Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Though each book I write about will have its own unique set of implications, there are a few themes I expect to be most important, and which will form the prism through which I look at the books as I read them. Here they are, along with some questions I'll be keeping in mind:

  • Narrative - some research indicates that autistic people tell and interpret stories differently than neurotypicals. How do autistic writers tend to structure the stories they write? Do neurotypical authors do anything unusual with narrative structure to try and capture the mental states of their autistic characters? What effect do these variations in narrative structure have on the reader?
  • Metaphor - what metaphors are used in the book? How do they try to shape a reader's thoughts about autism or autistic people?
  • Distance - how is the distance between the reader and the autistic character(s) used in the book? Is any attempt made to bridge it? If it is not bridged, is there a thematic reason for it?
  • Empathy - autistic writers make some unusual connections in their work, often by the process of intuitive identification we call empathy. With whom or what does the author identify, and what does that identification tell readers about his/her experience of autism?
  • First contact - many autism-related memoirs, whether written by autistics or by parents of autistics, focus on the issue of "overcoming" autism and beginning to engage with the wider world. How does the "first contact" episode inform the rest of the narrative? What does the way the narrative is structured say about the importance of this episode in the author's eyes?
  • Gender and autism - girls with autism often experience conflict between autistic identity and the role they are expected to play as women. Autism itself is a highly gendered category, with 4 of 5 autistics being male and with the overall picture of autism based on a male template. How do autistic women and girls deal with pressure to be "feminine" in ways that don't come naturally to them? How do they establish an identity as "autistic" when the male model of autism might not wholly apply to them? What themes do female autistic authors deal with that male authors do not? Does "the autistic experience" seem to vary across the genders?

These are the Big Themes that we'll come to again and again on this blog; if I were teaching a class in this, these would be on the syllabus. These are also the likely topics of free-standing posts in the future.

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