CFP: Special Issue of Disability Studies Quarterly on Autism

Submission deadline: Jan. 1 2009
Projected publication date: Summer 2010

Co-editors: Emily Thornton Savarese, University of Iowa, and Ralph James Savarese, Grinnell College

We are looking for completed articles, from a disability studies perspective, on what the medical community refers to as ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). We are especially interested in pieces that engage the so-called “low-functioning” end of the spectrum, where increasingly those presumed retarded and lacking social awareness are writing back to the empire of science. As the field of disability studies has theorized cognitive difference, it has had to refine its cherished social-constructionist approach, making sure to account for physiological distinctiveness in the organ of sensibility, a distinctiveness that has been interpreted in a myriad of ways, most quite prejudicial. We are interested in the burgeoning neurodiversity movement, which has self-consciously resisted such prejudicial interpretations, often revealing the “science” of autism to be anything but reliable and objective. How to talk about autistic difference? How to represent it? How to convey its gifts and challenges? Who can talk about it? What role should parents play in this representational arena? What role should teachers, doctors, researchers, therapists, media entities, and academics play? What kind of interdisciplinary approaches are needed to understand, respect, and even cherish autism? Continue reading

Restraints and Rights

Today’s New York Times reports on what may be an increase in the use of restraints on children—-with behavior problems, ADHD, autism—-in public schools in America, where there’s less oversight about such abuses than for psychiatric hospitals and in nursing homes. I would have thought the kinds of practices—holding a student down prone on the floor, for one thing—-were the stuff of some benighted Victorian past. But physical restraints were repeatedly used on my own son in a New Jersey town we used to live in, and without the school district telling us that this would occur, as I wrote about in a post today. And in Bedfordshire, in the UK, a family may have their 12-year-old autistic son, Ben Haslam, taken into care by the Local Education Authority, following a dispute about what the appropriate education is for the child. He’s currently in a school where, after a lot of trouble, he’s doing really well.

Both cases highlight how little people take into account the perspective, and the feelings, of disabled children and especially children with limited communication. Of course my son didn’t like—was terrified—when he was physically restrained with his arms twisted behind him—-but he wasn’t even able to say “no” or “stop it.” Ben Haslam does not talk, but you can tell from watching a newscast that his current school has helped him tremendously, that he’s learning and interested.

More onrestraints and aversives used on autistic children here—yes, this is happening in America today, to disabled children. What sorts of people call this “education”?

Excluded: Sorry, it’s not your right

Recently there’s been one story after the next in the news about an autistic child, and about special needs children, being removed (physically, in some cases) from public spaces: A Minnesota church, more than one airplane, a kindergarten classroom. I’ve followed many of these cases on my autism weblog and the discussions that have emerged have often gotten long, and been more than heated—-they’ve been full of vitriol, hostility and disgust that parents of disabled children have so little regard for others’ safety and are, indeed, so seemingly careless of the needs of others.

Parents of disabled children do care very much; indeed they may be the most sensitive of all to how strangers feel when a child “misbehaves” in public. But being parents of kids who often don’t get understood, we have to take care—to advocate—for our kids. Experience has shown me that, at the end of the day, if my husband Jim and I don’t stand up for Charlie, people just walk by. In May, I wrote a post entitled Excluded: On Keeping the Faith about the daily advocacy a parent of a disabled child, and one’s disabled child, find themselves performing everyone we step into a public place and I’m reposting it here. Continue reading