Blog Post #4 – Autistic Adults & Representation

Robertson’s article focuses on how autism is depicted as a deficit rather than a form of human diversity. He calls looking through the lens of human diversity the “neurodiversity perspective,” which is influenced by societal diversity in other areas such as religion, gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. This perspective also supports the emphasis of the strengths and talents of autistic individuals rather than the things that they tend to have trouble with. Robertson discusses eight “Core Domains of Quality of Life” and what we can do to enhance these for people with autism, seeing that we live in a society designed for non-autistic individuals that very well “contributes to, and exacerbates, many of the daily living challenges that autistic people experience.”

I agree with Robertson that a collaborative approach is necessary in order to do this, in which there are partnerships formed with autistic people who have directly experienced these situations and the best ways to navigate them. Who better to explain and promote change than those who have put up with these challenges? And as sad as it is, many autistic adults no longer have their parents fighting for them, and in society parents are often the fuel for the fire when it comes to innovation. The same goes for media and literature about autism. I think the absence of autistic adults in media and literature also often results from the focus on stories and issues involving children simply in order to generate a bigger and broader audience: parents, families, teachers, health professionals, and so on. Let’s be honest – who doesn’t care about the well-being of innocent children? Adults, on the other hand, become invisible, unless they are those “high-functioning” and/or “Aspergian” autistic adults, such as Amanda Baggs, who can also attract an audience.

I found this commerical about Autism Awareness, ignoring autistic adults:

This commercial introduces autism as a complex neurological disorder that affects a child for the rest of his or her life. That is the closest it comes to addressing adulthood – the rest of the commercial shows groups of cute children in black and white, and rambles off facts and numbers about autistic children. It ends by saying that we need to “do something” about autism, and having each child say individually, “for me!” – “for me!” – “for me!” and so on.  The message here seems to be that we need to “do everything we can” about autism for these autistic children, leaving out the sake of adults who are affected by the same exact “disorder.” There are no facts or numbers mentioned about adults, or how autism can affect these children once they reach adulthood.

All in all, I think Robertson is right – there needs to be a shift of focus by research and professional communities, starting with the study of the quality of life for autistic adults in order to create resources that would ultimately give adults with autism more respect, support, interaction, and hopefully, happiness.


Blog Post #3

To me, one of the most interesting points that Bard’s video makes is how in Goldilock Rhetoric, language and communication have such a heavy influence on determining the ways in which NTs view and categorize individuals. Usually, if a person is non-verbal, people assume that the lack of activity in their speech corresponds directly to the amount of activity in their minds. Bard points out that while a non-verbal autistic person cannot speak in our language, they can still be quite intelligent (i.e. Amanda Baggs) and very well might be able to do things that verbal autistic individuals and NT’s cannot. Bard is right in saying that many non-verbal autists probably have intelligence comparable to Amanda Baggs’s, even though their intelligence is not accounted for just because they cannot communicate the same way as the rest of us. Further, a verbal autistic individual may have trouble doing certain simple tasks, such as laundry or using a pencil, that may not be so visible to the public eye as speech. I can see why Bard feels upset about NTs trying to compare the two, just as a result of NTs’ tendency to correlate spoken language and intelligence so directly with one another.

Honestly, Bard’s list of 9 things NTs shouldn’t do kind of intimidated me at first. After reading each, I immediately asked myself if I had ever done any of these things when communicating with a special needs person. But, I will say the list really made me switch my perspective when thinking about how a person with any sort of special needs might feel when interacting with an NT. No person wants to feel pitied, corrected, inadequate, or ignored. Savarese’s article reminded me of the importance of trying to put yourself in the other person’s shoes when communicating with them; it would be so awful to feel such entrapment by your physical responses just from the anxiousness or nervousness of having someone speak to you. It was especially thought-provoking that Savarese had to deliberately greet children indirectly, just to keep from getting too excited and energetic. Usually, being excited and energetic is a good thing — it’s hard to imagine purposely holding these responses back.

All in all, no matter what an NT does, they won’t fully understand what the world looks or feels like to a person on any part of the autism spectrum. Nor does a person on the autism spectrum know what it’s like to be an NT, or what it’s like to be in the shoes of any other autistic individual. Life is not a “who has it worse” or “who understands it better” competition. We’ve all been given unique perspectives, and when interacting, we should do our best to be patient, genuine, and show respect to one another.


Cure centers those who have not accepted autism (or any other disability) as a concrete and permanent part of a disabled person’s identity. Often, it is the parents of disabled individuals who have not yet been able to grasp the fact that their child is not “normal.” I loved how in the “Fixing Autism” video, the father (presumably) said that his daughter might not ever be “normal”, but she will be “the best Bianca that she can be.” This is an awesome perspective for the parent of an autistic child; to focus on allowing them to be the greatest version of themselves rather than trying to force them to be like the rest of society. On the topic of parenting, I felt that the “Defining Curebie-ism” article was a bit extreme in its claim about “Curebies” hating their autistic children. It reads, “To pay for whatever they see as a potential cure, many curebies go deeply into debt and then blame their child for ruining their life. There are some curebies who fantasize about killing their child, have no qualms about saying so while the child is listening, and seek to justify their murderous views by asserting that all parents of autistic children ‘share that hidden, dark thought.’” Sure, there are parents who endanger their child’s mental health with countless hours of therapies and treatments, which isn’t acceptable by any means, but how would they know if a parent fantasizes about killing their child? And even if there are parents who are this extreme, I feel like it is a very small percentage and doesn’t represent most parents or persons who believe in finding a cure.

The conversations that “cure” might deflect are those which discuss possible ways to enhance the life of an autistic individual, without trying to “delete” the autism. The idea of cure is not disability studies because from this perspective, disability is not a problem that needs to be fixed. Rather, Linton views disability as a construct that can find significance in a social and cultural context. In my opinion, once a person has a disability, no one should try to change or alter them because their disability is a huge part of who they are and it should be embraced. In that sense, I do agree with the idea of not finding a “cure” or a “fix.” However, I do not see a problem with researching the causes of a particuar disability, taking a preventative approach so that less people will be born disabled. I feel like there should be a greater focus on preventing autism in the first place rather than treating it once it has affected an individual. But until we can figure out exactly WHAT autism is and where it comes from, we cannot exactly do this. Either way, it is crucial that instead of trying to find a “cure” for autism, each autistic individual should be encouraged to be the best (and happiest) version of him or herself that they can be.

“Terministic Screens”

1) I’m an English major and am Pre-Med. I chose English because I love to write and I enjoy the study of language and rhetoric. I’m president of a Pre-Medical club here on campus called the Pre-Student Osteopathic Medical Association (Pre-SOMA). My goals for the semester include studying for the MCAT (and hopefully being prepared by January) and focusing on time management. I’m also really looking forward to my English 416 class 🙂

2) In his concept of a “terministic screen,” Burke offers us an understanding of the relationships between language and reality. Correspondingly, Broderick notes that each of her “watershed moments” is paired with a cultural shift in rhetorical content, rhetorical concept, and/or rhetorical strategy. She discusses how various treatment studies and organizations (Lovaas, Maurice, and Autism Speaks) have changed the face of autism, affecting one’s “terministic screen” for which one views autism (in the eyes of the public, and in the eyes of those directly affected). Specifically, the language of recovery, for example, can create the notion of an “implied promise” of normalcy for one affected by autism. It can give them hope. This construct of “recovery” goes along with the language of parenting – parents want their children to be “normal”; that is, non-handicapped. Parents are thought to have a responsibility to protect and do the best that they can for their children. Those with autistic children very well might blame themselves because they feel hopeless; that they are not living up to the rhetoric that goes along with being a good parent. On the other hand, scientific representations of autism might prevent us from seeing the emotional realities of what it is like to be affected by autism. The language of science generates thoughts of empirical data, research, legitimacy. These treatments and methods are thought to be fact-based and accurate. If science says that an autistic person is disabled, or that there is no hope for recovery, then that becomes the new reality for much of society.

Burke’s metaphor of “terministic screens” is useful in examining disabilities because it makes it easier to see how one’s judgment can be affected (negatively and positively) by the various rhetoric surrounding the language for a particular disability. We might better understand why people feel the way they do about the different aspects of disability – treatment, recovery, acceptance. At the same time, though, “terministic screens” is slightly unhelpful in that it does not take into account the fact that there are influences on one’s notion of a disability that may not be symbol or language-based (childhood experiences, cultural differences, etc.).

First Post!

What questions do you have and/or hope to explore this semester?

I hope to gain a broader sense about the range of autism causes and how it is possible to approach these causes in order to find a cure. As a pre-medical student, I am especially interested in the medical and biological aspects of autism, such as genetics, diet, and brain development. I am curious about why autism has such a wide spectrum, unlike other disorders that are more clear-cut and show signs quite similar to one another. Specifically, I would like to understand the differences between “high” and “low” functioning autism, and why such a difference must exist in the first place. I think it is important to explore and promote awareness about what exactly defines autism, which might ultimately decrease and hopefully eliminate many of the stereotypes about autistic individuals.

What are some common stereotypes about autism?

As a person who does not have anyone close to me with autism, most of what I really knew about it before the first reading for this class came from the stereotypes. The main stereotype that comes to mind is a person who is extremely intelligent in academic areas, yet the “social part of their brain” simply does not work. Autistic children are often thought of as the kids with behavior problems in school and who have trouble making friends. They might learn to read and write more slowly than the other students, but show high capability and passion in other, possibly random, areas. Because people with autism are often put in “special needs” environments, some might think of them as being retarded or just plain stupid. What is interesting is that most of the stereotypes of autism have either “super-power” or basically “brain-dead” qualities. Unfortunately, all of these stereotypes result in labeling and misconceptions about what it means to be autistic.

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