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Listen 2 Us - Literacy, Self-Determination, and Interdependence for Nonspeakers

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Past Perspective Articles

My Literacy Journey by DJ Savarese



Cultural Commentary: Up in the Clouds and Down in the Valley: My Richness and Yours by Amanda Baggs

Synopsis by DJ Savarese

This piece is a cultural commentary about language, thought, and personhood from the perspective of Amanda Baggs, a nonspeaking autistic whose self-made YouTube “In My Language” garnered national media attention because of its revolutionary ideas regarding the native language of some nonspeaking autistics.  The piece not only illustrates the limitations of language as a means for describing certain kinds of experience and thought but also touches on important aspects of experience that cannot be known through sheer observation no matter how exacting the lens might be without the aid of informants and insiders, namely nonspeaking autistics.  For example, where neurotypical language users focus on meaning, categories, abstraction, and symbols, Baggs focuses on sensations, patterns, and tone. She distinguishes neurotypical thought, which privileges “cognitive fanfare” and self-reflection “so they can hear or see themselves thinking” with what she calls her “quieter under-thoughts” that involve much more “direct relationships, connections, and patterns formed between one thing and another.”

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The Silence Between: An Autoethnographic Examination of the Language Prejudice and its Impact on the Assessment of Autistic and Animal Intelligence by Dawn Prince

Synopsis by DJ Savarese

This autoethnographic essay is a hybrid form of narrative and analysis written in everyday language by an anthropologist, one of whose many lenses is being autistic, that creatively and convincingly disrupts many widely held assumptions about language, such as the simplistic speaker/nonspeaker, verbal/nonverbal dichotomies.  The author also disrupts notions of language as a medium used by two or more humans to “connect” or make meaning. By using examples from her own life, the author posits that for some language is first and foremost prosodic-- a rich, sensory-laden toy-- and that sophisticated meaning-making and connections are possible not just among humans or within a given species.   Her example of a richly textured interaction between herself and a famous research gorilla named Kanzi dismantles so many fundamental assumptions, challenging the power dynamics and anthropomorphic arrogance of most-- if not all-- formal, linguistic studies done of primates as she narrates a scene in which the gorilla is the initiator of a spontaneous, social, symbolic, meaning-making interaction with her. This article illustrates the power dynamics rooted in our Western history of language and identifies a dimension of language primary to many autistics and lost in most academic discourse.

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