Alex Huber Take-Home Final {Unfinished}

(Due to some extenuating personal circumstances, I wasn’t able to complete the final in its entirety even with an extension from Dr. Foss, but I wanted to post what I was able to complete.)

Alex Huber

Professor Foss

ENG384

Dec 9 2021

Final Project

Published in 2018, Julia Miele Rodas’s Autistic Disturbances is a deconstruction of the prevalent idea that autism impairs a person’s ability to communicate, arguing that autism and autistic language are inherently valuable to mainstream literature and popular culture. In Rodas’s introduction, she outlines her approach to autistic language and autistic voices, which she tackles from a literary and cultural angle. Rodas argues that, unlike with allistic people, autistic people’s expressions and language are often pathologized and treated as less valuable than allistic people’s. Despite this pathologizing, however, Rodas argues that autistic language has many similarities to pieces of literature that are considered culturally valuable, such as the works of Charlotte Brontë, Walt Whitman, and many others. At its heart, Autistic Disturbances is an analysis of the language around autistic voices and expression.

Word Count = 132

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

Amanda R.’s Take-home Final Examination

Word Count: 1028

A Perspective on Communication and Humanity

It is often made apparent that there is a misguided notion that those who are unable to communicate by conventional means, or in a conventional fashion, are somehow “less than human”. Two autistic voices who have provided readers with their perspective on this matter are Remi Yergeau and Mel Baggs. Yergeau is a self-described “autistic academic” who works as an associate professor at the University of Michigan while additionally contributing to the dialogue surrounding disability through various outlets (Yergeau). Baggs, who unfortunately passed away in April of 2020, was a non-verbal autistic author, blogger, and visionary within the realm of disability studies. Both Yergeau and Baggs have created works that illustrate their experiences as autistic individuals and incorporate ideas surrounding the ties between communication and the perception of one’s humanity. Though they worked independent of one another, Yergeau and Baggs both appear to have aimed to dispel the misconception of autistic communication as being lacking in humanity.

Remi Yergeau, author of “Introduction: Involution” (contained within Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness), uses this piece to express to readers how autistic minds and bodies are frequently mistreated and improperly categorized as “abnormal” and “incapable” if they are not able to conform (or mask conformity) to the norms of society. Additionally, in this same vein, Yergeau notes that the ability to communicate in traditional ways is considered to be a requirement for entry into rhetoric and through rhetoric, entry into a sense of humanity (6). This work by Yergeau addresses unfair generalizations “that deny autistic people their humanity and the chance to define themselves while also challenging cognitive studies scholarship and its reification of the neurological passivity of autistics” (Duke University Press). As Yergeau puts it, “[it] is not uncommon, for example, for rhetoricians to claim that rhetoric is what makes one human… [and] if one is arhetorical, then one is not fully human” (6). In other words:

” Rhetoric comprises how we learn things and how we live. Autism, by contrast, signals the dissolution of such learning. This dissolution is sometimes presented as all-encompassing and at other times is claimed as a matter of degree or severity. We, the autistic, are that which contrasts”

Remi Yergeau, “Introduction: Involution”

What is also important to criticizing this thought process is acknowledging how autism itself is a condition that one does not choose to have, yet it is perceived “as a disorder that prevents individuals from exercising free will and precludes them from accessing self-knowledge and knowledge of human others” (Yergeau 8).

To gain a broader perspective on the perception of the humanity of autistic people, namely autistic people whose characteristics do not meld perfectly well with the common, pre-conceived notion of what “proper” behavior and communication looks like, one may consider looking into reading “Up in the Clouds and Down in the Valley: My Richness and Yours”, an essay by Mel Baggs that was published in Disability Studies Quarterly. Baggs has been described as the mind behind several “forthright writings and films about being a nonverbal person with [autism who made] an impact in the fields of neurodiversity and disability rights”, to include their aforementioned essay (New York Times). “Up in the Clouds and Down in the Valley: My Richness and Yours”, among many other works from Baggs, recounted and explored Baggs’s own personal experiences with being both non-verbal and autistic and used these experiences to generate a conversation around what constitutes “proper” or “acceptable” forms of communication (which are founded on entirely faulty ideas of conformity). Additionally, Baggs made a great effort to “[convey] that people who think and communicate in nontraditional ways are fully human, and that humanness is a spectrum, not something that can be reduced to a normal/abnormal dichotomy” (New York Times). The tagline for Baggs’s personal blog, dubbed Cussin’ and Discussin seems to light-heartedly relay this untruthful thought about the humanity of those with developmental disabilities, including non-verbal autistic people, being less than those that are able to vocalize their thoughts aloud by portraying themself as “being human in a world that says [they’re] not” (Cussin’ and Discussin’).

As Baggs put it, “[autistic] people are not a special kind of people set apart from all other people”, as autistic people seek to be seen as “just one of many kinds of people”(Baggs). Baggs placed a heavy focus on the idea of non-verbal communication as indicative of an absence. Referring back to the idea of rhetoric and now language acting as the arbiters of cohesive thought to many, Baggs noted that “language was built mostly by non-autistic people… the most important things about the way [they perceived] and [interacted] with the world around [them] can only be expressed in terms that describe them as the absence of something important” (Baggs). It would be unfair, still, to equate a lack of language with a lack of thought or a lack of connection to humanity. There are additional ways in which people, autistic or not, are able to communicate without the use of verbal language. For instance, communication through the physical was essential for Baggs, as they “[had] many forms of communication in addition to, or instead, of language”, adding that “[they had] a body language… the way [they interacted] with things around [them] at a particular time, compared to how [they] usually [interacted] with them… ways of arranging objects and actions that give clues about where [their] interest [was] directed and in what manner” (Baggs). These non-traditional forms of communication should not be destined to be shunned and unappreciated, as they “are rich and varied forms of communication in their own right, not inadequate substitutes for the more standard forms of communication” (Baggs).

Ultimately, unconventional modes of communication are not indicative of either an absence of or a deficiency in humanity. Additional forms of communication outside of verbal communication are valid and should not cause their users to be punished simply because non-verbal communication is not what is promoted as broadly acceptable independent of the verbal. Yergeau and Baggs both independently demonstrated a strong understanding of this, which will hopefully work to further chip away at some of the negative stereotypes surrounding autistic communication, non-verbal or not.

“I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work”

Works Cited

Baggs, Amanda. “Up in the Clouds and down in the Valley: My Richness and Yours.” Cultural Commentary: Up in the Clouds and Down in the Valley: My Richness and Yours, Disability Studies Quarterly, 2010, dsq-sds.org/article/view/1052/1238.

Baggs, Mel. Cussin’ and Discussin’, 10 Apr. 2020, cussinanddiscussin.wordpress.com/.

Genzlinger, Neil. “Mel Baggs, Blogger on Autism and Disability, Dies at 39.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 28 Apr. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/04/28/health/mel-baggs-dead.html.

Yergeau, Remi. “About.” M. Remi Yergeau, remiyergeau.com/.

Yergeau, Remi. “Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness.” Authoring Autism On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness, Duke University Press, www.dukeupress.edu/authoring-autism.

Yergeau, Remi. “Introduction: Involution”. Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness, 2017.

Jacob Lertora section 01 final

J. Lertora

Professor Foss

ENGL 384

9 December 2021

Including Autism Without Normalizing or Other-izing

When in the course of human creation, there arises several genetic differences that create what is known as the “individual”. Common morality would argue that these differences are unavoidable and therefore each individual ought to be treated with respect to ensure a common human flourishing. However, eugenicists argue, often successfully, that these genetic differences are tragedies and ought to be “cured” as a way of ensuring ethnic homogeneity. These statements have made their way into the public consciousness in many forms and have created several problems for people with disabilities. Remi Yergeau, in their piece, “Introduction: Involution” from Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness illustrates how these problems affect autistic people, including autonomy, negativity, and diagnosis.

The culture facing autistic people creates a lack of autonomy. Remi Yergeau was born and raised as a “normal” child up until they were diagnosed “as a young adult… with autism.” (1) Traditionally, some would say that their behaviors typical of autistic people represents a loss of autonomy — their involuntary gestures, screams, and others. Instead, their diagnosis soon provided a lens through which to read all their previously normal (perhaps a little “odd”) behaviors. As they write, “My hand and full-body movements became self-stimulatory behaviors; my years-long obsession with maps and the Electric Light Orchestra became perseverations; my repetition of lines from the movie Airplane! became echolalia.” (Yergeau 1) Essentially, “This, my body, this was autism… I was no longer my body’s author.” (Yergeau 1) By way of their diagnosis, Yergeau lost a large degree of control in the sense that they could no longer explain their own behavior. That is, they had the physical capacity to communicate their individuality, but people would not listen. Their patterns and words were construed to be as a result of their autism — there is “autism” and Yergeau, each separate. This shows a loss of autonomy, because while this traditional line of thinking places the autism and person separately, the autistic person is the total individual.

Even the notion of “involuntary” creates a loss of autonomy. As Yergeau explains: 

When one is schizophrenic, for example, her rhetorical actions are rendered less as symbolic actions and more as biological motions: schizophrenia causes the person to act. The schizophrenic person, in these constructions, has no volition—or whatever volition she has is tempered by the schizophrenia. (10)

As they put it, “Involuntarity is a project of dehumanization.” (Yergeau 10) In other words, they lose physical and symbolic control over their own actions. People will look at a neurodivergent person and separate their intended meaning from their actions, creating a loss of autonomy and dehumanization. They continue, “We are conditioned to believe that our selves are not really selves, for they are eternally mitigated by disability, in all of its fluctuations.” (Yergeau 10) This creates a sort of two selves — the autism and the person, rather than the autistic person. In this sense, autistic people lose their identity, control, and autonomy.

Autistic people are portrayed negatively in popular narrative as well. According to Yergeau:

Media accounts of autistic people communicate the sensationalism of savant-beings who are at once so extraordinary yet so epistemically distant and critically impaired. We are bombarded with anecdotes of children who refuse to hug their parents, of children whose worlds are supposedly so impoverished that they spend their days spinning in circles, or flapping their hands, or screaming or self-injuring or resisting—ardently and fixatedly resisting. (3)

Essentially, autistic people are shown to be strange, inhuman creatures. Hugging one’s parents, retaining control over one’s body, and other behaviors constitute what is “normal”, by violating this, autistic people are viewed as abnormal, which is decidedly negative. These are “shitty narratives”, hyper focusing on what is outside of autistic people’s control and authoring a narrative that places “autistic people as victim-captives of a faulty neurology” (Yergeau 3). Here it shows that there is intersectionality between the various problems facing autistic people: their autonomy is directly connected to a negative stereotype. 

Nothing shows this intersectionality more than a medical diagnosis. As Yergeau explains, “When autism is diagnosed, it is thought to reside, to push out the normalcy and invade, body-snatcher style. As in, autism made toddler me throw and smear and lick my own shit. As in, autism is making me write this book, and you, dear reader, should be skeptical at all turns.” (16) This is an example of a diagnosis creating a lack of autonomy and a negative stereotype. The imaginary doctor in this scenario invites the reader to read the text through a lens of disability — that is, not just accepting that the author has autism but assuming their writing stems from it. The reader might assume these thoughts are just as involuntary as their erratic body movements, leading to both a negative and a lack of autonomy. In addition, this shows how diagnosis creates a stigma that was otherwise not present. When combined with the author’s story of their diagnosis as a young adult, this adds to the notion that there are two separate Yergeaus: Autism, and the “real” Yergeau lurking under it all, and this distinction only formed when they were diagnosed. The reality is that Yergeau is both “real” and autistic and has been since they were born. 

Ultimately, Remi Yergeau’s story explains perfectly three major areas that impact the perceptions of autistic people: autonomy, negativity, and diagnosis. These areas, because of Yergeau’s narration, have been shown to correlate. By way of intersecting each other, these three spheres have combined under a larger negative perception. This is ableism, a phenomenon that impacts all people with disabilities, including autistic people. It involves otherization, viewing people as “lesser”, and attempting medically to “solve” what fundamentally composes the individual. This a pipeline to eugenic ways of thinking, with the average person feeling pity for the disabled and advocating for science to “cure” disability, because the disability is apparently separate from the individual. Therefore, society must work towards eliminating this discrimination that autistic people face as a step towards a better world.

Word Count: 1012

I pledge.

Works Cited

Yergeau, Remi. Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness. Duke University Press, 2018.

Emily Malone’s Take-Home Final Exam

Emily Malone 

Dr. Foss

ENGL 384

9 December 2021

Word Count: 1020

Othering and Acceptance in Romkema’s “Perspectives” and Mukhopadhyay”s “Misfit”

Autistic people face many hardships in the way they are treated in society. Because of differences in behaviors and speech, many are othered by people in society, including peers and family. “Othering” happens when someone treats another person or group as inherently different, and usually inferior, to their own group. The poems “Perspectives” by Craig Romkema, and “Misfit” by Tito Mukhopadhyay both describe a person’s experiences being an Autistic person in society and include themes of othering and being seen as different contrasted to feelings of acceptance and freedom.  

In the poem “Misfit” by Tito Mukhopadhyay, the speaker is othered and excluded from society for behaviors society sees as different and unnatural, but he feels accepted and free to be himself in nature where these behaviors and movements are entirely natural. He describes the ways his movements mimic some of the motions in nature. He turns in the same way as the earth does, and he flaps his arms in the same way the birds do. He shares, “My hands, as usual, were flapping” before stating,  “the birds knew I was Autistic;/they found no wrong with anything” (Mukhopadhyay, 7-9). The birds know he is Austic, but do not see an issue because they do not see him as abnormal or different. The word “flapping” intentionally connects the speaker to the birds he sees. The way he flaps his arms is the same way these birds flap their wings. These movements are natural in this world. The speaker is connected to this natural world through the movements they share. 

While nature accepts him for who he is, society does not. He explains, “Men and women stared at my nodding;/ they labeled me a misfit” (Mukhopadhyay, 10-11). People from society don’t relate these movements to what they expect to see in society. Instead of accepting him, they stare and other him by labeling him as an outsider. They see his nodding as different, leading to him being labeled a “misfit”. In this stanza, he describes the way these people see him, “(A Misfit turning and turning)” (Mukhopadhyay, 12). From the perspective of the men and women in society, he is just turning in a way most people do not, despite this movement relating to the movement of the earth when looked at from a larger perspective. He ends his poem asking “why stop turning and turning/ when right can be found with everything?” (Mukhopadhyay, 18-19). The speaker does not see his movements as wrong or different. He has decided not to change himself to fit in with the society that labels him an other. The natural world accepts him and does not see him as wrong. Instead of letting society make him feel bad for being different, he chooses to continue to be himself.

“Perspectives” by Craig Romkema describes the way the speaker was othered and labeled as different because of his autism, but ultimately found freedom and acceptance with his ability to communicate using computers. The second stanza sets up these feelings of being othered. He describes his “differentness” and how he was studied by many different people to try to understand why he was different (Romkema, 10). He shares that, despite all these tests, people did not understand him. He describes, “some were stiff and cold/others blessedly kind/ others not acknowledging I understood every word”(Romkema, 16-18). This line explains how some people assumed he did not know what they were saying because he did not communicate in the same way they did, or the way they expected him to. He even states he was “labeled” “retarded/ or some other variant” (Romkema, 20-21). Because of his differences, people assumed he could not understand them, so they labeled him as something different from them. He was othered by society, not accepted by them. He describes how his parents believed in him and said they knew he “was there/Inside” as if he was trapped inside his body and would need something to set him free. 

He describes the many questions he is still asked about his behaviors and other aspects in his life. With his new ability to communicate his thoughts through technology, he is expected to give these insights about his behaviors. Instead of being treated only as something to be studied, he is now acknowledged as being able to participate in the conversation. He explains that, although he is treated differently, he is “not startlingly different in appearance of habits/ from that little boy so willingly labeled”(Romkema, 44-45). This line shows the ways he feels he is still that same kid. He is not labeled in the same way now as people did when he was younger. He explains that the only thing that has changed is his ability to share what he is thinking by typing. His ideas and feelings are not different. He was always able to understand what people said, he is simply able to communicate his understanding in ways he didn’t have the opportunity to before. Now he is able to participate in “discussions on Shakespear and/ Algebra/ vote, give opinions on government actions” (Romkema, 48-50). These are all things he could understand before, but he just did not have a way to communicate his abilities to others.  He shares “now my mind is free” (Romkema, 51). His ability to participate in discussions and share in thoughts has allowed him more freedom and acceptance into society.

Craig Romkema’s poem “Perspectives” and Tito Mukhopadhyay’s poem “Misfit” both use themes of othering and being seen as different contrasted with feelings of acceptance and freedom in their works about being an Autistic person in society. In “Misfit”, Mukhopadhyay describes the way he is othered by people in society, but accepted by nature. This allows him to feel more accepting of himself. In “Perspectives”, Romkema describes the way he was othered by individuals in his life, labeled as different, until he gained the ability to type his thoughts to communicate. He shares that, although he has not changed on the inside, he is accepted more by society because his thoughts are free to leave his mind. 

Citations:

Mukhopadhyay , Tito. “Misfit.” dis/lit fall 2021. Accessed 2021.

Romkema, Craig. “Perspectives.” 2010. Disability Studies Quarterly, https://dsq-sds.org/article/view/1192/1256. Accessed 2021.

I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work. – Emily Malone

ENGL 384 Take Home Final – Chy’Nia Johnson

Chy’Nia Johnson

ENGL 384: Disability and Literature

Dr. Chris Foss

7 December 2021

Word count: 1003

I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work. Chy’Nia Johnson

Option Two: a thesis-driven argument relevant to disability studies that engages substantially with one or two of the theoretical pieces from the final autism unit


Imbalance of Racial Representation in Autism Studies

In the final section of ENGL 384, we discussed the topic of Autism. A variety of readings were assigned, each showing different perspectives in their view of autism. There were a couple of theoretical pieces that caught my attention and made me think about the topic of autism a little harder. These two pieces were about race and autism. The first piece called “Preface: Autistics of Color: We Exists… We Matter” by Morénike Giwa-Onaiwu talks about how autism and the research behind the disability is lacking a more racial background within its testing. She also talks about how there is a representation absence of autistics of color in both literature and the media. Along with Giwa’s preface, I also found interest in E. Ashkenazy’s theoretical piece “Foreword: On Autism and Race”. She also explains the microaggressions on people of color as well as the adaptations that autistics of color must face every day of their lives. As I further my readings, I came to the thought that there should be more people of color in autism research and more racial autism representation in the media.

Autism research has been going on for many decades and with the more advanced technologies, one would think that the research would expand more than it has. That is entirely incorrect. The research that is used now and is the same research that was used about 30 years ago. Most testing was completed on one race and gender, white males. With such a strong, one-sided type of research for so long, most diagnoses are not completely accurate. Researchers and scientists are not taking into consideration the different ways that autism is affected by certain racial backgrounds. In certain communities within racial backgrounds other than white, some autistics of color have a hard time with getting proper diagnoses and help, (Ashkenazy). If additional research of autism with autistics of color would help improve statistical research that is among the current group of autistics of color. Current autistic colors research is more based on the white male information that was early studied. So, the current research could be erroneous in that there could be more certain aspects of autism that are different in autistics of color. As mentioned in Giwa’s piece she says, “According to popular opinion, autistic people didn’t/don’t look like me. People didn’t/don’t sound like me. Autism = (white, male-presenting) toddler wearing a Thomas the train T-shirt; autism = (white, male-presenting) quirky teen gamer; autism = (white, male-presenting) geeky computer programmer; autism = (white, male-presenting) adult rocking and staring off into space… A ready scapegoat for all of their caregiver’s life disappointments; autism = Temple Grandin, puzzle pieces, ABA therapy, and Autism Speaks” (Giwa, xv). With this description, a person with little to no knowledge would only think that white, male-presenting people would only be the ones that can have autism, which is entirely false. Autism is in every gender and in every race and I think that having this issue resolved would change more minds on the racial representation of autism.

While autism research and reported studies are mainly based around white males, a similar thing is happening with the media. Back in the 1980s, when the beginning of extensive testing and research started on autism, the way that the media was informing the public about the growth and awareness of this disability was through articles, books, and particularly movies. The first movie that came out that was showing/bringing awareness to the autism spectrum was Rain Man (1988). The movie portrays a man that learns about his estranged brother, who has autism and savant syndrome. The man then learns more about his brother as they travel across the country in a car. This movie has the main portrayal of the main character being an autistic white male. As more movies came out as the years rolled on, they also followed a similar pattern. Most main characters with autism were either white or male or both. This portrayal in the media shows a lack of racial representation. With the lack of racial representation in the media that is shown today, autistics of color do not have their own race or face being related back on the big screen. E. Ashkenazy mentions in her piece, “Though many autistic people of color live in loving supporting homes, despite having the support of their families, they do not always have the support and understanding of their communities. How can we positively target different ethnic groups and cultures with powerful information that shapes how autism is both viewed and approached? (Ashkenazy, xxxiii). I interpreted this as that most autistics of color do not have their race being represented as often or even at all in the media. Yes, there are some representations of autistics of color in articles that are being written by autistics of color, however, there are not many, if any, movies, or TV shows that portray a person of color that is autistic. If there was more representation of autistics of color in the media, then the problem that was previously mentioned by Ashkenazy would not be present.

The topic that I choose is a very touchy and controversial topic to certain individuals because some people do not notice the issue whereas this issue surrounds the life of others. This was mentioned in both Giwa and Ashkenazy’s pieces. They both mentioned that non-autistic, non-people of color say, ‘oh well autism is autism’ or ‘why should race be brought up in this issue?’ For the individuals that these two writers were discussing, this situation is very important to autistics of color. Having racial-based research and having racial representation of autistics of color in the media could have a significant impact on how an individual with autism and part of the persons of color community. Therefore, there should be more research that has a person of color in the description of the research and there should be more people of color in movies and TV shows that are surrounded by autism.


Works Cited

Ashkenazy, E. Foreword: On Autism and Race. All the Weight of Our Dreams. (2016). Accessed 6 December 2021.

Giwa-Onaiwu, Morénike. Preface: Autistics of Color: We Exist… We Matter. All the Weight of Our Dreams. (2016). Accessed 6 December 2021.

The Imperialism of Unkind Ghosts

Jamie Keller

Dr. Foss

Take Home final examination

12/6/2021
“I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work.”

Option 1: Thesis-driven literary analysis focused on one aspect of An Unkindness of Ghosts

Word count: 1,061

The story “An Unkindness of Ghosts” takes place in a world, far into the future after the world has already been destroyed. The last living humans are on a spaceship, are on a spaceship with multiple different levels and jobs set for each person. While on the ship, there are strict rules and there is also one person who rules over the entire ship. The society that formed in the ship created a system similar to the European imperial system.

First and foremost, with how the ranking system is set up, it is very reminiscent of how money and rank tends to stay with those who already have it. There are three overall subtle language changes that happen between the upper and lower levels. The upper levels have a more proper language that is more ‘noble-like’ while the lower class have a more ‘rough’ language and the middle class is a mix between the two. If someone who is from the upper class overhears something from the lower class’ language would not be able to understand it unless there is a specific reason from their past why they would be able to understand it. Traveling between each of the levels is not allowed, especially if they are someone of the lower levels, unless they have a pass which is a way of control. Continuing on the form of control, if anyone breaks a martial law that was put into place, like the head count, there are extreme punishments similar to how if a slave broke a rule would get a punishment more severe then it should have been in modern days.

Money and how people view you are also a part of the older version of imperialism. Those with a lot of money, land, and are talked about either through rank or through being extremely good at something. Those specifically are carried through the family line and those that do not have access to that or are able to make a name for themselves, tend to stay in the lower class. If people view someone else as different, they normally get shunned out of society, in this “Unkindness of Ghosts”, those that are not welcomed by society are living in the lower levels of the ship. Their conditions are extremely poor, just like the slaves and peasents of the past as they are doing whatever it takes to survive to day to day. Throughout the story, there is continued proof that the conditions needed to be improved. The examples are such as freezing temperatures that gave someone frostbite and being punished for just wanting a change. Those that are from the lower class or levels that are seen for wanting change enacted by others with more power are seen as crazy or too lazy to be able to pick themselves up from their boot straps and make the situation better themselves. Even if you are extremely smart but have something that no one likes, it makes it hard to be able to change it. Most people would think of them overcoming the disability rather than actually being smart which is a sad reality of the real world. If seen as defective or not following the social norm of how one is supposed to act, then you stick out like a sore thumb that others feel like they need to fix.

With how the story ends, it shows how the world works in reality. Not all disability characters get killed off or get cured for their “happily ever after”. Everyone is not suddenly “happy” with their living conditions because they got a bandaid over any old scars that there might be. It shows that no life is perfect and not every story has a happy ending because life is full of ups and downs. There is no life that is perfect every single day, nor does bad things happen every single day. An important thing to remember is that from day to day, those living in an imperialistic society would not be thinking of those ruling over them unless a major event is happening to the ruler or the fact that they are going through a bad day. Each person is going through their own lives and another person’s life does not usually matter.

When finally getting back to earth, and escaping from an imperialist government, mixed feelings fell upon Aster. She was sorry for everything that she had lost to get where she was now but at the same time, she was finally happy to be where she was supposed to be. In terms, if she had just listened to those above her, she wouldn’t have lost those close to her, on the other hand though, she would not have gotten to earth by disobeying. Which brings in the question, which is better? Being in a government that is absolutely horrible to those of the lower class and those that are different, or being in a completely forgeign land by yourself and no one to be able to help besides the skills you have learned? I think in Aster’s case, since she always felt a little alone, the latter was better for her and most probably would agree. Those that have a better rank in the society would probably not want that same choice and go with the first one. When it comes to real life, it might be hard to make the choice because if you do not have the skills to be able to survive on nearly nothing, it might be safer and give you the ability to more than likely to survive if you stay with something familiar. At the very least, Aster now has the ability to do whatever she desires. There is no one stopping her from reaching her full capabilities nor no one punishing her from doing what she thinks is right. In any story, of course the main character is usually in the right, unless proven otherwise so I have a feeling that whatever plans to do now that story is over is going to be the best for herself and any future humans that happen to escape and come back to earth in the future. With the knowledge she has, hopefully she knows better than to set up a system that empowers those with ill intentions for those who are weak and different.

Final Exam – Kelly Brown, Melissa Madsen, and Lisa Gisselquist

Kelly Brown, Melissa Madsen, Lisa Gisselquist
Dr. Chris Foss
ENGL 384-02
7 December 2021

Becoming Human: The Progress of Autistic Representation from Of Mice and Men to An Unkindness of Ghosts

Whether consciously or unconsciously, authors tend to write novels and characters reflective of societal views at the time. Books written prior to the American Civil War, for instance, tend to view African Americans in a more derogatory manner than books written afterward. Similarly, novels containing disabled characters have changed their representation as society has learned more about different conditions. As shown through Lennie from John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Aster from Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts, the literary portrayal of autistic-coded characters and how they are treated by people around them is evident of how society viewed said characters at the time the novels were written. A comparison between the two shows how society’s opinion of autism and neurodiverse people has improved in the last eighty years.

Lennie and Aster share many of the same symptoms of autism, as illustrated through their mannerisms. For example, both characters have touch sensitivity: Lennie enjoys touching the fur of soft animals but cannot handle other textures, while Aster dislikes being touched by other people “unless it [is] certain skin” (Solomon 211). Another similarity between the two is a difficulty understanding language subtleties, with Aster not realizing her mother wrote in code until Giselle points it out, and Lennie taking George literally when he uses a figure of speech. Yet, these different portrayals of autistic symptoms indicate how the overall opinion of autism has improved throughout the years. Steinbeck’s characterization of Lennie, with his low perception skills and general naivete, represents the hyperbolic ‘low-functioning’ side of autism. In contrast, Aster has a higher awareness of her disability and her surroundings, portraying a more accurate representation and combating the idea that autism has a ‘high’ or ‘low’ functioning level. Because these similar depictions of neurodiversity, and therefore autistic-coded traits, have been reshaped over time to fit a more accepting narrative, society has gradually learned not to fear or chastise people who do not fit the neurotypical norm.

Of Mice and Men’s portrayal of Lennie reflects negative views of autism from the 1930s by constantly emphasizing how Lennie is a victim of his disorder and, as such, needs to be protected by George, a ‘normal’ person. Throughout the novel, Lennie is portrayed as not having a full understanding of what is going on in any circumstance due to his one-track mind, whether he misses social cues or does not respect personal space. One example of this is when Lennie asks Crooks, the only black farmhand, why Crooks has a separate bedroom from the other farmhands and why he is not wanted in the main bunkhouse full of white men, completely missing the racist social understanding of the time. Hence, when Lennie murders Curley’s wife, the text emphasizes how Lennie killed her unintentionally and that his ‘simple-mindedness’ is the real culprit. Lennie’s only goal was to subdue her and stop her from yelling, evidenced by Lennie outright saying that “I don’t want ta hurt you” (Steinbeck 87). Lennie was “bewildered” when Curley’s wife just lay there motionless because he did not understand that he used too much force (Steinbeck 87). And when Lennie finally realizes that he did something bad, he repeats over and over that “George’ll be mad;” the fact that he does not mention anyone else other than George signifies that he does not comprehend that there could be other consequences for his actions (Steinbeck 87). Because Lennie does not understand the gravity of half of the situations he finds himself in, Steinbeck gives him a caretaker that can understand: George. George and Lennie have been traveling with and looking out for each other ever since Lennie’s Aunt Clara died. However, instead of being equal partners, George is the one that holds all the power in their relationship. George tells Lennie what to do and where to go. George secures Lennie a job on the ranch and tells him to stay quiet during the interview, because “if he finds out what a crazy bastard you are, we won’t get no job” (Steinbeck 6). Additionally, George is the one who decides that it would be better for him to kill Lennie than to allow the angry ranch mob to avenge Curley’s wife, without even attempting to tell Lennie what is going on. Since George believes he is essential for Lennie’s survival, he is the one who decides whether Lennie lives or dies, taking away whatever agency Lennie had. This reflects society’s overall negative views on autism at the time. Because the disorder causes decreased cognitive functioning and situational awareness, those on the autism spectrum were considered not only less intelligent than neurotypicals, but also robbed of the life they could have had if they were born a normal child. Therefore, children on the autism spectrum required a guardian to advocate on their behalf, because society believed they could not do it themselves.

Although there are vague mentions of Aster being treated poorly, An Unkindness of Ghosts focuses on the positive reactions to her disability – with a very subtle mention of autism – that reflects the improving opinions of society. Throughout the novel, Aster occasionally mentions people treating her poorly and calling her names. At one point, when someone calls her a “witch-freak,” “she could not contest [the freak part] and let [it] stand” (Solomon 138). This indicates that she had been faced with such bullying in the past. However, despite this, the subtle representation of autism in the book and the reaction of the people close to her shows how far autism representation has come. Her symptoms are only alluded to, not focused on. She is referred to as “Insiwa” or “Inside one” (Solomon 18), a gentle nickname by the people who have observed her. Her Aint Melusine believes that everything the girl says is “the right words to my mind” (Solomon 175). At the very end of the novel, it is Aster who solves the mystery of their location and sends Matilda back to Earth. She defeats Lieutenant, who called her an “aberration,” thus defeating all of those who see her as such (Solomon 232). Though she faced trouble because of being autistic, there are very light mentions of it in comparison to Lennie being constantly mistreated for being neurodivergent. Published eighty years after Of Mice and Men, Aster’s story is a sign of hope for a better future for autism.

While neither of these novels is a perfect portrayal of an autistic character, there is significant progress being made as time continues. Each novel has its own issues, but Aster from An Unkindness of Ghosts is portrayed positively whereas Lennie from Of Mice and Men is not. Steinbeck’s depiction of Lennie reflects a limited understanding of and disdain for autism while Solomon’s portrayal of Aster reflects a new understanding of autism and a hope for a future that fully accepts neurodiversity. While this ideal future may take some time to reach, one may hope that it will be here soon.

Works Cited

Solomon, Rivers. An Unkindness of Ghosts. Akashic Books, 2017. EBSCOhost, search-ebscohost-com.umw.idm.oclc.org/login.aspxdirect=true&db=nlebk&AN=1700262&site=ehost-live.
Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. Covici, Friede, Inc., 1937.

Word Count: 1254

We hereby declare upon our word of honor that we have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work. -Kelly Brown, Melissa Madsen, Lisa Gisselquist

Elizabeth Barr-Take Home Final

Elizabeth Barr

Dr. Chris Foss

Disability and Literature

December 9th, 2021

Comparison of “Misfit” and “Apologies to my OB-GYN”

While reading through the different poems throughout our autism unit, something interesting that was found was that even though the poems,”Misfit” and “Apologies to my OB-GYN”, had different perspectives and different tones, both of the poems were talking to society about how people with autism and autism families are not as different as they seem. Both of the poems also have an undertone of love. Reading these poems was an enjoyable experience. While reading the audience gets to see the different peoples perspectives on autism. The audience was given a lot to learn from the two poems and gave the reader insight into things they might not have known as much about before reading these poems.

While analyzing all of the poems in this autism unit, two of the poems stuck out the most. The two poems being “Misfit” and “Apologies to my OB-GYN”. Both of these poems have very interesting, and very different, viewpoints from two different people dealing with autism. “Misfit” sets the point of view of the poem from a childs’ perspective of how they view themselves. Whereas with the poem, “Apologies to my OB-GYN”, is set from the viewpoint of the parent. Comparing both of these poems, and both of these perspectives, was very effective because the reader gets to see the different point of views from both a parent and a child. Comparing and contrasting the relationship between a parent and a child is an ideal situation because the reader can see how autism affects at least two members of an autistic family. 

When we read the poem “Misfit” the reader can see how the autistic child views themself. This child who deals with autism, compares themselves to nature. Actions that are normal like the Sun going up and down are not labeled as weird or wrong, so why are an autistics child’s actions deemed as weird and wrong when they were just born that way. “There was the earth, turning and turning./ The stars receded, as if/ Finding no wrong with anything.” This autistic child is finding things in the world that no one finds any faults with, so why is there anything “wrong” with them and their autism? As the poem goes on, the reader can see how the autistic child gets more and more confident when talking about how they view themself and their disability. The autstic child goes from saying how they see things in nature that people don’t think there is something wrong with, to how people look at them, and then proceed to label them as a misfit, “They labeled me a Misfit/ (A Misfit turning and turning).”, to how “right can be found with anything”. The way the autistic child talks, the reader can tell that from this point of view that it is only the people in public that label this child as a misfit, not their parents. The reader can see the relationship the child has with the parents, and how the parents are not making their child feel like a misfit. 

The poem “Apologies to my OB-GYN” talks about autism from the parents’ point of view. In the poem this parent does not see autism in their child as a bad thing. They sarcastically say sorry for their autistic child and for how troublesome they were. “Sorry we were such pains in your ass”. The parent is defending their autistic child, they defend how the child fought so hard to live and the nurse got annoyed by how demanding the baby was. “-sorry he took so much of your time/ being so determined to live.” The parent also goes on to talk about how that child grew up and how caring they are. How they saved moths and are sleeping soundly. Despite what that nurse and possibly other people thought, the child grew up to be a good and caring person. This poem was very interesting to read as it is only written from one parent’s viewpoint. The reader is left curious as to where the other parent is. The poem focuses around the one parent and the hospital stay with the autistic child when the kid was born. This sets the poem up to depict the parent to most likely be the mother. 

While reading both of these poems the reader gets to see both of the parents’ and child’s perspectives on how autism affects a family. Both of the poems, “Misfit” and “Apologies to my OB-GYN”, show the family relationships and also have slight digs towards those in society who shun people with autism and their families. Reading both of these poems, and other ones during this unit, set up for the reader to gain a much better understanding of people with autism and their families. Additionally, there are other perspectives to be found with autism affecting people and families, but seeing autism through a parents’ and child’s point of view are two of the most important viewpoints to consider when thinking about autism. These two poems show the ideal home life that any child and parent can have in these people’s situations. Both poems show how life might be hard, but it is worth it and how there is not anything wrong with them or how the child that got complained about grew up to be a kind person. Both of the poems show life after finding out the news and adjusting but all these poems show an outsider, is love. The parent loves and defends the child from others. The autistic child only feels like a misfit from the outside world and wonders why people can’t “find the right in everything”. There is a lot to be taught from these poems. After reading the poems, the audience can walk away with a different view than they started with. How people with autism aren’t as “wrong” or different as we as a society think people with autism are. Instead, society should learn more about autism to understand the person with autism. 

“I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work.” – Elizabeth Barr

Citations

Foust, Rebecca. “Apologies to My OB-GYN.” Fishouse, 28 June 2018, http://www.fishousepoems.org/apologies-to-my-ob-gyn/. Mukhopadhyay, Tito Rajarshi. “Five Poems.” Disability Studies Quarterly, https://dsq-sds.org/article/view/1192/1256.

Parent Reaction to Autism Diagnosis- Jim Sinclair

Brieanna Smith

Professor Foss

English 384

4 November 2021

Word Count: 1,472 Words

Option one: a thesis-driven literary analysis focused on one aspect of one or more of the literary texts from the final autism unit.

“I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received any unauthorized help on this work. Brieanna Smith

In our last section of English 384, we focused primarily on works that focused on Autism either directly in our theory pieces or subtly in our novels and poems, like An Unkindness of Ghosts or “Apologies to My OB-GYN.” Autism is not easily defined and many of our theory pieces focus on the idea that the best definition of what Autism is, is based on the “lived experience,” rather than a scholarly and rigid analysis. In this paper we are going to analyze Jim Sinclair’s piece, Don’t Mourn for Us with the focus on the intensity of a parent or parents’ reaction and treatment to a child’s autism diagnosis. Jim Sinclair breaks his argument down into three main sections that all have an interrelated connectedness to the negative reaction of a parent.

The introduction of this piece highlights the concept of the perception of “normalcy” in which parents hope and desire for children to achieve. There are a few primary ways of looking at this idea and that either include children not meeting parents’ expectations for something that is not controllable and are often mistreated for it or we get the other perspective where parents are concerned and fear for their child on the autism spectrum because of how cruelly society treats people who have an autism diagnosis or any other disability related diagnosis.

 The first section of Jim’s Sinclair’s Piece, “Autism is not an appendage,” focuses on the impact autism has on a child who is diagnosed in their every experience. “Autism is a way of being. It is not possible to separate the person from the autism,” and plays a prominent role on “every aspect of existence” for the child (Sinclair, pdf). What parents don’t recognize is that the lived experience that children on the autism spectrum has will be affected by autism. Jim Sinclair, in this section, extends his argument further in mentioning how parents often wish their child did not have autism. This is an appalling idea, and one would hope that most parents would not engage in this line of thinking. Wishing for a normal baby is interpreted in this case, as wishing that child with an autism diagnosis to no longer exist. This is truly horrific and relates back to the reasoning behind eugenics logic. If a baby or child is diagnosed with autism parents may experience a level of shock or concern, but these emotions should not hinder the parent’s ability to love and care for their child and this is what Jim Sinclair is trying to bring to light in this section of his piece. Like a first-time parent’s fear of having and raising a child, an autism diagnosis may instill a similar fear of the unknown. This fear of the unknown is what often causes parents to either make incredibly detrimental mistakes in raising their child or instill a drive that will encourage them to step up and do what ever is best for their child. Ultimately, how the parents react and treat their child is one of the main indicators of the personality of the child when they grow up. A warm and compassionate family environment is crucial to growth of a child at any age and no matter whether a child is neurotypical or neurodivergent.

“Autism is not an impenetrable wall,” is the next section of Jim Sinclair’s piece and this focuses primarily on the connection between the child on the autism spectrum and their parents. When parents initially receive the diagnosis that their child has autism, this brings up the parent’s fear of not being able to communicate with or relate to their child. Sinclair brings up the fact that parents of children who are on the autism spectrum need to be willing to take a few steps more to connect with their children. Jim Sinclair advises parents to “Approach respectfully, without preconceptions, and with openness to learning new things, and you’ll find a world you could never have imagined” (Sinclair, pdf). These lines encourage the parents of children with autism to actively participate in potentially unconventional ways of communication. An extended metaphor in Sinclair’s argument describing a parent communicating with a child who has autism is like having a lengthy conversation with someone who does not speak the language in a different country. This is both a problematic and progressive way of viewing this form of communication. One it institutes the idea that a child with autism is going to be ostracized based on the way in which they communicate, but it also encourages society and parents to be more open-minded to deeper and more interpretative ways of communicating. One reason why parents often react negatively to an initial diagnosis is because they want their children to be like them and accepted by the standards of society. Unfortunately, we live in a society that deems autism as a “illness or condition that has causes and needs to be solved.” Since parents have spent a considerable amount of time formulating their role in society, an autism diagnosis throws a curveball of sorts in what they pictured for their families. As mentioned earlier, parents want to be able to relate, pass on knowledge, and find important connections to their children. Compassionate parents of children on the autism spectrum will need to be more cognizant of how their children are trying to communicate. Sinclair does admit that parents and children on the autism spectrum may experience disconnects, but what is important is that these parents should be trying to connect and converse with their children in a positive way.

The final section in Jim Sinclair’s Don’t Mourn for Us, is labeled “Autism is not death,” and this last part describes the initial reaction of parents and has a major connection to the title of this piece. In this section, Sinclair brings up the idea of how some parents who receive the diagnosis that their child or baby is on the autism spectrum compare their children as to being still born. As Sinclair points out, children on the autism spectrum are not dead and it is tragic that some parents make this comparison. He mentions it is about “shattered expectations,” felt by the parents in their responses to a child with autism (Sinclair, pdf). Parents and soon-to-be parents often have a glamourized picture of what they want for their families to be like shown through many forms of entertainment. It is naïve to think this way and is part of the reasons why parents are often shocked to learn their child may be on the autism spectrum because of how society views “the normal family.” In the following lines, “Grieve if you must, for your own lost dreams. But don’t mourn for us. We are alive. We are real. And we’re here waiting for you,” Jim Sinclair establishes ideas of personhood and or advocacy that parents who react negatively do not realize (Sinclair, pdf). This line focuses on how children on the autism spectrum may have to advocate for themselves even with their parents. Lost dreams connect back to shattered expectations of the parents and how parents must move past it, or it is going to hurt their children in the long run. The perfect family is non-existent, and this false sense of reality or expectation is why the title of this piece is Don’t Mourn for Us.

To conclude, Jim Sinclair focuses primarily on the reaction of parents to their children in the experience of autism, how it affects communication and relatedness to their child, and the fact that an autism diagnosis is not a death sentence or something that should diminish the quality of life. The intention of this essay was to highlight the negative mentality that parents have to an autism diagnosis of their child, what the reasoning is behind this mentality is, and the validity of this reasoning. One critique of Sinclair’s argument is the use of “alien” and in most of our theory pieces, this a problematic portrayal of someone on the autism spectrum because it diminishes someone as a person. Overall, Sinclair’s piece Don’t Mourn for Us,” is structured in a way in which a child who is on the autism spectrum is speaking to a parent and this perspective strengthens and enhances the quality of his argument in responding to a parent’s reaction to an autism diagnosis.

Works Cited:

Sinclair, Jim. “Don’t Mourn for Us.” Autreat.com. ANI, 26 June 2002. Web. 05 Dec. 2021.