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Autism and Gender

Autism and Gender: From Refrigerator Mothers to Computer Geeks

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Autism and Gender
    Book Description:

    The reasons behind the increase in autism diagnoses have become hotly contested in the media as well as within the medical, scholarly, and autistic communities. In Autism and Gender: From Refrigerator Mothers to Computer Geeks, Jordynn Jack focuses on the ways gender influences popular discussion and understanding of autism's causes and effects. She identifies gendered theories like the “refrigerator mother†theory, for example, which blames emotionally distant mothers for autism, and the “extreme male brain†theory, which links autism to the modes of systematic thinking found in male computer geeks. Jack's analysis reveals how people employ highly gendered theories to craft rhetorical narratives around stock characters--fix-it dads, heroic mother warriors rescuing children from autism--that advocate for ends beyond the story itself while also allowing the storyteller to gain authority, understand the disorder, and take part in debates. The first book to look at how gender informs popular discussion about autism, Autism and Gender also offers new insights into the ways rhetorical inquiry can and does contribute to conversations about gender and disability.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09625-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: Autism’s Gendered Characters
    (pp. 1-32)

    Autism has become a controversial subject in the past few decades. What was once considered a rare condition is now estimated to affect one in eighty-eight American children,¹ with similar rates appearing in other industrialized nations. Scientists, psychologists, and doctors debate the relative influence of genetic, neurological, and environmental factors in the dramatic increase in autism diagnosis since 1990. These experts are joined by parents, talk show hosts, and popular science journalists who haggle over what causes autism, as well as appropriate treatments, educational supports, and healthcare policies for autistic children and adults. Autistic self-advocates and spokespeople now appear frequently...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Interpreting Gender: Refrigerator Mothers
    (pp. 33-63)

    June Francis was a refrigerator mother. When her son was diagnosed with autism in the 1950s, she was told that she “had not connected or bonded with the child because of inability to properly relate to the child.” The doctors she consulted prescribed psychological therapy—for her, not her son. “I couldn’t quite see how that could happen,” she states in a documentary calledRefrigerator Mothers. “But here’s someone of authority saying that it had happened.”¹

    In the 1950s and 1960s, shortly after Leo Kanner first identified autism as a unique psychological condition, experts drew upon psychoanalytic theories to explain...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Performing Gender: Mother Warriors
    (pp. 64-104)

    In 2008, Hollywood celebrity Jenny McCarthy led a rally in Washington, D.C., to pressure Congress to require the removal of trace amounts of aluminum, mercury, and other elements that McCarthy claimed could trigger autism. Amid a sea of parents—mostly mothers—clad in green tee shirts, she took to the stage wearing a matching shirt, her hair smoothed into a professional blonde bob. She began her speech by noting that mothers like her had been told “lies” by scientists before: “Do you remember when smoking was actually good for our health? Do you remember when autism was blamed on lazy...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Presenting Gender: Computer Geeks
    (pp. 105-153)

    In 2010 the filmThe Social Networkpremiered to wide critical acclaim. Reviewers praised the central irony of the film—that the founder of Facebook, the most popular social network site, was himself “almost completely bereft of people skills.”¹ Soon, suggestions emerged that Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg (either in real life, or as portrayed in the film) had traits consistent with autism or Asperger’s syndrome. TheWall Street Journal’s reviewer wrote that the character “combines a borderline autistic affect with a single-minded focus on a beautifully simple idea,” while theNew York Timesnoted that, as portrayed in the film,...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Rehearsing Gender: Autism Dads
    (pp. 154-180)

    In 1957 Leon Eisenberg published a study titled “The Fathers of Autistic Children.” In the quest to single out maternal factors in autism causation, Eisenberg argued, “Father has been the forgotten man.”¹ He investigated the fathers of 100 children with autism, finding a similar pattern in 85 cases: most of the fathers he identified ranked high in education and low in emotion. He illustrated this pattern with character sketches, of a surgeon, an accountant, and a would-be PhD who was a few courses shy of a degree in bacteriology. The occupation of the subject seemed relevant in all three cases...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Inventing Gender: Neurodiverse Characters
    (pp. 181-214)

    As a child, Jane Meyerding found girls confusing. She simply did not understand “girltalk”—the giggling, gossiping, and secret-sharing that marks young girls’ socializing.¹ “I was sailing blind,” Meyerding writes, “through a world full of gender signals invisible to my genderless self.”² Though she did not desire to be a boy, Meyerding did not readily identify as a girl, either.

    An autistic biological male named Shiva writes, similarly: “When i see ‘gender’ as a tick-box category on a form, i feel similarly to if, on a form asking for details of a vehicle, it asked for ‘miles per gallon’ when...

  10. Conclusions: Gender, Character, and Rhetoric
    (pp. 215-228)

    It may seem curious that I have, until now, said relatively little about Temple Grandin, perhaps the most well-known autistic person in the world. It was a portrait of Grandin in Oliver Sacks’sAn Anthropologist on Marsthat brought autism and Asperger’s syndrome to popular attention in 1994. In 2010 the television network HBO profiled Grandin in a biopic starring Claire Danes, who won an Emmy, a Screen Actor’s Guild award, and a Golden Globe for her portrayal. Grandin has published more than ten books, appears regularly in mainstream media and television outlets, and travels the country giving talks at...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 229-254)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 255-286)
  13. Index
    (pp. 287-306)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 307-310)