Striking suspicion in the texts about autistic courses
This is a cultural article which is part of Then24’s opinion journalism.
When the artists Lizzo and Beyonce over the summer faced criticism for using the word ‘spaz’, their response was to immediately and unapologetically change their lyrics. Why? Why didn’t any of them start a principled war over the right to use any words in the name of art? Why just listen to the function movement and change your mind?
For economic strategic reasons, someone claims. Because neither of them feels the need to assert their foolproof infallibility, another believes. Because they both know something about how words can hurt, says a third. In any case, it became clear again what importance self-organized movements have for minorities’ ability to influence how they are talked about.
At the same time, it is striking what suspicion is directed towards some of these movements in Sweden. In particular, against the part of the funk movement that is made up of the autism rights movements. Several articles have recently expressed such distrust, which includes the dismissal of writing education and artistic research by and with autistic people.
In Dagens ETC (1/8) mean Selma Brodrej that a writing course aimed at autistics is redundant because there are enough literary characters with autistic traits in contemporary literature. The logic seems to be that these compensate for autistic writers and their right to education.
Mikaela Blomqvist claims in GP (2/8) that the arts faculty “carry out research into psychiatric diagnoses” and use their activities as clinical psychologists as income for a long-dated view of autism. According to her notions of artistic research, it is aesthetically uninteresting whether writers “suffer” from autism, because there is no such thing as autistic writing. And if Mikaela Blomqvist says something doesn’t exist, it doesn’t exist, no matter how many scientific works deal with the phenomenon, which doesn’t exist, because Mikaela Blomqvist says it doesn’t exist…
International is The autism rights movement has long been a force and resource to be reckoned with in the public, but also in the research community, which has changed the state of knowledge about autism. Training programs that purport to make autistic children more neurotypical have been rejected by autistic adults who have completed the programs. Just as in the case of other groups that have been described, judged and oppressed, resistance and organization have been prerequisites for increased knowledge in the majority society.
The medically neutral language has historically been used in devastating ways.
There are different ways to approach such knowledge. Autism “is” not just a neuropsychiatric diagnosis, but a way of functioning. Autistics are just as autistic before and after the healthcare diagnosis, which for some means a relief and for others a burden. It is not really surprising that doctors, psychologists and psychotherapists are regarded with some suspicion within the autism rights movements. Historically, it is those who, in the name of science, dehumanized autistics, “treated” autistics through punishment and violence, in some cases to the point that they considered autistics’ lives not worth living.
Above all is the difference between the medical/pathological perspective and the neurodiversity perspective, which dominates the autism-driven research, a question of which gaze is directed towards what we call autism. The medical perspective has long been synonymous with the neurotypical view. The view that starts from the majority’s way of functioning and describes autistic ways of functioning in terms of shortcomings, difficulties and shortcomings. When this view is challenged, neurotypical doctors, psychologists and therapists can choose to listen and educate themselves or bury their heads in the sand and carry on as before.
Research in literary design is a language-fixed activity. Precisely for this reason, expressions that are considered non-normative, that move outside the sphere of habitual language, are of greatest interest. Medical and neurodiversity research actually agree that autistic people often have a different relationship to language than the majority. This is something we have taken notice of in the artistic research project “Autistic writing: reclaiming one’s mother tongue”.
Research in literature design must be conducted with language as the researcher’s medium in the investigation of artistic processes that are precisely linguistic. It is research that differs from other subjects, among other things in that, as stated in the research description on HDK-Valand’s website, the researcher never ceases to be an author at any moment. Unlike artistic research in, for example, music, written language is both an art form and a scientific form. In this language-fixated environment, autistic language (or “language disorders” as they may be called in medical contexts) is irresistibly exciting.
When such linguistic violence is ignored by researchers, writers and self-proclaimed experts, it becomes more important than ever to speak out.
Interest in language, this nerdiness, if you will, is for some the great charm of basic research, while others may find it a little claustrophobic.
In our research project, we have wanted to open up the artistic research to other scientific fields such as philosophy, sociology and international autism research, while at the same time the question of language, writing and reading remains central. In the articles we publish in various magazines and books, we analyze literary form, examine the conditions for different narrators/stories and what ethics underlie a language that does not do violence to the already vulnerable.
We are not them first to see connection between autism and artistic research. The theorists Erin Manning and Brian Massumi showed almost a decade ago parallels between autistic perception and creative processes. Their results have been further developed with later research on autistic rhetoric, autistic language and literary strategies in a field that continues to grow.
Once the pathological perspective has been challenged, it seems impossible to stop the autists making theory, literature and art without submitting to either the autism myths or the psychologists.
The medically neutral language has historically been used in devastating ways. So has the division into high- and low-functioning autistics, who Steve Silberman shows in the book NeuroTribesoriginated in the doctor His Aspergers work in thirties Germany. He divided his autistic patients into high-functioning “little professors” whose lives he protected, while at the same time referring the low-functioning patients to the euthanasia clinic am Spiegelgrund (a place literary depicted in Steve Sem-Samberg’s novel The chosen). A language can be highly unsentimental without being innocent.
Maybe the question is around autism and language as most acute in a contemporary political situation. Today, the Danish state claims that the term “non-Western” is neutral and thus there is nothing to say about discrimination. When such linguistic violence is ignored by researchers, writers and self-proclaimed experts, it becomes more important than ever to speak out. For autistics as well as for other minorities. To claim the right to say: “I don’t recognize myself in your description of me.” Or: “We are here to stay, as we are.”
In defiance of the myth of autistics as incorrigible loners, autistic collectives are emerging, also in Sweden. The neurotypical gaze is not the only one, the neurotypical language not the all-powerful. There is always a choice to see it as a threat or an opportunity.
Elisabeth Hjorthlecturer in literary design, HDK-Valand
Anna Nygren, assistant professor in literary design and doctoral student in literary studies, HDK-Valand and University of Turku
Jonna Bornemark, professor of philosophy, Södertörn University
Hanna Bertilsdotter Rosqvist, docent in sociology, lecturer in social work, Södertörn University