Top Five Things My Students Should Know About Me

This morning, I sent my students the first of we-hope-not-too-many emails they’ll get from me this semester.  My goal was to warn them not to buy their books until after the first day of class before they buy their books.  Every class has a Hermione who already has and has already read them (it’s cool, I was her too), but I’m hoping I got most of them.

What I probably did, though, was send half of them into a panic about OMG CLASSES START IN A WEEK and the other half to Google to find me.  If you are in the latter half (or both halves), hi!

Here are the top five things you should know about the professor you just Googled:

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In “Because I Need More Projects”: Job-Seeking For Autistic Adults

You may or may not have caught my latest post at Autistic Academic: An Autistic Adult’s Guide to Getting Hired.

That is, I have since realized, a hella misleading title, because the post itself is not a guide to getting hired.  It is, rather, my first foray into an idea I return to every time I sit down to write for one of my various recruiting-firm clients: that most job-search advice is useless for autistic adults like me, but that useful job search advice can exist.  It’s just that no one’s writing it.

Well.  I’m autistic, an adult, and co-own a human resources consulting business (I do law, she does management).  And I write for recruiters constantly.  The only thing I’m missing from this equation is time, which is about to be in even shorter supply as I have two first-year writing sections to teach and an MA to finish.

So right now, I’m collecting ideas and anecdotes and answering questions, which I’ll post at Autistic Academic.  Collaborate with me!

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Autism, Changelings, and Developmental Narratives

emmapretzel at Lemon Peel and I have been kicking around the concept of developmental narratives lately.  Or, to be more specific, the linked post made me realize that I have a developmental narrative question of my own to answer.

Google “autism and changelings,” and nearly everything that turns up – including this actual entire article from the Archives of Disease in Childhood – begins and ends its analysis with “once upon a time, changeling stories were probably told about people who had autism.”  Implied, but only stated about half the time, is the second half of that story: “but we don’t anymore, because we discovered science and left behind our silly superstitious forebears in ye Dark Ages.”

Naturally, I think the question is a bit more complicated, or I wouldn’t be trying to write a thesis about it.

In fact, we haven’t left this “superstition” behind at all.  Not only are charities and popular media still selling a conception of autism that involves mysterious, malevolent forces replacing children with changelings, but much of the “science” surrounding autism still deals in this storyline as well – from the persistent “theory of mind” theory to the “weak central coherence” or “lack of empathy” arguments.

In Autism and The Myth of the Person Alone, Doug Biklen notes that perhaps theory of mind and similar ideas worked once as useful metaphors, but we have largely forgotten they’re metaphors, with largely negative results for autistic people as well as for scientific inquiry.  Meanwhile, in The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers dwell at length on the fact that we currently live in a society that is moving too quickly for a mythological structure to take hold – but that, as myth-performing and myth-performative beings, we really can’t live without one.  Our myths, Campbell explains, orient us in our society and our society in the world.  Julius Heuscher, in A Psychiatric Study of Myths and Fairy Tales, makes a similar argument from the point of view of psychology: our brains need mythological structures, and in the absence of a recognizable structure, the brain will attempt to impose one.

If this is the case – that we cannot, in fact, “science” everything and that it may be futile to try – several implications suggest themselves.  At this point, the most pertinent one to me seems to be that if we can’t keep myth out of our science writing, then we need to be aware that we’re using it, and take greater steps to identify our metaphors.  So far, science writing on autism seems largely to have skipped this step.

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The Ed Wiley Autism Acceptance Lending Library: Interviewing Lei

Dani Alexis:

Librareeeeee *flapflapflap*

(Translation: This is one of the coolest projects I have heard about in months…and I like to read about projects. See also the CFP for the Autism and Race anthology by Lydia Brown at Autistic Hoya.)

Originally posted on Thirty Days of Autism:

Hand in hand with speaking out and taking a stand for social justice and human rights, there is an opportunity to explore and celebrate amazing things that are happening within Disabilities and Autism communities.  There are many people creating new projects and participating in posAutive events, and expressing or amplifying the important perspectives of Autistic people and celebrating Autistic pride and culture.

One of those people is Lei Wiley-Mydske. She is the creator, curator, and Director of the Ed Wiley Autism Acceptance Lending Library.

leislibrary2.jpgYou read that right! Lei was not satisfied with the focus of the books that were available in her community, and she wanted to make books available that were supportive of neurodiversity and so she just freakin’ started her own library!!

You can probably tell I am pretty enthusiastic about Lei’s project, and I am lucky to live close enough to her that I was able…

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My Thesis, Basically

Once upon a time, humans had no idea what developmental disabilities were.  So they invented changeling stories to explain things like autism.  The stories give lots of great advice, like how to know if you have a changeling, what to do with your changeling when you’ve discovered you have one, why fairies are so into stealing human babies in the first place, and how when changelings happen they are probably all the mother’s fault, what with women’s scary witch-powers to MAKE TINY PEOPLE and whatnot.

Oh, and even if a fairy steals your kid, never talk ill of the fairy.  You’ll just make it worse.

Funny thing is, even though humans have done a lot of science since these tales were invented, and even though we are pretty darn sure that fairies are not running around stealing children, humans are still telling changeling stories to explain autism.  In fact, it sometimes seems like the more science claims to know about autism (and the complete lack of complicity of fairies in it), the more human beings tell changeling stories about it.  Even some scientists are telling changeling stories, dressed up in science-language!  

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?  Unlike most fairy tales, this story doesn’t have a clear, easy moral, which is why if you are reading it to a child you had better stop now lest you destroy their wee psyches (this on the advice of Bruno Bettelheim, who also confirms that mothers are in fact responsible for changeli- I mean, autism, what with their scary witch-powers to REFRIGERATE TINY PEOPLE and whatnot).  

On the one hand, othering people really sucks when you’re on the receiving end of it.  And the parallel between old-school changeling fairy stories and modern autism “treatments” is pretty terrifying and is doing some really nasty damage to some very real people.  Just ask science!  Or, if you don’t trust science anymore because it’s also full of changelings (and bees), ask the people! 

On the other, if we humans need fairy stories, then maybe science should pay attention to how it talks about itself instead of pretending it has TOTALLY DEVELOPED PAST YOUR SUPERSTITIOUS TOMFOOLERY.  Also, I have just demonstrated that the humanities remain relevant.  Please publish me.

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We’re Expecting…A Thesis!

That’s right!  It’s my final year of the MA, which means that in just about nine months, I am going to give birth to a fully-formed Master’s thesis!

Of course, this happy event – celebrated, as I understand it, by a roomful of my colleagues asking pointed questions about my little bundle of joy followed by a traditional ceremony in which I defeat a snake in single combat – is only the end point of a long and arduous process.  I will, no doubt, become noticeably crabby, press family members into running bizarre 2 a.m. ice cream errands for me, and begin to continue to eschew pants.  

And, while I currently expect no problems with carrying my little dearest to term, I recognize that certain events – illness, demanding students, baffled advisors – may result in my production not of a thesis, but of a misshapen little creature, like a sestina.  (I am writing about changelings, after all.)  I am determined to love it nonetheless.  After all, I’m going to be a mother!

So much excitement!  So many questions!  How many pages will my newborn thesis run?  Will it prefer Times New Roman or Garamond?  What will it grow up to be – a dissertation chapter, an article, a book?  What sex will it be?  (My fellow MA students say they don’t care, as long as it’s healthy.  But what if my thesis requires extensive revision?)

I need to start polling my thesis-parent friends immediately.  How do they deal with sleep deprivation when the thesis’s bibliography simply refuses to format correctly?  Does thesis-wearing really help improve the transitions between sections, and if so, is a wrap or a backpack better?  Spanking the bibliography to “train” correct formatting: yes or no?  Do vaccines really cause logical fallacies and illegible subheadings, or is that just an urban myth?

Because we only just found out about my thesis-idea-conception, I don’t have much to show for it yet.  I’ve only expanded by the width of a few sheets of scribbled notes, and while I think I can see a difference, my husband says nobody else can.  But I ran to the library to check out twenty pounds of books on the subject anyway.  Pics to come!  I can’t wait!

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When Language Matters More Than People

Dani Alexis:

One of the more pointed pieces on language policing I’ve read in a while (“pointed” in the best, most effective ways). Worth a read.

Originally posted on Unstrange Mind:

a mouth trying to speak but held captive by barned wire

Image description: a mouth trying to speak but held captive by thorns like barbed wire.

In case you hadn’t noticed, disabled children and adults are being abused and killed. A month doesn’t go by without a major news story about an Autistic person being killed — sometimes by police who weren’t trained in how to interact safely with Autistic people in law enforcement situations but more often by the person’s own parents or caregivers. It is tragic, depressing, frightening, angering.

And it is part of a disturbing trend in which people see Autistic people and other disabled people as somehow less than human. This is the most troubling of all — those dramatic stories of abuse and murder are the bloody tip of a massive iceberg and there are days when I feel crushed beneath all that ice of hatred and dehumanization.

But what I really want to talk about…

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