Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Reply to comment

ebitler's picture

There are a few things from

There are a few things from the last class that really struck me. In terms of a disability as being seen by the dominant forces as “less good,” I do think that our culture is reaching a point where autism can be seen as a difference that is good in different ways. That’s not to say that it’s a shared belief by most, but just that we’re at a point where our culture is ready for it thanks to claims makers that initiate the identification of our current thoughts as problematic. The one example that kept coming to mind was a girl on the most recent season of America’s Next Top Model. Heather has a mild form of autism and because of the way that she uses her eyes (she doesn’t shy away from direct, intense eye contact) she produced some really amazing photographs with intensity that the other girls just couldn’t pull off. She made it really far in the competition because of her unique abilities as a person with autism and she’s the new face for the “disease.”


At the same time, she didn’t win the competition because she couldn’t perform in other areas that are necessary to be a “top model”; she was unable to read lines for commercials or interact well with designers in interviews, and she also didn’t really have to focus necessary for runway. I think she’s a good example of how you can be different with autism and be better at some things and a designer would be wise to book her for photographs and book someone else for runway. The combination of autistic and non-autistic abilities is greater than either can be alone.


Heather’s autism also brings up the idea of treatment with medicine. She would not have been able to go as far as she did in the competition (and as far as she will go in the field of modeling) without some form of intervention aimed at making her fit into our culture better. I do think that we shouldn’t medicate someone just to make them who we want to be, but I think it’s also important to recognize that it takes a lot of time to change a culture, and that an individual will likely have a better experience within the culture if they’re able to adapt somewhat. I completely agree with Stephanie that there’s nothing wrong with a two step approach of working to change the minds of people about how they think about those with a “disability” but in the mean time helping those with the “disabilities” to function well within a rigid society.


The only other thing that I want to say about whether or not to treat someone is that I think that questions of the physical and mental health and safety of an individual and the others around them should be the priority. I have no problem with letting an adult with bipolar disorder decide whether or not to medicate as long as they’re not a risk to themselves or others. Britney Spears may be a successful artist because of her mental state, but that doesn’t mean that I think her children should be subjected to an unstable environment. If she wants to be a mother she needs to choose the treatment options that will make her a stable mother. And we should help people to feel that their best option isn’t killing themselves, because then their “differences” can’t contribute anything to our society. Suicide is not a Darwinian advantage, it’s just a loss.


To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.
3 + 5 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.