Sharing Autism Through Metaphors: (Dis)ability, Difference and Diversity in Temple Grandin's Portrayals of Autism

Marion Schmidt
Autistic people, professionals claim, lack the socio-emotional awareness to employ metaphors. Yet public, medical and neuroscientific discourse about autism is full of metaphors, including those used by autistic people themselves. Analyzing the autobiographic writings of Temple Grandin -livestock scientist and autism spokeswoman -I treat her metaphors as shared sociocultural resource negotiating the identities of autistic people within a larger context of changing American disability narratives
more » ... and identity politics. 1 There seems to be a curious contradiction in talking about autism and metaphor: "Working with a bright and verbal autistic child," developmental psychologist Francesca Happé writes, "can be an eye-opening experience. One discovers that one is speaking in metaphors!" (275). People with autism, neurodevelopmental theories have long maintained, are incapable to understand or produce metaphors. 2 "Autists," claims for example neuropsychiatrist Tatiana Glezerman, "are unable to understand metaphors, irony, lies, and humor" (21). The writings of autistic authors, however, are full of symbols, analogies and metaphorical language. 3 This contradiction is usually 1 My thanks to Daniel Todes and Stephen Casper for their thoughts, insights and suggestions. 2 Recently, small-scale studies have suggested that autistic children can, to some extent, learn to "overcome" their "defect" in understanding metaphoric language. While these studies propose a more positive and dynamic understanding of autistic ability, they nevertheless operate under the same assumption of a primary, innate neurological defect and do not problematize the sociocultural dimensions and limitations of metaphors and communication. See e. g. Rundblad and Annaz; Persicke et al.; Melogno and Pinto. 3 Murray presents an excellent overview and analysis of self-presentations of autistic people. Issue 18.2 (2017) COPAS-Current Objectives of Postgraduate American Studies