Monday, September 25, 2017

Autistic Perspectives on Dr. Temple Grandin at the ALSC Blog

Do you remember Justin Spectrum, the first autistic librarian to write about autism at the ALSC blog? Last week, he published a new blogpost regarding his thoughts on The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin, a new biography for children by Julia Finley Mosca (illustrated by Daniel Rieley). It's a thought provoking piece. Please take a minute to read and consider it.

Representation has been on my mind recently, since I've been writing content on evaluating books with disabled characters for my upcoming course. You may remember that I started the entire Accessibility Series  with a story about how I didn't really see my experience with disability reflected in a book character until I was 29, and how dismayed I was to find that as whole the book was not well-received, because I wanted more. Justin, similarly, praises this book for its representation and potential for mainstream appeal, while lamenting that its subject can be problematic. He does a great job summarizing much of the autistic community's criticism of Temple Grandin, and I encourage you to dive in.

Lydia Brown at Autistic Hoya additionally outlines some ways that Temple Grandin is used by abled people as a "token" autistic person and the problems with that, notably: "Because she is autistic and her statements align with those articulated from an ableist sensibility, neurotypicals advancing the views that autism presents a problem of pathology can claim authenticity or legitimacy for their position through Temple Grandin's reiteration of the same sentiments."

I remember as a child thinking about what I could be when I grew up, and that truly the only examples of "successful" disabled people  I could think of were inspirational speakers. These people would say things like "the only disability is a bad attitude" and "we all have disabilities and weaknesses; the only difference is you can see mine." I remember getting this nausea from hearing or reading such sentiments: I simultaneously felt inspired, like "yeah, you are right! I'm not different from anyone else!" and felt discouraged, like "Okay, but I can have the best attitude in the world and still not do a cartwheel and I kinda think I deserve to have feelings about that." It wasn't until recently, when I started talking about issues in a way that can make abled people uncomfortable, that I realized these inspirational speakers were never for me. They were for the abled people around me. These were the "good" disabled people who internalized the narrative about themselves that society feeds us all and found a way to profit off of it (because, truly, if you hear your entire life that your role in life is to inspire people, what else are you gonna do?).

I don't blame them, of course-- abled people, or the speakers that wish to position themselves closer to mainstream society for safety and stability. But this does make me think about the importance of visibility of "normal" or "uninspiring" disabled people, and makes me even more passionate about recruiting and retaining disabled library staff. One thing that has weighed heavily on me since leaving front-line services is the disabled kids and teens (and to a near equal extent, their abled caregivers) in the community I worked in and how they lost possibly their only model of a disabled adult who dared to exist.

And I do agree with Justin--while the criticism of Temple Grandin is valid and insightful, it may not be enough to not buy or display or book-talk this book. There are just so few books about autistic people and people with disabilities in general. I hope that changes soon, but for now, we have to take what we can get.

But as you make this purchase, and display it, and book-talk it, I urge to keep aware of the controversy, and challenge publishers to keep finding new autistic voices to feature.

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