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Final- Travis May

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Travis May

Professor Foss

Final Paper

December 7, 2010

I Am Invisible, I Am Insignificant

Imagine a world where as soon as you wake up and go out into the world that barely anything is convenient for you. You try to communicate with others and they do not comprehend your language. You are viewed as less of a human being because your thought process is so unorthodox and everything you perceive is misunderstood. Ultimately, you feel “invisible” in a cold world that somewhat knows this exists but does not care to do anything to help you at all. “Up in the Clouds and Down in the Valley: My Richness and Yours” by Amanda Baggs is an extraordinary piece that expresses these everyday problems that so many people have to deal with every single day. Baggs is writing to the world to help raise awareness of the many injustices and obstacles that affect the autistic community, which at times is invisible to the rest of America. When injustices to a large social group exist like this, it is because America does not see that community. They are invisible because the rest of society does not see the autistic community as significant contributors to their communities.

“Check your stereotypes about functioning levels at the door” (Baggs). Most people see those who are autistic as those who are unable to talk, operate motor vehicles, hold prestigious jobs, play sports, and other activities. Those who are not autistic have that stereotypical image in their head of the kid in school who needed someone to do everything for them and was unable to communicate with anyone. Baggs is really working to tear down the misconceptions that non autistic people have of them by letting them know that people with autism are very diverse. Most of America does not realize this because they are blinded by their own views of what a person with autism has and that leads to most of America ignoring that group.

The lack of education alone about those with autism is part of the reason why the autistic community is invisible among the non autistic society. “What I am writing here is highly personal, but it is not unique to me. I have heard similar sentiments expressed by other autistic people, though they are not universal by any means. I should not have to say this, but in a world where an autistic person’s viewpoints are likely to be shoved into the twin oblivions of “But we’re not all like that!” (Baggs). She is expressing how each autistic person’s life is different. The fact that society is unaware that they interact with many people who have autism who contribute to society everyday is a problem in itself. All over the world, especially in America, are constantly concerned about playing a role in bettering the nation in which they live in but people with autism do not fit that category for most. Contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of people who have contributed to society. Famous individuals like Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Beethoven, Van Gogh, Mozart, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Edison all had some type of autism.

Ultimately, the world does not see the autistic community because as humans we naturally only pay attention to things or people that benefit us. We are naturally selfish in that sense. If a group does not have anything to offer and bears no significance we bail out. “ The average human processes 13 to 30 cycles of brain wave energy per second in their conscious state. A child with autism can process up to 250,000 cycles of brain wave energy per second in their conscious state” (Braden). This is a proper representation that people with autisms are capable of thinking on a much higher level than those who are not. The famous names that I have mentioned earlier have thought to have the ability to think at that rate. This proves that they are significant and should be more visible to our society and maybe than the injustices that affect the autistic community will end.

Amanda Braggs piece is impactful because it gives the reader the opportunity to see the diversity of autism and get an understanding why society labels them and treats them as if they are invisible and do not matter. Braggs being autistic herself, relates to this problem paints a picture to help us understand her community. The only way that justice will be properly served and the autistic community will be recognized is that everyone needs to throw out the old and come with the new. What I mean is that we need to take that old stereotypical view of people of autism and properly educate ourselves by educating ourselves about the autistic community. A whole group of people subject to injustice because they are not being recognized as valuable is an injustice to everybody; especially sense one of the richest men in the world has an autism, Bill Gates.

Written by mayallday

December 8th, 2010 at 10:45 pm

Julianna’s Final Exam

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There were only a few autistic texts touched on during the last portion of this class.  Now this may be due to the fact that there are few autistic texts out there, or rather that there are many, just not sufficient time to go through these numerous accounts.  Of the texts read, With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child: Volume 6 by Keiko Tobe, gave the clearest and most understandable representation of autism.

Pictures worked with the narration in order to visually portray the everyday life of the autistic protagonist.  Autism is a visual and largely logical way of thinking.  Therefore, the form the narration took, manga, aided in understanding things the way the protagonist does.  The drawings in the manga volume focused on specific actions and views and concentrated attention on what the autistic protagonist saw.  For example, on pages 390 and 391, Hikaru notices his grandmother’s forehead furrows and slides his finger across them.  What this sequence of pictures does is show the reader how autistics pay less attention to words than they do to what they see.  Hikaru knows that his grandmother’s furrows are not usually so protruding.  Hikaru may know something is wrong and does this movement to try and communicate a type of comfort to his grandmother, unsuccessfully since she is unreceptive.  While there is no true way of knowing what Hikaru’s intentions are since the volume never goes into his mindset, it is something that an autistic person would pick up on, yet is hard to describe through words with the same amount of accuracy.  This is one example of viewing things the way an autistic would, which is done beautifully through pictures, yet gets lost in translation in the words of other books that try to describe something that is seen.  In this manner, In the Light has an advantage over other books since it also uses visual explanations.

In the Light also exercises use of various viewpoints.  The storyline is told by numerous persons and no one individual is the narrator.  Sachiko and Masato, Hikaru’s parents, as well as Hikaru’s grandmother take turns telling the story.  Now they are not the only storytellers, but they are the main ones.  Sachiko takes a moment during narration to comment on the equivalences between autistics and normals, “Life can be harsh.  Whether you have a child with a disability or not…there will always be hurdles that await you…” (Tobe 255). There are even instances when the writer’s voice comes out in the book.  This occurs when Tobe decides to throw in helpful advice for readers on what to do during certain situations when an autistic child is experiencing a trouble.  She does this numerous times throughout the book, both as footnotes and as full length pages of written hints, “The reverse side of artificial grass is quite painful.  Using it may prove more effective than saying “Don’t climb on that!” or “That’s dangerous!”” (Tobe 87).

A surprising strength in Tobe’s graphic novel perspective to autism is that the storyline is not complicated by Hikaru’s thoughts.  There is plenty going on in the novel so far as action and thoughts of surrounding characters.  Since Hikaru is autistic and this means that he thinks in a different manner, having his thoughts included would mix up the reader.  Since the reader is most used to the surrounding character’s thoughts, because they can relate, putting in his as well would make the storyline confusing.  If the approach was reversed and the readers only heard Hikaru’s thoughts, then it could potentially be equally as confusing.  Tobe knew that most readers would be unable to relate to Hikaru and would be unable to make sense of his thought processes, which could raise issues relating to ethics or disability in general.  Seeing Hikaru’s actions, still allows the reader to get into his head.   Since Tobe did not want to raise more issues, but rather have readers gain a sense of understanding for autistics, it was wise that she chose to maintain the outsider viewpoint throughout the entire novel.

Keiko Tobe found her strengths in discussing autism by writing it as a graphic novel.  She exercised the power of pictures, viewpoints, and outsider perspective in order to properly document what the experience of living and dealing with an autistic in day-to-day life would be like.  Since this is a middle volume to a series about autism, the reader gets to see what his junior high years are like.  However, since Tobe wrote this as a series, the reader can gain greater knowledge by learning what an autistic is like from childhood to adulthood.  This was a wise decision since it can relate people what living with autistics of all ages can be like and can broaden an understanding and acceptance of the autistic community.

Word count:  799


Tobe, Keiko. With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child. 6. Japan: Akita Publishing Co. Ltd., 2007. 390, 391, 255, 87. Print.

Written by Julianna Truslow

December 8th, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Sarah Roop’s Final Exam on Poetry

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Through written accounts many people learn to see from a different person’s perspective. They are exposed to a different mindset.  Poetry, a universal means of communication, lends itself allowing for the representation of autism to be broached from a variety of focal points. Poetry addresses the challenges that many people on the autism spectrum and their family members are faced with, but it also allows for an escape for those individuals, allowing them to express themselves in a world that is often so quick to limit them. In this, the strength of the individual is seen, whether it is a mother who sees the judgment of their child or rather a glimpse into the thoughts of the person themselves. The difference in authors, a parent or an individual with autism, yields a difference in perspective, yet they both show the fight they undergo and the beauty that they still see in the world.

Expectations set by society, when not met, force those who are viewed as different into categories, while others proceed to judge them. And often looking to those around them for explanations or even apologies for something they are not accustomed to. In the poetry of Rebecca Foust’s, she counters this advances by defending her son. In “Apologies To My OBGYN”, Foust responds to the behavior of her son after birth. It is apologetic thought the poem, stating, “sorry he took so much of your time” (Apologies).  As he fought to survive and be a part of this world, Foust stood up for him, explaining himself to the world, though differences should not merit explanations. This continues in her poem, “Dark Card”, where she more directly addresses the involvement of others, “When they look at my son like that” (Dark). She explains him, hoping to justify his differences, “Before they get angry, I pull out my deck/deal out what they want…” (Dark). Though it is his differences that make him unique. His behavior should not need to be explained, she should not need to “play the dark card of the idiot savant” to make people more at easy and stop “shoppers shuffl[ing] their feet while waiting on line” (Dark).  Foust demonstrates the difficulties that are presented by the judgment of others, while all she wants for her son is acceptance.                                                                                                                                      Poetry allows for an escape, self-expression from the critical views of others. Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay has been writing poetry for many years and wrote his first two books between the ages of eight and eleven years old. He illustrates the immense connection that he feels with the world and nature surrounding him, explaining his views on nature, as he states, “Who can explain it better than I?/The blue sky surrounds the earth/ Who can explain it better than I?” Mukhopadhyay find security in poetry, especially in his mother reciting it to him, ” because of the predictability formed by the pattern in the words” (Savarese). Rather than limiting him, his poetry and that of other sets him free.                         Foust and Mukhopadhyay hold different experiences with autism and utilize poetry to convey their perceptions with their surrounding.  Poetry allows for expression, while outsiders make attempts to limit them based on differences. This form of liberation exhibits the strength they have developed from their experiences with autism and those around them.

Written by sroop

December 8th, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Amanda Gorman’s Final Exam: On the Limits of ‘Scientific’ Analyses of Autistic Poetry, the Example of Perceived Lack of Analogical Thinking

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In Ilona Roth’s Imagination and the Awareness of Self in Autistic Spectrum Poets, she sets out to find answers to “one of the most elusive but fundamental questions posed by autistic conditions: what is the mental world of the person with autism like?” through an examination of autistic poetry (145). Whereas understanding other minds, especially those that are neurologically different, is a question of both great interest and importance, Roth unfortunately undertakes this project from a distinctly neurotypical perspective. Amanda Baggs points out in her video In My Own Language that the predominant view is to see autism as an inherently mysterious condition, rather than recognize the roadblocks of neurotypicals to understand autistic perspectives and communication. Though Roth admits that researchers have misjudged many features of autistic imagination and awareness of self, she does little to reverse or even question the framework in which the theories have arisen. In this paper I hope to show that Roth’s approach is a misguided one, through the example of her explanation about her findings on metaphor and simile in autistic poetry. I will contend that the fact that autistic poets use fewer similes does not show their inability to understand or use analogical thinking, but rather, may point to the person with autism’s heightened awareness of all linguistic communication as already functioning only within an analogical space.
Roth frames her project as examining whether or not autistics have an inner life at all, or if they just live in the here and now (145). One of the ways to figure this out, she presumes, is to look at whether or not autistic poets employ “imaginative language” by which she means primarily the use of metaphor and simile. Roth conceives of the research from which she is drawing as a “wide ranging study of autistic poetry” that “sought to integrate a scientific approach to the autistic mental world…with an attempt to understand the autistic poets’ points of view on their work” (152). The study included poetry from only five published autistic spectrum poets, though, and the poems were analyzed not through any kind of literary analysis, but rather through “quantitative content analysis” (152). She was impressed to find that autistic poets make substantial use of metaphor; she found that they use metaphor about as often as non-autistic poets do (155). She takes their sustaining metaphors over the course of multiple lines and stanzas as evidence of the fact that they had a relatively sophisticated grasp of the concept of metaphor. She rather unfairly qualifies this, though, by saying that the autistic poets’ metaphors are less creative since they play on “standard or idiomatic figures of speech” (155). Roth then explains her surprise at finding that given their ability to write metaphors, considering autistic poets employed significantly fewer similes in their writing than the non-autistic poet control group. The reason she is especially surprised at this finding, she tells us, is because in “Happe’s studies of figurative language understanding in people on the spectrum,” it was supposedly demonstrated that simile is the most accessible form of figurative language, whereas metaphor is more difficult, second only to irony. Rather than examine what figurative language might be like from an autistic perspective, Roth rather hastily concludes that when it comes to generating the example oneself, composing a simile must actually be harder and require a tighter control on language than composing a metaphor (155).
If one takes the voices of those with autism, like Amanda Baggs, seriously, it is not hard to see why it is misguided to evaluate autistic mental life by how well a person with autism can use neurotypical ways of communication in a neurotypical fashion. Baggs claims to have her own kind of language in which she directly communicates with her surroundings in a non-symbolic way. To use neurotypical spoken language for her is to restrict the ways she has of communicating into a predefined sphere of shared symbolic meanings. It is clear that Baggs not only has an understanding of how language can function analogically, and notices the necessarily analogical nature of spoken and written language. This is an insight that many theorists from Rousseau to Rorty have arrived upon. Percy Bysshe Shelley also defended the view that language is vitally metaphorical. If persons with autism are more likely to see language as already metaphorical, it would make sense that they would see little need to point out this relation in a simile with “like” or “as”, yet still use plenty of metaphor in their writings. It might also potentially explain a fascination with “standard or idiomatic figures of speech”.
Even if Roth’s research methods were sound, it is clear that there is more than one way to interpret the results. Between a neurotypical perspective on what autistic minds are like and an autistic perspective on what autistic minds are like, we should probably opt for the autistic perspective which we should have no trouble finding to be the truth. Quantitative scientific analyses of autistic poetry can only tell us so much. It would be much more fruitful to look at what autistic poets say about their work and writing process. For example, Tito Mukhopadhyay, one of the poets whose work Roth analyzed expressed the following in an interview:
“Blunt truth is “affective.” But slanted truth is “cognitive.” I expect my readers to understand the truth by linking it to something. When we relate a truth or a perception to some known field through metaphors, it becomes the stepping stone towards better cognition. Otherwise it is a childish — “I feel this and I feel that.” How many people pay heed to childishness?” (Savarese).

Undoubtedly, it is possible for autistic poets to understand metaphor, their neurological make-up may even illuminate make the relationship of language to metaphor. Perhaps it is time to stop trying to figure out people with autism, doing quantitative studies of how many similes they include in their poetry, and start listening to their words themselves.

Works Cited

Baggs, Amanda. In My Own Language.January 14, 2007.

Roth, Ilona. “Imagination and the Awareness of Self in Autistic Spectrum Poets.” Autism and Representation. Mark Osteen. Psychology Press. 2007.

Savarese, Ralph. “More Than a Thing to Ignore: An Interview with Tito Rajarshi

Written by gormanda

December 8th, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Sachiko as a Liaison in Keiko Tobe’s With the Light

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Keiko Tobe’s series of graphic novels With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child depicts the Azuma family’s struggles with caring for their autistic son, Hikaru.  The main narrator throughout the series is Sachiko, Hikaru’s mother.  In Volume Six specifically, Sachiko works hard to act as a mediator between Hikaru and the outside world during his junior high years.  Tobe’s representation of Sachiko as a liaison for her son provides a productive behind the scenes perspective that ultimately heightens her audiences’ awareness of the difficulties in caring for an autistic child.

In the New Oxford American Dictionary, a liaison is defined as “a person who acts as a link to assist communication or cooperation between groups of people.”  In this volume, Sachiko assists communication not between two groups of people, but between the people in the Japanese society and Hikaru.  By acting as a liaison, Sachiko allows for her son to feel more comfortable in this society.  Consequently, the people around him feel more comfortable, an added outcome of Sachiko’s efforts.  Sachiko’s role as a liaison is a difficult one that requires continual improvising.  It also is a very emotional process for her as a mother, because she always wants what is best for Hikaru and her efforts are riddled with both success and failure. Sachiko’s emotions involved in this process are especially evident in this novel because it is a graphic novel that allows readers to see her facial expressions and other indicators of emotion instead of just reading about them.

An example in which Sachiko acts as a liaison between Hikaru and the outside world takes place towards the beginning of Episode Two in Volume Six.  In this scene, Sachiko buys some knitting wool and makes it into a quasi-shoulder pad to go on Hikaru’s bag so that he can feel it whenever he wants.  Sachiko decides to do this after Hikaru touches the hair of the girl sitting next to him on the bus, which upsets the girl so much she says, “Ugh, yuck! How disgusting!” (50) before changing seats. Sachiko discusses this incident with her friend, who is also the mother of an autistic child and devises her plan to knit something for Hikaru.

By knitting this piece of wool for Hikaru, Sachiko allows for him to have something to feel instead of the hair of others around him.  She knows it is important to provide an alternative to Hikaru because it gives him something that is both appropriate within society and pleasing to him while fulfilling his need to touch soft things.  By limiting Hikaru’s socially unacceptable behavior, those around him would not feel as uncomfortable or upset.  Sachiko takes the public into account when knitting this for Hikaru because when she is talking about her knitting, she mentions, “even if someone looks at it without knowing what it is, they’ll probably just assume it’s a shoulder pad,” (65).  In this quotation, it is evident that Sachiko has both parties in mind, which is consistent with the role of a liaison.

Sachiko’s emotional investment in solving Hikaru’s hair-touching problem is obvious as represented by the drawings in the panels where she buys the knitting wool and finishes her knitting.  When Sachiko first touches the knitting wool, she cradles it in her hands and gazes at it with huge, doe eyes.  There are also flowers in the background of the panel and sound effects that are written in Japanese.  These sound effects are translated into “fluff, fluff” (64) and are most likely referring to how Sachiko is lovingly handling the knitting wool.  The word “Wooow!” (64) is sticking out of one of Sachiko’s thought bubbles as well, showing her amazement at what she has just discovered for Hikaru.  Once Sachiko is done knitting, the drawing depicts her lovingly rubbing the finished product against her face and, when translated, the Japanese sound effects say “rub, rub” (65) to emphasize this movement.  In these panels, Sachiko’s joy at having creating a potential mediator between Hikaru and society is unmistakable.  However, Tobe’s makes it quite clear that this is only a small aspect of Sachiko’s ongoing role as a liaison because as she rubs the wool to her face she thinks, “Maybe now there’ll be one less thing to worry about?” (65).  These lines of thought demonstrate how Sachiko is constantly looking ahead and recognizing that this is just one less issue she must mediate between Hikaru and society in her role as a liaison, not that it is a complete solution.  And, because the thought ends in a question mark, it is clear that Sachiko knows her plan might not even solve the hair-touching problem, which would call for more improvisation from Sachiko to find a solution that would.

This is just one example of Sachiko mediating between Hikaru and society.  Tobe’s volume is filled with instances such as these that are just as, or even more intricate than knitting a piece of wool.  Most of the other instances are also seemingly small ones but Sachiko cannot afford to overlook anything in Hikaru’s life because she wants to care for her son the best she can.  This is a productive behind the scenes look at Sachiko’s never-ending role as a liaison because it provides insight into the struggles and emotions of the mother of an autistic child who is constantly negotiating between her child and society.  Without following Sachiko’s story, people unfamiliar to autism might never see or know about this aspect of it.  Through Sachiko, Tobe provides her readers with a chance to better appreciate what goes into making an autistic child comfortable during seemingly simple tasks like riding the bus.  After gaining a better appreciation of just this one aspect of the difficulties in caring for an autistic child, readers might have more understanding if they encounter autism outside of the fictional world.

Source: “Liaison.” The New Oxford American Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. Print.

Written by Susan

December 8th, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Accommodation and Acceptance: Haddon’s Aim Through an Autistic Narrator

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Accommodation and Acceptance: Haddon’s Aim Through an Autistic Narrator

Mary Wilson

Since the medical identification of autism as a cognitive disorder, physicians, people with autism, and activists alike have struggled to project certain perspectives about autism into the public eye.  Some, for instance, view autism as a strictly neurologically based disease which should be researched in an effort to find a cure; these people often view the austistic as someone afflicted with illness, a person who is somehow stunted or ‘stolen away’ by their autism.  Others, contrastingly, perceive autism in a more positive light, as human variation which our culture should accomodate, rather than strive to eliminate.  Both viewpoints gain publicity in a number of ways which influence others into developing either positive or negative attitudes about autism; specifically, advancing the viewpoint of an individual with autism as fundamentally diseased serves only to heighten stereotypes and intolerance for a people.  Combating this viewpoint in his contemporary mystery novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon portrays the character of Christopher Boone, a teenager with Asperger’s syndrome, as a young man who, although autistic, remains at the forefront of readers’ minds a human being, a celebration of difference and a case for accommodation of disability, rather than elimination of it.

Haddon’s decision to write from Christopher’s perspective immediately places readers within the austistic mind, forcing one to view everyday situations from a different viewpoint, heightening both our sense of understanding and appreciation for the way that the autistic brain functions.  Chris captures our attention quickly as he describes his dead neighbor’s dog “lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn…as if it were running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they are chasing a cat in a dream” (Haddon 1).  His ability to frankly describe the nature of the animal’s death not only serves to shock and surprise us, but also elicits empathy, for both the innocent victim, Wellington, and for Chris, who reacts to the situation by coping the only way he can (curling into the fetal position) and who is consequently heckled by the police and taken to jail (8).  Chris’s reaction to the murder causes no serious harm to anyone, causing readers to question the purpose of the police officer’s negative attitude toward Chris, one that is born out of intolerance for diversity.  As Jay McInerny of the New York Times states, “Haddon manages to bring us deep inside Christopher’s mind and situates us comfortably within his limited, severely logical point of view, to the extent that we begin to question the common sense and the erratic emotionalism of the normal citizens who surround him, as well as our own intuitions and habits of perception” (McInerny).  Indeed, Chris’s narration, full of informative anecdotes and diagrams demonstrating his thought processes, maintains our initial empathy for Chris throughout the novel, increasing our understanding of people with autism as humans whose brains function differently, not defectively. 

The inclusion of other, more neurotypical characters within the novel also serves to realign readers’ stereotypes of ‘normal’ versus ‘abnormal’ behavior.  For example, Chris’s father, a man who exhibits no signs of cognitive abnormality and who appears both calm and leel headed, kills Wellington, Mrs. Shears’s dog, out of heartbreak, stating that he was angry that “[Mrs. Shears] cared more for that bloody dog than for me, for us” (121).  Here, an unlikely contrast develops between Chris’s austistic yet logical and harmless behavior and his father’s instable emotionalism, causing readers to place Chris’s actions aboce his father’s on a scale of normality and ethics.  Praise for Chris and his strength in the face of deceit also surfaces when he discovers that his mother, whom he had presumed dead, actually ran away from the family, indirectly citing Chris as a cause of stress during a break down he had at the mall and “everyone was staring…and [she] wanted to take [him] out of the shop but [he] wouldn’t let [her]” (107).  Chris’s unfortunate circumstances reinforce the concept of the autistic as a morally worthy and apt individual while placing the ‘normal’ parents in a negative light.  Charlotte Moore of The Gaurdian explains the folly of the adults best when she states, “Christopher’s innocence makes him vulnerable, but it protects him too.  At the end, when order is restored, we see that he is a touchstone for adult behavior.   Those concerned with his welfare have to learn to temper their emotional needs around his autistic inability to compromise.”  Her evaluation clearly asserts the novel’s perspective on autism as that which is to be accommodated.   The ending of the novel, when the adults come together in an attempt to raise Chris in a loving environment, brings catharsis both for the parents (who repent of their intolerant actions) and for readers aliging themselves with Chris.

The novel’s joyful tone reinforces the idea of celebrating difference among human beings.  Despite Chris’s warning that his book “…will not be funny.  I cannot tell jokes because I do not understand them” (8), Chris’s logical view of the world often results in deadpan humor, such as when he explains his problem with the metaphor “the apple of my eye,” explaining, “When I try and make a picture of the phrase in my head it just confuses me because imagining an apple in someone’s eye doesn’t have anything to do with liking someone a lot and it makes you forget what the person was talking about” (15).  Charlotte Moore further elaborates on the importance of the book’s humor when she states, “It is a funny book, as well as a sad one.  Christopher’s c0mpulsive noting of mundane facts provides comedy…especially in his dealings with the police and his classmates.  And Haddon’s inclusion of diagrams, timetables, maps, even math problems, extends the normal scope of novel-writing and demonstrates the rich idiosyncrasies of the autistic brain” (2).  Jay McInerny agrees that “[Chris’s] inability to interpret basic social cues results in moments of comedy,” which enhance readers’ positive opinion of the autstic narrator.  Through manipulation of humor, Haddon appeals to a basic human mood that unites people regardless of category; by having us laugh with Chris, the author implores us to relate to him, to temporarily disregard his difference, to understand his situation in order to interpret the joy in it.  Through Haddon’s inclusion of subtle comedy we unwittingly find ourselves celebrating Chris’s viewpoint, his difference as positive as we laugh with him, not at him.

Thus, through the use of an autistic viewpoint, comparison between the neurodiverse and supposed normality, and the development of subtle humor, Mark Haddon journeys us into the mind of a cognitively diverse individual in order to arouse both empathy for and admiration of disability as human difference.  It is with viewpoints and works such as Haddon’s that an uninformed or intolerant public can be influenced to realign their misconceptions about disability, reflect on their opinions, and eliminate discrimination in their treatment of others.  It is through celebratory portrayals of autism, like Haddon’s, that a popularization of the viewpoint of tolerance and accommodation can be achieved. 

Works Cited

Haddon, Mark. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Vintage Books.  Random House Inc, New York, 2003.

McInerny, Jay. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Review.” New York Times. June 2003.  December 2010. www.query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9905EED81E

Moore, Charlotte. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Review.” The Gaurdian, 2003.  December 2010. http://books.gaurdian.co.uk/review/story/012084.html

Written by mwilson11

December 8th, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Meg’s Final Paper: With the Light and Metonymic Text

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Graphic Novels and Metonymy: Integrating an Autistic World

Language is an arbitrary experience; each word does not phonemically correlate to its meaning, and the words themselves change within different cultures (‘chien’ and ‘dog,’ for example, do not resemble their animals in any way). Thus, neurotypicals initially function just as autistics do. It’s only because this ruling society has a fairly universal acceptance of the meaning in language (and thus works less to connect it) that the language of the autistic, (whose connections between word and meaning are not readily obvious) seems to be singular. However, although the meaning within graphic novels is generally accepted by a mass of people, it is still able to convey the arbitrariness of text, through both the relation of image-text as well as the indefinable symbols that are supposed to signal various emotive states. The arbitrary nature of this, then, creates the metonymic text that Kristina Chew articulates in “Metonymy and the Nature of Autism”—one that invites the reader into an autistic world through its initial non-cohesive meaning to the larger society. This is different from the “metaphoric” world that neurotypicals operate in, wherein we assume the connective meaning to the image is obvious (“That’s the way the cookie crumbles” depicts a pleasant world being destroyed, in a sense). Because Keiko Tobe’s With the Light is a metonymic text, it is a text that successfully emulates and articulates the autistic experience through the various aspects of the graphic novel (panel structure, “sweat drops,” etc), as well as the changing image-text relationship.

The genre of the graphic novel alone articulates a metonymic text. Metonymy is based on two objects associated without a clear meaning. Thus, their connection is arbitrary and only is able to be made when the two objects are side by side. The reader then must work to interpret a new language which may be considered ambiguous or bizarre. This is a world in which the autistic individual operates; his/her language may be considered untranslatable, and therefore a language available only to that individual. This occurs within a graphic novel and especially within manga. Panels aren’t a typical part of the novel form, and their use, although used to convey meaning, isn’t entirely connected to it. The reader must first begin interpreting panel structure—which way one reads it completely changes the meaning of the text, and although readers typically read the panels in the way that normal language flows (left to right for Westerners; right to left for manga readers), this is not generally set in stone. For example, the reader could begin reading from the bottom, or the center of the page and choose panels sporadically around them (some novels, such as Moore’s Watchmen, are even intended for readers to function in this subjective manner). For example, on page 246 of With the Light, by reading the manga right to left, the narrative involves Sachiko crying and begging Masato to aid her, to which Masato responds that it’s unfair and he has been helping her. However, if the reader takes another approach to the panels, beginning in the bottom left, moving up and then to the right (again reading the bottom before the top), Masato seems to be reaffirming his aid, while Sachiko thanks him for helping others before her. Alternatively, she is questioning his actions, becoming the protester instead of Masato. The meaning changes entirely, and the reader must work to understand, possibly coming up with an entirely different meaning.

Other forms of manga also convey this disconnected process. Page 504 depicts several lines coming from a background character’s mouth, indicating that he is speaking (loudly) to his counterpart. This meaning, however, is unique to comics; a reader must work to understand that singular language. The sound effects that are featured within the comic are also an effect that the reader must translate; they are not intrinsically associated with sound and the reader must infer that they function within the text as an add-on to the main action. Because in manga they are often depicted in their original Japanese, the work on translation is emphasized. Other features with graphic novels, such as speech bubbles, and the swirls that indicate confusion function in the same manner, forcing the reader to experience a world in which the “language” does not connect with “typical” meanings, which is not necessarily concrete in the first place.

The relationship between image and text also emphasizes With the Light as a metonymic text. First of all, there is a reliance on image to convey meaning. The words are incredibly condensed and even dialogue is sometimes implied rather than directly conveyed. Thus, the graphic novel automatically begins emulating the autistic world, relying on the reduced text and the “fractioned idioms” (Chew 135) that autistics utilize. Page 114 features one of the autistic children on the ground, wincing, with squiggly lines emanating from his knee. The reader must interpret that he is in extreme pain, despite the fact that these images have no connection to the text (and in the first part of the panel there are no words indicating pain, such as “ow,” or “I’ve hurt myself.” Thus, just as the individual must correlate the seemingly unrelated meanings of an autistic, so too must the reader to this text.

Keiko Tobe’s With the Light emulates the autistic experience because it relies on images and other graphic methodology which has arbitrary meaning, thus making it a metonymic text, rather than a metaphoric one. Because of this, the graphic novel itself becomes a wonderful tool to showcase the world of autism. It not only creates a different medium through which to express one’s self, it also forces the reader in the mindset that the autistic individual experiences while working to understand the metaphoric world that neurotypicals operate in.

Written by Meg

December 8th, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Background Cues in With the Light (Vol. 6)

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In Keiko Tobe manga series, With the Light, one of the major strengths of her narrative style is the perspective in which we see the autistic child, Hikaru.  We follow many characters and hear many thoughts, none of which truly come from Hikaru.  This leads to the question of how this can be an autistic text at all if it does not allow him to voice his thoughts and perceptions.  The answer lies in the medium with which Tobe has decided to tell this story, the graphic novel (in manga style, to be accurate).  Subtle additions to the various scenes and panels give readers a clear insight on what characters are thinking and experiencing, including Hikaru. What at first seems like a character with no voice is suddenly filled with life when analyzing the artwork that Tobe has provided.

As early as page 9, Tobe wants to make clear the way in which we will see the world when we are viewing it through Hikaru’s eyes.  When the spherical time capsule is revealed for the school, Hikaru is fascinated by it.  This is clear through the use of a different shading technique for Hikaru, giving him a sparkling look, and a background filled with stars. As the book continues, the trend for the background to indicate what Hikaru is interested in emerges, but the hatched shading style holds a broader meaning that simple interest.  While pages 9, 74, 390, and 410 express the profound attention that he is giving something, usually associated with something that he really likes, page 13 seems to be showing a more introspective attention than the other scenes.  Page 175 and 347 also have this cross-hatched style which could be considered part of his inner thoughts or happiness, but one could also make the case that these are perceptions that characters around Hikaru are viewing him, with their own fascination.  Other cues that Tobe has placed to draw attention to the same things that Hikaru is can be found on pages 46 and 66 (long hair), 74 (soft “shoulder pad”), 19 (snail bus), and 174 (bells). The most common cues used for this purpose are stars in the background (as earlier on page 9) and soft balls of light (best seen on 46 and 66), though there are a couple exceptions.  Flowers are used on pages 234, 212, and 214, mostly in the presence of food.  One particular subtle background is used on pages 274 and 275 when Hikaru has just gotten off the phone with Nobuaki, a child hood friend.  This soft “stream of stars” seems to indicated his excitement at seeing his friends again, and perhaps connects to the “tingling sensation” that he also just experienced, though it is worthy to note that the “stream of stars” is decidedly faded when Hikaru is trying to get rid of the phone.  Tobe also uses graphical cues to help readers catch when Hikaru is upset, usually by darkening the scene and his face.  Pages 235 and 454 are excellent examples of Hikaru’s distress regarding the situation, whether that be a blank calendar or a too-noisy station. Stepping away from Hikaru for a moment, an Tobe draws an interesting scene on page 230.  As his father, Masato reflects on disability, the background around him seems to be washed out and hard to see.  This is a clear connection to Masato’s detached retina and shows that Tobe is not only interested in other health and disability issues, but also how to portray them so the reader understands what is really happening.

The effort which Keiko Tobe put into this text is phenomenal.  The attention to detail not only in the character’s interactions with each other, but also the backgrounds which they are portrayed in and the dialogue which adds to the way we see the characters, gives readers an excellent experience in living with Hikaru, Sachiko (the mother), Masato, and younger sister Kanon.  Each of these family members have their own concerns and challenges, and Hikaru, despite being largely silent, still has an important role, and voice, in this graphic novel.  The challenge for readers is hearing that voice, as it isn’t necessarily easy to find on the page.  The other characters of the narrative are treated with the same background and facial cues, but these are Hikaru’s only means of communicating to us, and in a book about raising an autistic child, Hikaru is a character to study carefully.  Keiko Tobe’s effort in creating a text about disability is a huge success and should be considered when studying the autistic spectrum.

word count: 764

Written by Spyden

December 8th, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Light-ing the Way: Normalcy in Keiko Tobe’s With the Light

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Keiko Tobe’s book, With the Light- Volume 6, uses strategies of both form and content to create a discussion of autism. Her novel tells of one boy’s experiences with autism and the reactions of those around him to his perceived behaviors. As Tobe does not try to speak for the autistic character in her novel, she is able to emphasize the lives of those who are presumably ‘normal’ in his family and community. By doing so, she dims the line between ‘disability’ as the focus of narrative and ‘normalcy’ as the narrative device which drives a story line.

As has frequently been reinforced in the Disability in Literature class discussion, there are narratives that deal directly with physical or mental function such as O’Connor’s “Good Country People” or Churchill’s A Mouthful of Birds. Other literature that has been read for class has taken a more ambiguous approach about the nature or even the existence of disability, such as Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men or Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” All of these writers use their characters as the focus for driving the plot of their stories. While Tobe includes her autistic character and gives him equal time in appearance in the book’s frames, it is the reactions of the other characters to the presumed disability and the drama of the other character’s lives that are the main focus of the book.

As a writer, Tobe should inherently understand the importance of Mitchell and Snyder’s claim in Narrative Prosthesis that “The anonymity of normalcy is no story at all. Deviance serves as the basis and common denominator of all narratives” (55). Yet she repeatedly questions this idea of ‘normalcy,’ driving her narrative as much by the adventures of her ‘normal’ characters as she does by her protagonist Hikaru, the boy who is autistic.

By inserting Hikaru into the narrative without presuming his own thoughts and inner voice, Kobe respects both the uniqueness of the individual and the present level of understanding of parents and science to comprehend the autistic mind. All the reader learns from Hikaru himself is that he does not use traditional language to speak, he sniffs hair, likes soft fuzzy objects and occasionally hides under a bench. It is the reactions of the other characters that define Hikaru as ‘normal’ or not. While there are no speech or thought balloons for his character his interactions with his little sister and his parents convey many of the same daily aggravations of any young boy who is curious, likes to explore and finds an energy release in annoying others—especially little sisters. The reader soon begins to question which of Hikaru’s actions are a result of his ‘condition,’ and which are the actions of a young boy’s energy and ‘normal’ development.

For many readers, the form of manga itself is a means of turning the notion of ‘normalcy’ on its side. While Tobe is a Japanese author and originally published the book in Japan, the conscious decision to leave the book in right-to-left format, combined with the nuanced manga form, leaves many western readers focusing much of their reading attention on the form of the book as much as its content. ‘Learning’ to read the direction, expressions, background direction and exclamatory cues offers much instruction in making one’s way through a world in which another language is spoken and emotions are expressed by means other than what is considered ‘typical’ facial expression. This enforces for the reader the idea that there is more than one path to understanding.

Hikaru’s daily encounters with the challenges of his autism are represented primarily by the assumptions of his mother. Even she admits that many times there is an ambiguity between what may be Hikaru’s development as a young boy and what may be an expression of his living in an autistic world. Episodes that focus on Hikaru and his dealing with family issues emphasize that the cognitively ‘abled’ should not assume that every struggle or encounter is caused by autism. For example, Hikaru ‘s reaction to Kanon’s getting her own room is given much emphasis through the mother’s doubts. Hikaru’s “urrrgh!” (Tobe 437) is the reader’s only indication that something may be awry. One may just as easily presume that this would be any person’s likely response to the feelings of exclusion by being kept out of a previously accessible space. Yet the mother attempts to determine what his internal reaction might be. She is the one who places the idea of ‘difference’ in the reader’s mind, not Hikaru’s reaction. Similarly, the grandmother’s favoritism of Kanon, which would be hurtful to any sibling, is given little attention by the parents. Instead their focus is on the grandmother’s lack of desire to offer Hikaru patience and her seeming inability (disability?) to attempt alternative means of communication with him.

A daughter-in-law’s insecurity, a mother-in-law’s busybody-ish insertion of herself into her son’s family and a husband’s temptations in the workplace are all the dramatic fodder for this novel. Hikaru is given a role of ambiguity in the narrative as other than through his reactions there is no way of knowing what he is really thinking. Yet even when characters speak directly to others there is cause for similar ambiguity. Hikaru’s father is reluctant to tell his assistant directly how it is that he understands some of the challenges her brother may be facing. His indirect nature and politeness lead the assistant to confuse caring with a more intimate interest. It may do the same for Hikaru’s father himself.

The stresses on daily life of attempting to balance work, home, children and family and social relationships are considered ‘normal,’ yet these are much of the source for the narrative’s action in Tobe’s book. The ‘difference’ of Hikaru is emphasized as much by the need for others to interpret his thinking and emotions and to define themselves through their interactions with him. By allowing this ambiguity of normalcy, Tobe gets the Light just right.

Written by kfabie

December 8th, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Allison Miller’s Final Exam: With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child

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With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child tells the story about two Japanese parents (Sachicko and Masato) who raise their autistic son Hikaru and their daughter Konan. The manga’s main narrator is Sachiko, a busy, yet calm mother who tells readers about her life as a mom (such as events, feelings, etc). What’s interesting about Sachiko is her perception towards Hikaru’s Autism and how she deals with it. She and her husband try to find ways to work with Hikaru’s Autism rather than struggling with him.  Though they don’t know all about their son’s behavior, they still try to accommodate with him rather than go against him, such as using a schedule so Hikaru has order, using earmuffs to block out the sound when he is in a noisy location, etc. In other words, they do not cave in to other’s perspectives about him. By showing this, Keiko Tobe shows us differences between the perception of autism between Japan and the United States. One can argue that Keiko Tobe creates Japanese parents as more accommodating and empathetic towards Autistic children than American parents in order to prove that  people perceive Autism differently in other cultures. First, one will show the difference between Sachiko’s actions with Hikaru and compare it with the American “I Am Autism” campaign. Next, one will show other people’s perceptions in the manga in comparison to America’s perception.

One way in which Japanese perception empathizes more with Autism is how Hiraku’s parents perceive Autism. They (from previous volumes), seem to be used to making Hikaru’s schedules. However, there are times when new incidents will occur. The question is, how do they deal with it? One incident occurs in episode 2 (page 47) Hiraku touches a woman’s hair on the bus and the woman freaks out. The other people on the bus freaks out by asking what was wrong with Hikaru. Although surprised by this incident, reflects on the experience first. She blames herself by saying, “I shouldn’t have been looking at my notepad.” (52). She apologizes, but quickly transitions to how to accommodate this new habit. She thinks,”He has to push the stop button a little sooner this time. On a day like this, he’ll be in a foul mood if somebody else pushes the button first.” (52) Later, she tries to find a way where Hikaru could keep his hands to himself, which she does by making a fluffy shoulder pad for his backpack (63).  In this episode, rather than thinking about herself and feeling sorry about Hikaru, she tries to find a way to make riding on the bus better without Hikaru acting up again. In other words, she accommodates both the strangers and Hikaru’s need. Compare this with America’s “I am Autism commercial” In this commercial, Autism is as an evil voice where it tells the parents, “…and if you are happily married, I will make sure your marriage fails. Your money will fall into my hands, and I will bankrupt you for my own self gain.” By stating what it will do, the voice’s main focus is on the parents rather than the child. Although parents, friends, and family fight back against “Autism”, Americans still think it’s an evil aura that we must get rid of. However, fail to state how they will accommodate their child’s needs. In other words, this perception dramatizes parents’ “suffering” more while sympathizing with themselves and their autistic child. 

Another thing that’s different between Japan’s and America’s perception is other people’s perception about Autism. Here is where reactions may be universally similar in that strangers know that something is different about an autistic child. For example, when the woman pushes Hikaru away from her on the bus, many people on the bus start to observe Hikaru more closely. In return, Hikaru gets scared as well because he needs order so he will not be afraid and confused when travelling to school. One scene that is different is when Sachiko takes Konan to the first grade induction ceremony. There are a couple of mothers who remembered Hikaru from a birthday party (he accidentally peed in his pants). What’s interesting is that call him rude up until another mother mentions that he’s  “handicapped.” However, they don’t really show sign of pitying Hikaru or Sachiko (467). Her mother in law however gets embarrassed. Compare that with the “I Am Autism” commercial. Not only does it induce fear, but creates viewers’ pity of Autism, which makes viewers want to get involve for “finding a cure” for it.  By pitying a person, they cannot empathize with them, but instead sympathize with them. Perhaps American perceptions are more sympathetic because they focus more on either the equality of Autistic children or trying to help organizations find a cure.

What’s also intersting is the affect of sympathizing. Because American’s perception seems to be more about sympathizing, people either try to help these organizations or try to stay away from that person. However, Sachiko confronts her mother-in-law about Hikaru when she says that she was embarrassed by him. Sachiko states, “I preferred my neighbors to know about Hiraku…In fact, they helped us so many times.” (476). By bringing in neighbors and friends, Tobe creates a community that helps accommodate Hikaru’s needs in order for him to function in the real world. She wants people to know that her son is Autistic so that he can live in the real world when he grows up. She brings up a very good point by saying that now is not the time to be embarrassed, but to help accommodate their child instead of pitying themselves.

Perceptions of Autism will be different in other cultures, but that doesn’t mean one’s perception is better than the other. Japan does empathize more than America, while America sympathizes more than Japan. However, both nations could learn from one another in order to use these two perceptions together to build a better system that will help their children’s needs.

Word Count: 996

Written by library1288

December 8th, 2010 at 12:07 pm