Elena Marshel Final Project

Elena Marshel


Professor Christopher Foss

6 May 2021

“Apologies to my OB-GYN:” The Value of Disabled Lives

In her essay “The Case for Conserving Disability,” Rosemarie Garland-Thomson argues that disability is an integral part of human society and a source of connection and social change. Some of the earliest pieces of evidence of hominins with advanced intelligence and social structures (in other words, more human-like hominins) come in the form of remains with healed injuries that would have been debilitating before modern medicine. The fact that these early human relatives were able to heal and continue living shows that their community felt empathy and compassion. They tended to their sick peer, even when it was costly and had no benefits besides a life saved. This has always been one of the strongest defining characteristics of our incredibly unique species: our desire and capability to care for those who cannot care for themselves. This aspect of humanity is explored in Rebecca Foust’s poem “Apologies to my OB-GYN,” which is about her experience having a child who was premature and autistic. In her derisive and ironic apology, she brings attention to the way this age-old practice of caring for other humans has been corrupted by modern medicalization and finances, while also highlighting the beauty of life she sees in her son.

The first two stanzas of Foust’s poem describe the circumstances of her son’s birth through an apology, the sincerity of which is not immediately clear. 

“Sorry that my boy birthed himself

too early, took up so much room

in your prenatal nursery

with his two pounds, two ounces

and did not oblige your nurses 

with easy veins.” (1-6)

The very first word of the poem is “sorry,” setting the apologetic tone that pervades the entire work. It is initially impossible to tell how genuine the apology is, and it seems to convey conflicting senses of true contrition and biting sarcasm. She apologizes that her son “birthed himself / too early,” framing it as a conscious act by giving the infant agency in the sentence. The line break, which causes the first line to end at “birthed himself,” seems to be a brief appreciation of the ways in which disabled people, especially those with autism, may act in ways that defy social norms. This defiance is not rebellion, as Foust sarcastically writes it here, but simply the way disabled and autistic people meet their needs, which differ from an abled, neurotypical person. However, these expectation-defying behaviors are often perceived as something to be apologized for. Foust juxtaposes her apologetic tone with twisted descriptions of the burden her son caused the medical staff, apologizing for taking up too much space despite his tiny size and for her son’s failure to “oblige the nurses / with easy veins.” Her phrasing makes the apology seem unnecessary at the very least, and by the end of the stanza, her apology is more clearly insincere. 

“Sorry we were such pains in your ass

asking you to answer our night calls like that,

and that he did everything so backwards:

lost weight, gained fluid

blew up like a human balloon

then shriveled.” (7-12)

By the beginning of the second stanza, Foust’s frustration becomes more apparent as she moves to more aggressive language, calling her and her family “pains in [their] ass” for requesting simple medical services. She continues to emphasize the unrealistic nature of her guilt through the way she phrases her supposed offenses. Foust then apologizes again for her son’s deviation from standard practice, saying that “he did everything so backwards” and then describing serious medical conditions. She uses nearly comical language like “human balloon” in a faux attempt to validate her apology, but it serves a similar purpose. The comedic language seems nearly grotesque next to the medical descriptions of the premature child. 

“Sorry about how he defied your prognoses,

skyrocketed premiums, weighted the costs,

in your cost-benefit analyses,

skewed bell-curve predictions,

into one long, straight line;

sorry he took so much of your time” (13-18)

In this stanza, Foust moves from the guilt she felt during her time at the hospital to a more general trend in which disabled and autistic people, as well as their caretakers, are held socially responsible for the perceived cost of caring for them. Foust uses specific financial and analytical language in her apology, listing terms such as “premiums,” “cost-benefit analyses,” and “bell-curve predictions” that sound clinical and impersonal in the context of a child’s life. Again, she uses her imitation apology to point out the questionable priorities of the people who place guilt on her and her child. She ends the stanza with a cut-off line, “sorry he took so much of your time,” which, separated from the rest of the sentence, seems to hold less sarcastic intent than the rest of the poem thus far. However, the line is continued into the final stanza: 

“being so determined to live. He spent 

today saving hopeless-case nymph moths

trapped in the porchlight, one matrix-dot

at a time, and now he’s asleep; blue wingbeat

pulse fluttering his left temple—there,

there again. Just like it did then.” (19-24)

When the line is brought together, it becomes “sorry he took so much of your time being determined to live.” This line is a striking summary of much of the sentiment in the poem, but it is fragmented and interrupted by arbitrary divisions. Just like line breaks in a free verse poem, social constructs can be helpful but are not always necessary nor appropriate, and can in fact be harmful when they are applied to circumstances that require unconventional attention. For the rest of the stanza, as she describes the beauty of watching her child grow and learn to care for others, the lines are divided no longer divided by clause. Instead, they flow as feels natural, as she wishes for her son to do. This is the only stanza that doesn’t contain the word “sorry,” leaving a clear message: by breaking free from the need to adhere to detrimental social constrictions, one can alleviate the guilt autistic people often feel for simply existing.

The final stanza is centered around the very thing Foust found lacking in the hospital, the place where it should be most plentiful: access to guilt-free care. When freed from expectations that do not apply to him, her son attempts to save  “hopeless-case nymph moths trapped in the porchlight,” engaging in the selfless acts of care for others described in the introduction of this essay. The juxtaposition of this stanza with the first three, which are guilt-ridden and full of clinical terms, makes the disconnect clear. Although medical care should ideally be based on compassion and humanity, the emphasis on finances and cost in the medical industry has created an environment in which the non-monetary value of things, such as the life of a little boy, is overshadowed. This is caused by and leads to the stigmatization of disabled and autistic people as a drain on resources, rather than a valuable and necessary aspect of humanity.

Word Count: 1170

I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work. -Elena Marshel

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).

Nathalie Navia-Luciano’s Final Paper

Nathalie Navia-Luciano

Professor Foss

ENGL 384

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).

Works Cited

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