Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

Neurodivergent Rhetorics

Examining Competing Discourses of Autism Advocacy in the Public Sphere

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2018), 12, (1), 1–17.

Abstract

The article argues that oppositional public advocacy texts produced by Autism Speaks and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) are a rhetorical entry point into an uncomfortable deadlock between two competing ideologies of cognitive impairment that theories of disability have made visible. Autism Speaks operates within a cure paradigm, drawing from medicalized discourse and representing autism as a tragic disease in need of a cure. ASAN operates within a disability rights paradigm, drawing from rights rhetoric that appeals to commonality with the general public and represents autistic people as oppressed citizens. The article analyzes the contrasting rhetoric each organization employs to represent autism and traces the origins of these competing rhetorics to oppositional disability paradigms for understanding neurological difference. Attention is also called to other ASAN advocacy texts that draw more directly from the neurodiversity movement as a rhetorical resource to engage a neurotypical public without collapsing difference.

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Author details

Saunders, Pamela