Autism Studies: Language and Variation

            In Autism studies, language is a widely explored topic that carries a variety of speculations with it.  Within Autism studies, language has many meanings.  Language is not static but is every growing and evolving.  Language is not confined to one manner or another, and differences in language methods should be celebrated and acknowledged.  Specifically, neurodivergent language, the atypical neurological state that encompasses a wide range of differently abled manner of communicating.  In the text “Cultural Commentary: Up in the Clouds and Down in the Valley: My Richness and Yours” by Amanda Baggs and the text “Cultural Commentary: Communicate with Me” by DJ Savarese, the diversity of language in the Autistic community is explored and analyzed.  The texts present obstacles that come with Autistic language as well as some of the common misconceptions about language that comes with being a part of a neurodiverse community.  The texts by Amanda Baggs and DJ Savarese examine and present language in a manner that intersects with Autistic studies, connecting it to real world experiences.   The texts by Baggs and Savarese explore how neurodivergent language presents itself, what neurodivergent language is, and why the presence of neurodivergent language is important to modern day Autism studies.

            The texts “Cultural Commentary: Up in the Clouds and Down in the Valley: My Richness and Yours” by Amanda Baggs and “Cultural Commentary: Communicate with Me” by DJ Savarese expand upon how neurodivergent language appears in the modern day.  Neurodiversity presents itself within the literary texts to explore the capacity in which the language of the autistic community is represented.  Language of the neurodivergent community is often misconstrued when it is first introduced.  Baggs discusses how the languages that are used by the Autistic community are inaccurately portrayed, “Like counters, stairs, and drinking fountains, language was built mostly by non-autistic people, with the obvious results, and my biggest frustration is this: the most important things about the way I perceive and interact with the world around me can only be expressed in terms that describe them as the absence of something important” (Baggs).  The language that is expressed in any way outside of the standard criteria set by neurotypicals is frequently considered strange and abnormal.  As a neurodivergent person herself, Baggs describes how the absence of typical conventional language is often viewed as being improper or wrong is a large part of being neurodivergent.  The lack of words or speech does not equal a lack of perception or understanding.  Baggs argues that the difference in language conventions equals a richness found only with this variety of representation.  This ideal that a verbal or visible language is required for understanding to be acquired is an ableist mindset.  Baggs further dispels this concept, “Colors. Sounds. Textures. Flavors. Smells. Shapes. Tones. These are short words, but the meaning of them is long, involved, and complex…It is hard to explain to another person the patterns of perception that come before the ones they themselves have” (Baggs).  Baggs’ text expresses how many neurotypicals have a difficult time understanding the processes involved in neurodivergent language because it is likely completely different than their own.  According to her article, it is clear that language presents itself in many different forms outside of traditional speech, involving things much more complex than words.  The neurodivergent patterns of language are vast and growing and do not conform to any one manner of occurring. 

            The exploration of what neurodivergent language is continues to be presented in various literary texts and studies.  From DJ Savarese’s “Cultural Commentary”, the meaning of language within the Autistic community is further explored and analyzed.  As a member of the neurodivergent community as well, Savarese presents commentary on language through his experiences.  As opposed to popular belief, language enters and exits the body from all senses.  Language is not merely verbal, and in Savarese’s experience, it consists of full body phenomena, “Yes, I can hear, but getting nervous is ultimately deafening to me…At times like these, I cannot make sense of what you say, but most of the time I do hear and understand real voices” (Savarese).  As expressed by Savarese, language is not confined to one form or another.  All five senses impact how language and communication are displayed.  The lack of traditional conventions in language does not equal a lack of understanding, but instead an alternation method of expression.  Instead, neurodivergent communication utilizes other aspects of the body to output language.  This usage of a variety of methods to communicate enhances the richness in which information is gathered in a controlled manner; Savarese himself suffers from sensation overload, so this widescale usage of language allows him different ways of controlling his intake.  The importance of these bodily signals varies, “First, ignore my involuntary gestures, including my signs for “done” and “break”…Remember these gestures are not voluntary. They are just my body’s way of responding to stimuli” (Savarese).  Neurodivergent language comes in many forms and is used in many different ways to fit the person.  There is no one way to utilize language, as is there only one kind of language.  Whether voluntary or involuntary, language presents itself in numerous ways as a method for exploration and communication from members of the neurodivergent community.  Savarese’s experience with body language represents the different manners in which language can be utilized aside from these traditional verbal forms.

            The presence of neurodivergent languages in the Autistic community is growing in recognition and expression.  Writers and activists like Baggs and Savarese are important primary sources to draw information about language from.  A direct result of the rising number of neurodivergent community members is an increase in misconceptions.  The works of writers like Savarese and Baggs impress upon the education of language and expression within Autism studies.  Expanding upon the definition of language and its relation to the Autistic experience is a large part of understanding that language is not a static form of communication that functions the same for everyone.  Baggs argues for this concept, “Not all of these things communicate everything that typical languages communicate, but I don’t see any reason they should have to. They are rich and varied forms of communication in their own right, not inadequate substitutes for the more standard forms of communication” (Baggs).  Communication, whether verbal or written, has evolved to fit the needs of an individual person.  Just as sign language works for those with hearing impairments, body language and sensational language may work for those of neurodiverse minds.  Expanding our definition of language can impact how we view neurodiverse minds and enhance the experiences we have with others.  Savarese, for example, represents the expanding world of communication and how to approach it, “What can you do to help me? The answer is communicate with me. Boldly reach out to me, and together we will goldenly share our views of the world we long to greet” (Savarese).  Many times, adverse reactions to differences drives away any chance at acquiring something new.  Exploring the concept of language and neurodiversity through minds like Savarese and Baggs will further enrich the world we live in.  The presence of neurodiversity and language is a constant within our communities and acknowledging the role it plays in modern society is the first step towards raising awareness. 

            In conclusion, language is an everchanging and evolving concept that thrives in our modern society.  Within the texts “Cultural Commentary: Up in the Clouds and Down in the Valley: My Richness and Yours” by Amanda Baggs and “Cultural Commentary: Communicate with Me” by DJ Savarese, the concept of language and its wide variation is explored.  Language comes in many forms aside from the traditional conventions of verbal and written language.  Body language using all five of the sense plays an equally important role in communication, especially to neurodivergent minds.  Baggs and Savarese explore how neurodivergence impacts language as we know it, as well as expressing why it is important in today’s modern world.  There is great richness to be found in a variation of language types, especially when drawing from the experiences of the Autistic community and related neurodivergent minds.  Language as we know it is being reassigned meaning before our very eyes, driving home the message that language is meant to be unique to each individual user.

(Word count: 1429)

Works Cited


Baggs, Amanda. “Cultural Commentary: Up in the Clouds and Down in the Valley: My Richness and Yours.” Disability Studies Quarterly (2010).

Savarese, DJ. “Cultural Commentary: Communicate With Me.” Disability Studies Quarterly (2010).

Break Out Group 4/6/21

Group Members: Katherine Blair, Keona May, Emily Kile, Madison Simpson, Taylor Boris

E: The article was hypocritical. It argued that disabled people had rich lives beyond their disability, and then also argued about how the child August’s experience was centered around the able-bodied perspective.

KM: It is hypocritical. The section on page 268, how the “passing as non-disabled” is somehow a compliment and that ties into your identity.

T: I thought that this article was harder to digest compared to her previous topics like feminism and sexuality.

KB: It talked about eugenics and the “inevitable”, but the experience of those who were born with the disability versus the experience of those who were not.

KM: The section mentioned before is about the privilege of those who decides who is “worthy” or “how disabled you are”.

KB: Absolutely, other disabilities are a normal thing and just because you don’t see as often doesn’t make it less important.

M: I wondered if anyone had written about this article, and I was curious if there was an exploration of the using of disability, specifically the narrative resource is the stereotyping of disability.

E: I do agree that disability is a resource, but not just in economic settings but in the social and interpersonal setting. Various identities can be a resource but that’s a capitalist idea that everything has a purpose.

KM: I agree, how many identities we occupy is important to take into account too. Always have to consider multiple identities; it’s almost inevitable.

T: I liked the idea of that comment about capitalism in relation to identities. Society has a need to put a label on everything and I think that relates to what everyone else brought up.

Taylor’s Response to Kenny Fries’ “Beauty and Variations”

In Kenny Fries’ poem “Beauty and Variations”, there is an open discussion of beauty in relation to the human body as well as a disabled body.  As the title suggests, the poem describes two lovers exploring the nature of physical beauty between one another.  From the start, the tone of the poem is one of pure wonder and sensuality as the narrator compares their body to their lover’s.  The word ‘beauty’ is thrown around quite a bit as the poem explores the deeper meaning to it.  The narrator expresses the desire to discover if beauty is equally easy to find inside as it is outside.  One particular line points to the main question in the text, “What is beautiful?  Who decides?  Can the laws of nature be defied?” (Fries).  The narrator struggles with their physical image compared to their lover’s, who is beautiful from birth.  While exploring their physical beauty as they continue to love and touch the narrator, the narrator wonders at how this interaction has come about.  In the narrator’s mind, beauty can not consist of twisted limbs and missing bones.  But in the lover’s mind, these aspects do not change their affections.  They can touch and kiss and love like any couple would, but the question lingers in the narrator’s mind even as they are intimate together.  While the open discussion of beauty between them takes place mainly within the narrator’s thoughts, there is a certain demonstration of the value of beauty occurring between them.  It is clear the narrator believes physical appearance holds a lot of power in the defining of beauty in society.  Furthermore, the narrator believes that the crooked body that makes up their anatomy is not worth as much as the natural beauty their partner possesses.  The narrator goes as far as stating that they believe their flaws will cause physical harm to their lover, “My hands would leave you scarred.  Knead the muscles of your thighs” (Fries).  This is a good example of equating disability with pain.  Assuming that someone with a disability can only cause or feel pain to a certain degree is a misconception that Fries explores with this open discussion.  Another significant feature of the poem is its sensuality.  Too often, those with disabilities are associated with a life lacking in sexual or otherwise physical activities.  Another misconception that is exposed and is further denied by this Fries poem.  The narrator and his lover are active in more ways than one in this poem, exploring their physicality and mentalities with one another.  Sensuality takes one more than one meaning in this poem.  The narrator’s thoughts are lined with the sensuality they feel with their partner, combined with the sensuality of being intimate with someone who is unlike them physically.  Kenny Fries combats the negative notion of the disabled community being incapable or without sexual interactions, as well as further open up the discussion of sensuality between disabled and non-disabled partners.  All around, this poem raises awareness to the interactions that the disabled community may have as well as how it relates to today’s standard beauty norms.

Small Group Notes 3/11

Group Notes – To Kill a Mockingbird

(Taylor Boris, Sonia Joshi, Madison Simpson)

S: Arthur Radley isn’t a dangerous person, but neither is Tom Robinson.  Their characters are made out to be by the town, with the rumors and customs.

T: There’s a lot going on behind the scenes in To Kill a Mockingbird, I think we miss some of the stuff the first time around.

S: That’s the issue.  We don’t know much about Arthur but maybe we’re meant to believe he’s the stereotypical portrayal of infantilization as we’ve seen in previous novels.

M: Another thing is symbolism in To Kill a Mockingbird, which constantly portrays something that is isn’t goes into that same thought.  Tom was seen as a criminal when he wasn’t and Arthur was constantly framed as a danger.

S: Also there’s physical and psychological issues and injury seen in both. If there wasn’t the general understanding of these mental issues or disabilities being projected onto these people by the town, there’s no visible concrete signs of disability or issues in Arthur.

T: I think it’s interesting that there’s a constant focus on the court case and the outward discrimination against Tom Robinson when Arthur Radley receives the same treatment from the town. There’s a wide perspective to be seen.

S:  The court case is supposed to be the focus.  Even in high school it was the focus, but there’s so much more and fascinating story aspects beyond that to be explored.

M: I agree! Lee hits the nail on the head with the symbolism and characterization.