Working towards sympathy and contributing to the debate: the emerging literature of characters with autism

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Publication Type honors thesis
School or College College of Humanities
Department English
Thesis Supervisor Mark Matheson
Creator Pecchia-Bekkum, Christian
Title Working towards sympathy and contributing to the debate: the emerging literature of characters with autism
Date 2009-08
Description Imagine a world where the basics of social interactions are often a mystery, where cultural norms taken for granted by others are perplexing and frustrating, where some sensations may be so underwhelming as to be almost unnoticeable, while others are enhanced to truly painful levels. This is the world of autism and autism-spectrum disorders (ASD), and it is one that in a number of recent literary works has proven to be both fruitful and challenging to explore, typically from the perspective of an autistic character, or that of someone in a relationship such a person. It is a common theme within these works that being on the autistic spectrum, or interacting with such a person, creates unique challenges to overcome and can alter one's perspective on life in general. The works appear to searching for reaffirming truths that celebrate the uniqueness and the potential for the expansion of one's worldview, whether it is a individual who has autism learning to understand the curious and seemingly random world around them, or a guardian or friend learning to cope with the challenges of a relationship with such a person. Yet it is perhaps inevitable that in many cases, social stigma and stereotypes are conveyed along with the celebration, providing conflicting perspectives which render it ambiguous as to whether ASD is a blessing or a curse. This increase in public interest in autism and autism spectrum disorders is a relatively recent phenomenon, only occurring in any significant manner since the 1980s (Autism Information Center). Prior to this point, autism diagnoses were restricted to what might be called "classic," low-functioning autism, which makes it difficult for those who have it to function in human society. With the expansion of additional diagnoses that expanded what constitutes autism and its sister disorders, such as Asperger's syndrome or Pervasive Development Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), the number of diagnosed individuals skyrocketed, with estimates of as many as six in a thousand people affected with some form of ASD, primarily autism, and that of this group there is a four to one prevalence of males who have ASD to females. Many of these "new" individuals who have ASD, who even a two or three decades before would not have been diagnosed with being on the autism spectrum, have been diagnosed with what is called "high-functioning" autism spectrum disorders; common examples include Apserger's syndrome and certain forms of autism. For a person to have high-functioning ASD means that issues associated with having ASD, such as difficulties in following social cues or sensory issues, are sufficiently mild enough that, with a little effort, that person can survive and sometimes thrive in society at large. There are usually some behaviors, tics, unusually focused interests, slightly off responses, or instances of social awkwardness that can make people who have high-functioning ASD seem a little "odd" or "eccentric" to those they interact with, but often it may require a certain amount of time spent with such an individual to realize that they are "different." The sudden increase in the number of diagnoses, combined with the diversity seen in how having a form of ASD affects people on even an individual basis, has lead to much speculation as to what historical figures may have had a form of ASD, and it is generally agreed that a significant proportion of people formally known as "idiot savants" probably had some form of ASD. It is unsurprising that an interest into exploring its impact has developed, nor that there has been a growing number of literary and cinematic protagonists who have autism spectrum disorders, such as Christopher Boone, of British author Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident o f the Dog in the Night-Time, or Raymond Babbitt, of Rain Man. All forms of autism spectrum disorders are usually associated with varying difficulty in social and interpersonal interactions, which manifests itself in a number of ways.
Type Text
Publisher University of Utah
Subject Autism spectrum disorders; Autism in literature
Language eng
Rights Management (c) Christian Pecchia-Bekkum
Format Medium application/pdf
Format Extent 1,423,301 bytes
ARK ark:/87278/s68m0kc5
Setname ir_htca
ID 205817
Reference URL
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