Autism and Understanding Others

Amanda Baggs presents her own life and thoughts in her YouTube video, In My Language, her translation of how she is in a constant conversation with the world around her.  She is autistic and does not speak.  But she can type, and after three minutes showing her interacting with her environment, she uses computer technology to explain herself to us.


I came across this video through Tara Parker-Pope’s post, The Language of Autism.  As Parker-Pope relates, “Ms. Baggs does far more than give us a vivid glimpse into her mind. Her video is a clarion call on behalf of people with cognitive disabilities whose way of communicating isn’t understood by the rest of the world.”


Amanda Baggs has also been feaured in a recent Wired article, The Truth About Autism.  The journalist David Wolman writes about the emerging activist community around autism as well as changing scientific views of autism, views that overcome both the social blame once placed on “refrigerator mothers” and the present reductive excess of a brain marked only by malfunction.  Vaughn’s powerful piece on the pernicious public accusations of “madness” also comes to mind, where he discusses the continued efforts at “diagnosing” public figures in ways that would not be acceptable, say, for epilepsy.  (Vaughn also covers the Wired article here.)Sandy over at The Mouse Trap takes up the Wired article in his piece, Autism: Disease or Difference, arguing for autism as “a matter of difference and neurodiversity.”  He also reviews recent research presenting autism as a cognitive style, with an emphasis on “local processing” rather than gestalt perception and our “normal” cultural contextualization.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the well-received book by the anthropologist Roy Ginker, Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism.  Grinker’s daughter was diagnosed with autism in 1994, and he relates his own personal history in the midst of considering the rise in autism in several places around the world.

Finally, Amanda Baggs’ video brought me back to my post, Pattern #2, which spoke of developing a middle ground in the analysis of mental illness (addiction and autism were the two cases) in terms of basic human patterns, a space between the deficits and local processing view and the cultural diagnoses, stigma and power of biomedicine view.  Amanda does a much more powerful job than I do in showing us what that might look and sound and feel like.

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