Jurecic's move toward cognitive models of disability and composing do not appear in College English without response. Jay Dolmage and Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson critique Jurecic's reliance on an autie/NT binary: despite her mention of social models of autism, they assert, "…she remains rooted in a normate stance — from invoking a single monolithic form of the academic essay to assuming the central (invisible and normal) position that enables 'us' to diagnose others and make judgments about 'them'" [emphasis added] (314). Similarly, Paul Heilker suggests approaching disability and able-bodiedness by means of a "continuum" (319). He warns CE readers that "…the discussion seems in danger of falling into an either/or argument — either neuroscience or disability studies will ultimately be of more help in responding to the growing number of college composition students on the autism spectrum" (319). Jurecic's embrace of discourse conventions that are typical to the typical autism essay revolves around binaries and falsely circular discourse communities.
What I find interesting here, as an autistic, are the ways in which "audience awareness" has become re-pathologized per Jurecic: I fear that it may be too easy for college instructors to assume that their autistic students are egocentric — solely because they are autistic. Of course, this is what the typical autism essay leads us to believe: the genre — and the authors who have painstakingly constructed this genre, a genre that is rife with painful history — has constructed autism just as neurological difference — which it is — yet fails to account for the social construction of neurological difference — which it also is — instead lumping the difference circle with that of deviance.
Per the typical autism essay, functioning level involves the extent to which an autistic's personality traits match up with the expectations of the particular neurotypicals who author the dominant narrative. When others denote me as a high-functioning autistic, there's still an assumption that I'm malfunctioning, because no matter how "high" I am on the grid, I'm never just plain functioning. And when autistics are coined as low-functioning, the assumptions made involve malfunctioning on warp overdrive. If we're ever going to remove autism from the funk of puzzlehood, then we need to stop with these malfunctioning robot allusions. It's as though we're labeling some autistics as gaming PCs with a few missing processor chips, and we're labeling other autistics as ribbonless, keyless, cordless typewriters circa 1883. HFA and LFA are attempts to technologize autism — and not positively, either. This machine metaphor is horrid and inaccurate, and it perpetuates division upon division, stereotype upon stereotype.
There are a few weaknesses. Eggers struggles here and there to balance psychological plausibility with the outlandishness of his satirical flourishes; he sometimes needs his characters to behave in ways that seem – certainly when you put the book down – to be wholly implausible. There is also a clumsy metaphorical scene where a shark eats all the other fish in the aquarium tank. But this is a prescient, important and enjoyable book, and what I love most about The Circle is that it is telling us so much about the impact of the computer age on human beings in the only form that can do so with the requisite wit, interiority and profundity: the novel.
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Genre theory draws on theories of discourse communities in a much more interesting, realistic fashion, I think, hence my perseveration — and circular digression. While genre theory (lamentably) heralds some residue of discourse community theory, it recognizes discourse users as agents. For example, Mary Jo Reiff affirms the place of human agency within discourse and declares that "real human groups" use genre, that genres serve as guides for participation within a discourse (Bawarshi et al. 553). Genre theory and its emphasis on interrelationships between human users and social systems have much to provide our understanding of typical autism essays, of typical disability essays, where "language that conveys passivity and victimization reinforces certain stereotypes…and implies that sadness and misery are the product of a disabling condition" (Linton 25). Accordingly, the typical autism essay is its own genre (a text, broadly defined, that conforms to certain "acceptable" features and styles and commonplaces and discourses and that represents and enacts social action of real human users) (Bawarshi et al.). It has its own discourse (a subset of genre, an "identity kit," a way of knowing the world and/or a culture by means of language, broadly defined) (Gee). And it has its own author(s) (real people who govern discourses and genres).
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In "Articles of Understanding," a joint "dialogue" between Autism Speaks and the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership (GRASP), Michael John Carley of GRASP argues for an autism spectrum that resembles the alphabet: high- and low-functioning fail as labels, fail as circles, because such circles only account for the A and Z autistics rather than the Ls, or the Ts who were formerly Ws. In response, Alison Tepper Singer, former Senior Vice President of Autism Speaks, spits out the discourse conventions of the typical autism essay: it's easy for anyone outside of the LFA circle to denounce cure — they might have autism, but they're so far removed from, or so very only slightly overlapping with, the LFA circle that their ethos numbers range in the negatives. Writes Singer,
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Of course, interrogating structures of power and privilege, of asking who gets to define and who gets to control, is nothing new to scholars in disability studies, indeed, to those who consider themselves scholars in anything. As James C. Wilson and Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson describe, "Disability studies seeks to advance the cause of the disabled and promote social change by analyzing the present social formations that contribute to maintaining the walls of exclusion" (9). In the case of typical autism essays and typical autism rhetorics, the circles shore up walls of exclusion, as well as grossly simplify variations in human neurology. Lennard Davis notes, "If more effort was spent on describing the variety of human experience and less in trying to categorize into forms (literary and visual) that proscribe anomalous states of physical identity, we would be able to explore the ways that society, narrative, and politics work to oppress bodies of difference" (106). The circles' very arrangement — in all of their separateness and in all of their diametric boundedness and in all of their pity-laden overlaps — indicates just what it is that is valued and ideal. And, as Mike Rose has suggested about cognitive theories of writing and knowing, "At best, people are placed along slots on a single continuum; at worst, they are split into mutually exclusive camps — with one camp clearly having cognitive and social privilege over the other" (354).