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"'Coming Aut'. or Disclosing Autism to Doubting Publics"

Tuesday, January 19, 2016
12:00 AM
Institute for the Humanities, 202 S. Thayer, #1022

When autistic people disclose being autistic, we are often met with intrusive questions and hostile responses: Who diagnosed you? Have you tried B-12 supplements? Well, you don't look autistic to me.

Autism disclosure can provide entry for others to tally our symptoms, to compare the context of our disclosures against their knowledge (or lack thereof) of autism stereotypes or lay understandings of diagnostic criteria. In this talk, I examine the ways in which autism disclosure functions as a metonym for diagnostic assessment. That is, declaring one’s neuroqueerness is often culturally read as an invitation for neurotypicals to theorize and assess what neuroqueerness is. In this way, autism disclosure is often agonistic, expectant of non-autistic refutation. The ability to say, “I have autism,” for example, is intuited as evidence that one does not have autism — or, at least, not “real” or “severe” autism. In particular, I look toward what Margaret Price (2009) has called “counter-diagnosis” as one means through which autistic people queer the contours of rhetorical containment, of diagnostic fixity. In toying with the very idea of diagnosis itself, autistic rhetors instill their own queered credibilities, in which authority is derived from one’s pathological lack of authority.

Melanie Yergeau is assistant professor of English at the University of Michigan. Her academic interests include digital media studies and disability studies, and, more specifically, what the neurodiversity movement has to teach us about learning, teaching, writing, difference, and being. She received the 2011 Hugh Burns Dissertation Award, and I am currently working on a book project about autism and embodied authorship.

Yergeau has published in Kairos, Computers and Composition Online, Disability Studies Quarterly, and College English. For many years she served on the board of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), a nonprofit organization run for and by individuals on the autism spectrum, and currently serves on the board of the Autism National Committee (also known as AutCom). She blogs semi-regularly on matters of rhetoric, autistic culture, and technology at