Friday, May 4, 2012

More about Freaks

This is Part 2 of a series on my participation in CUNY's ESA Conferece 2012. Part 1 is here.

My initial thought was to explore the meaning of “autism scholar.” What are the credentials? Does blogging count? Even if it does, I haven’t done a lot of that in a while. Do I deserve the label based on my degree or the publication of a single paper? And if so, who is being left out? What can be done to create an atmosphere of learning and shared knowledge that would expand the notion of scholarship beyond academia? What types of knowledge and learning are currently ignored or discounted? I figured I'd riff on that in a short video and that would be my contribution.

Then I found out a little more about the workshop. There was going to be a presentation on video games. There was going to be a presentation on manga. What do these topics have to do with what is usually thought of as autism studies? In corresponding with the other participants and reading a draft of one of their papers, I found my definitions expanding. I had previously viewed texts that are traditionally considered “literature” through the lens of disability studies, but here were people taking formats usually snubbed as trivial and deconstructing them in terms of an autistic aesthetic. Cool!

Given this information, Squawkers McCaw occurred as a formidable subject. Based on the lack of comments this video has elicited, I deem it to be a failed project. Not that that’s a bad thing. It was fun to work on and I learned some things. It got a few laughs and set an interesting tone for the workshop. Squawk.

Following the Squawkers video, Julia Miele-Rodas presented Autistic Architecture in Digital Games: Narrative, Voice, Play.

From Julia’s paper:

Ultimately, the patterns of rhetoric established within these texts operate in ways that bring human experience and identity into relief, reclaiming these from the invisible and the intuitive. Videogames formalize narrative in ways that satisfy a greater autistic aesthetic—abstraction, order, and formal symmetry. These are texts which are attentive to boundaries; they demonstrate a penchant for the categorical; they collect, collate, and enumerate; they discipline social exchange within a spatial matrix; they bind affective content into orderly relation with the material and the concrete; and they invite repetition and perseveration. (Rodas, 2012)
Chris Foss followed, reading his paper, Reading in Pictures: Re-visioning Autism and Literature through the Medium of Manga.

What makes manga such an important form for helping to suggest more expansive possibilities where literary autism is concerned, however, is that it offers an entry point for the consideration of multiple aspects of autistic embodiment. Indeed, perhaps the most compelling argument for why manga seems so well suited for more fully expressing the lived experience of autism than traditional literary narratives stems from the fact that manga offers a decidedly multimodal reading experience, one which may engage multiple senses simultaneously and thereby encourage various forms of interaction with the text. (Foss, 2012)
Melanie Yergeau, participating through video and Skype, then read That’s just your autism talking (and other phrases that shouldn’t appear in an autism essay.

During my second week as a new faculty member, I was involuntarily committed to the psych ward at the university hospital. I would say that I make this statement against my better judgment, but such a sentiment presupposes that I have better judgment. (Which, according to my ex-doctors, I don’t.)
If you have not yet read this post at Melanie’s blog Aspie Rhetor, please do so now. For me, this was the highlight of the workshop, the story of a disability scholar being abused, patronized, and regarded as unworthy of basic human rights.

After that was another video in which I rambled on about autistic communication.

Well, that should certainly have led to a lively and interesting discussion, right? Considering the educators and students in attendance, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew it would be fun and different.

Then came the time for questions.

What did participants want to talk about? The proposed changes to the DSM. What did we think about them? What would this mean for services? There was no getting off this track once it started.

Given the excellent and varied content, the opportunity to explore new ways of looking at autism, and presumably the ideal audience, the medical model still managed to assert itself with force.

At the end of Julia’s presentation, she quoted from Ender’s Game by Orson Scott-Card:

He had lots of deaths, but that was OK, games were like that, you died a lot before you got the hang of it.

Alternative ways of looking at autism have only started to take hold of the collective imagination. I believe that the medical model of disability will someday be seen as a quaint and inadequate construct. I hope that the day comes sooner rather than later, that autistic people will be respected as fully human rather than rhetorically erased and subject to involuntary committment for behavioral differences. For whatever role scholarship can play in this, I am grateful. We've died enough already.


  1. WOW! Thanks for this, Bev. Loved your conference video. (Are you asking me what it is to be human?) I looked at most of the links for most of the other presenters. Wow, wow, wow. I can intimately relate to a lot of what everyone presented. There is so much more that I want to say. Mostly, Square8 and Squawkers: Glad you're back!

  2. Not a failed project at all -- many more people view things than comment on them. I thought your video did a very good job of prodding people to reexamine their assumptions, while not being judgmental about it.

  3. Thanks, Meg! :)

    Thank you, too, Anonymous.

    And "Squawwwwwwk," Sanabituranima!

  4. I want to ask for your help with a petition letter to The Autism Advisory Task Force. It's an open letter I've sent out to them yesterday - "An open letter to The Autism Advisory Task Force - Citing concerns about the violation of human rights of autistic children, experimentation on children, task member’s conflicts of interest, and the validity of the current approach."

    You can find it at the

    It’s a short letter – too fierce for most; too simplistic for others, whistling into the wind for the rest. But perhaps you’ll see it through.

    With sincere greetings,
    Vorya Yarow

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