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