Here is a link to our final paper on language and autism.
May 4, 2021
Parents and Their Autistic Children: The Mourning Over A Perceived Normalness
When a parent is welcoming a child into the world, it is a moment of excitement and joy. There is no doubt that in the many month-long wait, time is filled with the parent imagining who and what the child would be like and what they will become. Their favorite colors, foods, dream jobs. When expecting children, a parent can imagine the life that child will have in the following years. In many cases, parents will be blessed with the delivery of a child that could be considered “normal” or neurotypical. While in others, parents will be blessed with a child that has a disability. Unfortunately, some parents may not consider a child with a disability as a blessing. They may not recognize the child as their own. They may mourn the “normal child” that they had felt they were supposed to have.The child that was supposed to go to school, learn to drive, and go off to college. Not that disabled children cannot grow up to do all these things, however there are some who are dependent on the care of others who may be unable to partake in much of the activities that can be perceived as typical to any lifestyle. An example of this challenge is a parent who is coming to the knowledge that their child is autistic. In Sinclair’s article the preconceived notions of burden that are placed on caring for a disabled child morphs the view that parents have toward their autistic child and in turn can affect the child and the support that they may receive from their parents in the long run. This occurs in both the misunderstanding that autism can be cured or removed from the child and that it would be impossible to speak and relate to them.
Previously, I noted that a challenge may present itself once a parent learns that their child is disabled, in this case autistic. With an ableist lens the challenge could be perceived as one that only belongs to the parent when it in fact also resides in the child themselves. Jim Sinclair discussed in their article, “Don’t Mourn for Us” the issues that lie in parents mourning their autistic child and how this belief is rooted in the preconceived notion of burden and loss. Sinclair uses solid statements that expose the heartlessness of a parent that puts how they feel over the child. Viewing this occurrence as a “great tragedy” in their family (Sinclair). Sinclair chastises parents in for their behavior toward their autistic children. Demanding that parents do not mourn for their children. One point that they brought out under their subheading “Autism is not an appendage” was that since autism is a way of being, there is no removing or separating it from an individual. In reference to the parent’s wish for a “normal child,” they revealed the true meaning behind the phrase, “I wish my child did not have autism (Sinclair)” that a parent may say toward their child. They brought out that this is in fact a way of expressing that the parents wished that their autistic child did not exist, and a normal child may take their place. This heartbreaking notion of being unable to love a child because of the difficulty that presents itself in learning and understanding an autistic child is a representation of how an unsupportive parent allows the illusion of burden to build a wall between themselves and their child. All of this over a shattered expectation of normal (Sinclair).
Parent’s may also perceive their children as an “impenetrable wall (Sinclair).” This is certainly not the case. The root of this belief is also found within the expectations that a parent may have already conceived with their child that the language that they would use with a normal child would also be understood as well with an autistic child. However, an autistic child is not going to respond in a manner that is recognized as being a part of that language system (Sinclair). Sinclair highlights that “it takes more work to communicate with someone whose native language isn’t the same as yours (Sinclair).” This illustration further emphasizes that autistic individuals are “foreigners” in every society that they live within (Sinclair). A real effort will need to be made if a parent wants to support their child and better get to know and understand them. They would have to become fluent in their language and translate and make sure that an understanding can be made. Even then Sinclair admonishes that even once this is accomplished there will be no normal parent-child relationship. A whole new construction of normal would be required in order to accept the different. If the new construction is not built Sinclair warns that frustration, resentment, and even hatred can stem from a parent toward their child.
The care of an autistic child is dependent on the parent understanding that any traditional, societal notions of “normal” do not apply. To mourn an autistic child is to not accept them for who they are. It is to wish and pray for a replacement child that is easier to swallow and handle in association. It is not impossible to communicate and get closer to an autistic child. It requires effort to learn and understand the language system that the child uses. The preconceived notions of burden that are placed on caring for a disabled child morphs the view that parents have toward their autistic children and in turn can affect the child and the support that they may receive from their parents in the long run. However, Sinclair advised that approaching “respectively, without preconceptions, and with openness to learning new things, and [the parent] will find a world [that] could never have imagined (Sinclair).” This remedycreates the opportunity. Don’t mourn an autistic child. Instead, explore who they are and what they will be (Sinclair).
Foust, Rebecca. “Apologies to my OB-GYN.” Margie (2007): Electronic Ed.
Sinclair, Jim. “Don’t Mourn for Us.” Our Voice (1993): Electronic Ed.
I pledge – Nathalie Navia Luciano
Word Count – 1034
For my final, I analyzed the poems “Misfits” and “Apologies to my OB-GYN” and talked about how the medical community and people can do better with treating people with autism.
I pledge – Brianna Fridriksson
3 May 2021
ENGL: Disabilities and Literature
Of Mice and Men is one of the books in this semester that the main character is somehow mentally disabled, but due to the year, the book came out his disability was not labeled as autism. Lennie was rather seen as a character with multiple mental irregularities in how he acted versus the rest of the characters. Multiple traits could be from autism or another mental disability, but due to many of the traits Lennie had, it seems more likely that he has autism. These traits ranged from things like how he would stim, would hyper-focus on some details and ignore others, and asking things just to hear the answer he already knows. Due to the qualities that Lennie has in this book, it seems that he has autism, and the time the book was published is the reason he did not have an absolute diagnosis.
One of the traits that Lennie does the most as a way of comforting himself is asking George to tell him about the rabbits and the farm. This is an autistic trait of hyper-focusing on one thing and ignoring everything else. Lennie is so fixated on this one dream that it seems to be the only thing keeping him going and working hard. After being told this dream of having the farm he seems to only care about it and is fixated with the thought. He keeps this mentality of everything that is happening is for the farm until the end when he is killed.
One of the most obvious autistic traits of Lennie is the way he seeks out the feeling of soft things. From the dress of silk to the soft puppies. He would seek out things that were soft to play with and touch, even if it was gross, like the dead mouse in his pocket. It is an autistic trait to try and feel comfortable or soft materials. Something like a soft blanket or in Lennie’s case an animal or person’s dress. The sensation of just something soft is comforting and a lot of autistic people enjoy the feeling of soft materials.
Another trait of Lennie’s that is linked to autism is how he would remember the entire story that George would tell him about the farm and yet he would ask about it over and over again. There is a specific quote from the book about Lennie asking George to tell the story about how the farm will look and run, but Lennie keeps interrupting George to prompt him to tell the next part. This leads to George asking Lennie if he just wants to tell the story himself. Lennie just wants to hear the story from Georgie’s mouth. He asks again and again because he wants to hear the same answer, in the same way, every time. It is a sort of comforting thing to hear the same answer every time a question is asked. It’s reliable and gives Lennie a sense that things are not changing, that everything is the same as it was the last time.
Another trait of Lennie’s that could be linked to autism is how Lennie remembers specific things, but other things are gone from his memory within minutes. Like how he remembers the entire story of how the farm will be run and how they will be able to get the farm to be theirs, but tasks that George asks him to do are gone from his memory in a matter of minutes. He does not have a selective memory but rather he is not fixated on them so they are not as important. One of the most heartbreaking items he can relay word for word aside from the dream that he and Geroge have is how George tells him that he would be better without him. Lennie can stop George and continue what he was going to say about how things would be easier for George if Lennie was still with his family instead of being with George.
One of the best-described items that seemed to be added in without thought of what that says for Lennie’s character is how he stims. There are a couple of different types of stimming he does. There is a physical one where he moves his hands in excitement or the rubbing on the mouse in his pocket to try and calm himself down. Then there is when he would ask George to tell about the farm and he would stim through George talking about that and his excitement was apparent. This is a trait of a lot of different disabilities, but the most likely given the other traits is autism.
The last trait can be put under many different disabilities just like stimming, but this one is how he does not seem to have control over his body. There are obvious times when this happened like when he was too strong and killed the puppies and the mouse. When Curley’s wife is killed it is because Lennie was touching her too much, but he was enjoying the feeling of her hair and dress. He did not want to let go which ended with him being too strong and breaking her neck. The lack of body control is not always one that is hand in hand with autism, but like stimming, it makes the most sense with his traits and character as a whole.
Lennie’s character is believed to be autistic, but at the time that the book was published in 1937 autism was still not a diagnosable disability. Autism was only made into an actual diagnosable disability in 1943, so the character may have not been labeled as autistic, but I believe that he is from his description. His character exhibits some very classic traits for autism, and because of that, I believe he was written in the likeness of an autistic person in the time before autism was diagnosable. Lennie is a character that everyone in some way is able to relate to no matter what disability they have.
Pledge: I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work.
Word Count: 1,006
“How are an individual’s race and Autism related to one another?” This was the naïve, privileged question that I had initially asked myself when I read the opening title to Morénike Giwa Onaiwu’s Preface: Autistics of Color: We Exist… We Matter and E. Ashkenazy’s Forward: On Autism and Race. However, upon reading these two theoretical pieces, I, and other fellow readers are given two firsthand accounts of individuals living a life of being both colored and autistic, allowing us to momentarily be placed in their shoes. Through Onaiwu and Ashkenazy’s theoretical texts, it becomes clear to readers that there not only exists a relationship between one’s race and Autism, but that Individuals who fall in the category of both colored as well as autistic, are forced to struggle in society and life significantly more than individuals who do not identify as colored or autistic due to concepts such as microaggressions and the way in which their communities react to said individuals.
To fully understand the way in which autism and an individual’s race are linked, we must understand the ways in which exclusively, a person’s race affects their everyday lives in society. We are given examples of this firsthand in Onaiwu’s Preface: Autistics of color: We Exist… We Matter when she states that growing up, before she was even diagnosed with autism, the color of her skin and the way society reacted to her made her “alone”, “strange”, “weird”, and like she “never fit in” (Onaiwu 12). Onaiwu provides readers another example when she mentions that growing up, her teachers were unable to properly pronounce her last name “which was two syllables and four letters long” (Onaiwu 13), but were able to pronounce her classmate’s western, caucasian names such as Kowalczyk or Schwarzkopf. Both Onaiwu and Ashkenazy also mention the concept of microaggressions, which are described as “Brief and common place daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slides and insults toward people of color” (Ashkenazy 27), and the way in which said microaggressions make them feel like the “other” in our society. For example, Ashkenazy mentions how often she is being told things like “yeah with that dark thick wild curly hair, I definitely knew you were black” (Ashkenazy 28) and “It’s really cool to have a black friend! My world is just too white” (Ashkenazy 29). What is perhaps most telling about these claims, is that Ashkenazy mentions that they come from close friends, and are out of ignorant innocence (Ashkenazy 30) rather than ill intent, as it shows that racism and racist remarks can often stem from a person’s lack of knowledge on the subject and even if they don’t intend to, can create difficult and uncomfortable situations for these individuals. Through examples such as these, both Onaiwu and Ashkenazy are able to paint a clear, vivid picture of how the color of their skin as well as their other physical attributes affect their everyday lives.
We must now shift our focus on to how Autism can exclusively affect an individual’s life and their status in society. Autism is typically defined as a developmental disorder that can oftentimes diminish an individual’s ability to interact with others and communicate. Onaiwu gives us a firsthand example of how autism affected her life when she mentions that the way she “spoke, interacted, moved, and processed things was so very different” (Onaiwu 14) than any of her fellow classmates. The author also briefly touches on the divide created by society that exists between able bodied individuals and those diagnosed with Autism, as she mentions that growing up, there was no place she “belonged”, no place where she could “find someone who understood” (Onaiwu 15) her. An individual with Autism may be forced to maintain a repetitive schedule due to them typically wanting to stick to familiar things. On top of these, Ashkenazy also notes that an individual diagnosed with autism may be “struggling with cultural expectations on top of general expectations from parents, significant others, family, and/or friends” (Ashkenazy 34). Ashkenazy also mentions that an individual diagnosed with Autism may not only be “struggling with culturally based power dynamics and/or hierarchal structures both formal and informal” (Ashkenazy 34), but they might also be struggling at home in the fact that they may be having “feelings of being an embarrassment to both family and community members” (Ashkenazy 34). Through examples such as these that have been presented to us as readers, it becomes clear that while Autism itself may present a wide range of challenges for an individual that is diagnosed with it, society amplifies those challenges, and presents individuals diagnosed with autism with completely new obstacles as well.
By understanding the ways in which an individual’s race and being diagnosed with Autism can both exclusively affect an individual and their lives, we can now properly understand the way in which “we bring race into the great conversation about autism” (Ashkenazy 34). For individuals who are not only a person of color, but are also diagnosed with Autism, the pressure of not only society but of their community can present an innumerable amount of difficulties and challenges for the individual. Onaiwu mentions that “those of us who exist at the intersection of disability and race, aren’t treated as if we are real” (Onaiwu 12). This stems from the previously mentioned divide between abled bodied individuals and autistic people of color, as Caucasian, abled individuals typically only acknowledge autistic people of color when “others need to use” them to “make a point” (Onaiwu 12). The only sense of acknowledgment they get from other individuals is when they are forced to feel like “unwilling tokens for someone else’s cause” (Onaiwu 12). Perhaps Onaiwu’s most touching moment in the text is on page fourteen when it is mentioned that she was not only a person of color, but she was also a hyperlexic, twice exceptional autistic. In this realization, she mentions that she is a “minority within a minority” (Onaiwu 14). This short quote briefly describes in three words the challenges that Onaiwu and other individuals like her are forced to face simply for the color of their skin and for having Autism. We as readers are also given a second chance. to be placed in the shoes of a colored, autistic individual in Ashkenazy’s piece, as they mention that “people often assume things about” them or labeled them “based on either innocent or intentional biases and prejudices” (Ashkenazy 26). Ashkenazy specifically mentions a connection between race and Autism on page thirty two when it’s mentioned that “we bring race into the great conversation about autism because artistic people of color are often times having a vastly different life experience in comparison to their white peers” (Ashkenazy 32). Ashkenazy immediately follows this up by providing multiple examples in which a colored, autistic person is faced with insufferable challenges such as “feeling out of place not only within the world or society in general, but within their own ethnic group as well” (Ashkenazy 34).
Onaiwu and Ashkenazy’s theoretical pieces allow for individuals such as myself, who may not have acknowledged a relation between Autism and one’s race, to finally understand the link between them. By providing specific examples of ways in which a person’s race can exclusively affect their everyday life as well as ways in which Autism can exclusively change someone’s social life, we are able to better understand not only that a link exists between the two, but that they actually play into each other more than most people realize. By allowing readers into this aspect of their lives, Onaiwu and Ashkenazy give readers the chance to experience and understand what it is like being a part of two minority groups. Through this, Onaiwu gives us the answer to our long sought question of what race has to do with Autism. “Everything” (Onaiwu 22) Onaiwu says. It has everything to do with Autism, and we as readers, whether we are part of this double minority group or not, can finally understand that.
Word Count: 1347
Honor Pledge: I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this assignment
Throughout disability studies, the discussion is often centered around the “abled” or the “disabled,” but is this idea as black and white as it seems? When discussing Autism, in particular, the conversation of the “spectrum” comes into play, bringing along stereotypes of what it means to be autistic, what people with autism “should” look or “should” act like. Melanie Yergeau poses this discussion in “Introduction: Involution,” from Authoring Autism, asking if “there can ever really be an in-between” (Yergeau 2) or if it instead is an absolute dichotomy between those with autism and those without. It is here that I am arguing that autistic writers have set forth to define and demonstrate this dichotomy through their writings and creative discussion of how their autism, particularly their understanding of language and use of language, creates a divide between the two groups when it comes to everyday discussion, as well as the discussion around autism itself.
To begin, it’s important to understand Yergeau’s own discussion and proposition of dichotomy or no. Yergeau argues that “autism is typically characterized by what it contrasts” (Yergeau 2) presenting autism as an “antithesis” to the non-autistic, which she argues is demonstrated by the stories of those who raise autistic children and those who actually have autism as well. Yergeau’s primary examples include the discussion of “poop talk,” as discussed by parents of autistic children, “who have (presumably) never smeared their own [poop]” (Yergeau 3). Yergeau discusses these narratives as seen from the “other” perspective, and then recounts her own experience with remembering her own potty-training experience. She tells that time as more difficult than learning how to read discussing the “decoding of sensations, recognizing the tightness meant which function” (Yergeau 6) as things that have “long eluded” her. This distinct difference Yergeau discusses through “poop talk” is only the beginning of exploring the dichotomy recognized by autistic people between them and those without autism. While Yergeau is able to recognize the difficulties of her own potty-training and the ease that came with learning to read, those neurotypical parents focus more on the “anomaly” of how autistic children respond to feces, and the placement of autistic children as “victim-captives.” It’s through this small narrative the Yergeau presents the subtle beginning to the dichotomy defined by the autistic community itself. Even those who know the child the best, cannot fully understand them, or recognize their abilities in the way that the autistic person can, drawing a line between those with, and those without, autism.
Another autistic creator, DJ Savarese, expresses similar ideas as Mukhopadhyay in his poem “Alaska.” Savarese utilizes the image of winter in Alaska, to bring forth this same idea of separation and divide between Savarese and his non-autistic facilitators. For Savarese, this divide is separated by those who “yearn for freedom,” (people with autism) and those who “live forever” (the non-autistic). In examining other works, this “freedom” that Savarese discusses is brought to light to be communication and understanding. In his essay “Communicate With Me” Savarese expresses his desire for people to talk with him, and not his facilitator, whether it be by waiting patiently, or making direct eye contact to show that they care about what he has to say. In his own process of communicating, Savarese must “free [his] body to respond” (Savarese 5). This discussion of language being “Freedom” is what separates the “you” and the “they” in the poem. Whoever the poetic speaker is addressing is holding onto the leaves, symbolizing Savarese and his desire for the “freedom” of conversation that he seeks, and the stigma that his conversation must be guided by his able-bodied facilitators. Savarese directly speaks out against this in his essay, asking people to “look at and talk to him” (Savarese 7), instead of addressing his facilitator, as if they are the ones having conversation for him.
On the same topic of the differences between how those with and without autism can use and understand language, Amanda Baggs, another author with autism discusses what language presents itself as and how she can understand language differently than the non-autistic. In her commentary piece entitled “Up in the Clouds and Down in the Valley: My Richness and Yours,” Baggs discusses her relationship with language, recognizing that:
language was built mostly by non-autistic people, with the obvious results, and [her] biggest frustration is this: the most important things about the way [she] perceives and interact with the world around [her] can only be expressed in terms that describe them as the absence of something important. (Baggs 3)
This distinct lack that Baggs’ has to utilize language in the way that is seen as “normal,” along with her argument that “language was built by non-autistic people” demonstrates the difference between those with and without autism, and the consideration that would be needed to truly find a middle ground between the two groups, given their differences in social interactions.
Baggs later goes on to describe how using traditional language “takes place in the clouds” (Baggs 18), with its multiple layers and the need to balance physical language, expressive language, and figurative language. For people with autism, these concepts can be difficult to grasp alone- facial expressions and sarcasm can be daunting and decoding them isn’t a natural process. This line between what society has determined to be “language” has become a recognizable divide in the autistic community. Making “typical” societal discussion between the autistic and the non-autistic creates a divide between interactions of the two groups, without having to learn a new way of speaking.
In terms of disability, the conversation has always been led by the nondisabled. In the autistic community in particular, advocates and activists with this diagnosis have begun to speak about the current language barriers between those with and without autism, which creates a clear dichotomy between the two communities. This divide, however, could be closed and mended, if the non-autistic community could seek to listen, and truly seek to understand the autistic counterparts, instead of just assuming that their “language” is universal.
Word count 1008
I pledge that I neither gave nor received unauthorized help on this assignment.