“Don’t blame me, it’s my Autism.”

Author: Essaka Joshua

I apologize for the delay in my posts. As it was fall break for the main ND campus, the London branch also enjoyed a week off; there was no Riverside trip on either the 22nd or the 29th of October, which was Riverside’s half-term break. This blog will address the session on October 15.

To supplement my observations, I have been reviewing articles I read in my sophomore year as part of Essaka Joshua’s Disability Studies College Seminar. Recently, I re-read Anne Ruggles Gere’s article “Seeing is/not Believing: Visibility, Invisibility, and Disability Studies in Education.” In this work, Gere addresses the issues as pertaining to her own adopted daughter, Cindy, who has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), and talks about the assumptions that teachers and classmates make about each other.

David was ill today, so the classroom was a little less structured than usual and I was able to spend some time with one of the aides, Amy, who is also twenty years old. I took the opportunity to ask her about the self-perceptions of the students. Are the students cognizant of their abilities and disabilities? Are they knowledgeable of their diagnoses? Do they know about the disabilities of their classmates? How do they grapple with questions of visibility and invisibility?

In my October 1 reflection, I wrote on whether it was appropriate to want more information on the students’ various disabilities and impairments. I try to avoid lumping all of the pupils into the “limitations of monolithic labels,” to quote Gere, and I would prefer more tailored words than simply “disabled” and “impaired.” As a student of psychology and possibly a future mental-health professional, I yearn for more specific medical details. Amy responded by saying, “Some of them do – Archie, for instance.” She called Archie over and asked him to show me his shirt, which read, “Don’t blame me, it’s my Autism.” The t-shirt appeared to have been from a fundraiser for autism awareness, and though it was a strange sentiment – alike in appearance and profundity to a shirt reading, “Don’t blame me, I voted for Ron Paul” – it was certainly interesting, and it was real. Amy said that Archie was especially proud of that shirt and had a matching hat as well. Beyond signing his words, Archie is not visibly impaired, but the shirt makes his disability visible – and his reaction is pride.

Gere states that, “The visible is not an accurate measure of the ‘reality’ of another’s body,” yet, “to be visible is to be subject to surveillance and voyeurism” (57). Just as the students in the classroom have an extensive range of abilities and impairments, the visibility of such individual traits is equally wide-ranging. Gere addresses the complexity of disability, and the further complexity of discussing it as, “Much of the research currently being done in education depends upon narrow and carefully delimited categories. The subjectivity of individuals is referenced by terms such as ‘at risk’ or ‘gifted’ or ‘disabled.’ These designations assume a single and stable identity” (59). These issues cannot be solved through studies of one person, but with the understanding of a community.

Riverside is an incredible community for these students at this point in their lives; Gere chooses her daughter as the subject of her analysis as she is an impaired student within mainstream education, and her challenges are subsequently multiplied. I often think of the pupils’ lives outside of Riverside – within their families and their neighborhoods, both now and in the future. Is disability – autism, for instance – a diagnosis that only incites “blame” as Archie’s favorite shirt assumes?

[Somewhat related to the issues of dialect and effect is the following article reporting on a Stanford University psycholinguist’s work on the thought-shaping power of language: http://www.newsweek.com/id/205985.]