ignore the state of his wife’s condition because he was so shocked to see how intense her mental illness had grown that he fainted.

Overall, The Yellow Wallpaper is a great example of the issue of people not understanding mental disabilities and how they affect those who have them. 

Word Count: 623

Katie Blair’s Response To Kill a Mockingbird

Reading Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird for the second time has created a different view for me when reading it in the lens of disability studies, specifically with Arthur Radley’s character. In particular, the nickname ‘Boo’ Radley stood out to me as having an underlying meaning that I hadn’t noticed before. Although the Radley house is generally disliked by the town, there is a difference in how the adults view them and how the kids view them; specifically, the nickname made me think about how the kids may be interpreting the name ‘Boo’. When Scout is asking Miss Maudie about Arthur Radley, she referred to him as Boo and was quickly told Miss Maudie to call him by his real name. Here, it is clear that Miss Maudie, being much older than Scout, sees Arthur Radley as a real person rather than dehumanizing him with a nickname like ‘Boo’. This is also seen when Atticus tells his kids not to play the ‘Boo Radley’ game because he understands that it was immoral. Scout and Jem are too naïve as children to understand how the game and nickname neglect Arthur as being a real person. This also made me think back to when I was younger, and about how the types of things that scared me as a child seem silly to be scared of today. Jem and Scout probably view the Radleys in similar ways and don’t fully understand how the nickname and game could affect Arthur. With that being said, the adults in the town should do a better job of not creating the Radley house to be a scary place because it translates down to the children to view Arthur in a negative, neglectful way. 

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