Date of Award

12-10-2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Lynée Lewis Gaillet

Second Advisor

Ashley J. Holmes

Third Advisor

Mary Hocks

Abstract

Over the past two decades, the term “autism” has become ubiquitous in American culture, with an even bigger effort by activists, advocacy groups, and non-profit/for-profit organizations to “spread awareness” about this supposed epidemic. To better understand the phenomenon of autism awareness, I utilize archival research methods to trace the exchange of autism-related information to its foundation during the 1960s and 1970s. These include the papers of Margie Pitts Hames, the late Atlanta-based Civil Rights attorney, the late radio and film writer Allan Sloane, and a parent-based advocacy organization called the Autism Society of Northwest Ohio. Couched within scholarship of Disability Studies and Literacy Studies, I refer to the exchange and acquisition of such information as Autism Literacy.

The project at hand is not a commendation of the increase in autistic rhetorics that tend to stem from a eugenics approach to find “cures,” but is rather a response to the influx in rhetorical strategies that continue to place people with autism at a cultural disadvantage. Due to a nationalist-leaning culture that further isolates people with disabilities though, I argue that the need to understand Autism Literacy is more important than ever. I trace the emergence of Autism Literacy’s more widespread cultural beginnings, which appeared during the 1960s across the U.S. My discussion of these archival findings focus on the rhetorical contexts in which people wrote about autism at the time, as well as their intentions. Such a project also lends itself to the growing need for archival research within Disability Studies conversations in the field of Rhetoric and Composition more broadly.

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