Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

Toward a Critical ASD Pedagogy of Insight: Teaching, Researching, and Valuing the Social Literacies of Neurodiverse Students

Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

Toward a Critical ASD Pedagogy of Insight: Teaching, Researching, and Valuing the Social Literacies of Neurodiverse Students

Article excerpt

Despite a near-dizzying amount of media coverage of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in the past decade, there remains much to explore about the experiences of ASD students in colleges and universities, especially from the perspectives of students themselves. Although there is increased attention to programs at universities that cater to ASD students, there is also "a lack of sufficient quantitative studies and surveys about autistic students and college life" (Robertson & Ne'eman, 2008). Even less is known about the crucial transition time between high school and college, as "little research exists about transitioning and teaching ASD students" just entering higher education (Kelley & Joseph, 2012). Regarding the needs of ASD students transitioning to college, Pinder-Amaker (2014) calls an approach combining elements from secondary and postsecondary systems with mental health strategies for young adults "disjointed, but promising," indicating much further work is needed (p. 125). As universities are faced with pressing demands for access for ASD students, the transition into higher education constitutes a particular challenge (Geller & Greenberg, 2010).

These challenges are especially critical for ASD students in the first-year writing and composition classroom. Many universities require students to pass first-year writing, making the writing classroom a crucial site for students from diverse backgrounds. Writing teachers generally agree that pedagogy should be informed by students' backgrounds, particularly if they are from underrepresented groups. Yet the perspectives of ASD students are often missing from pedagogical discussions about them. As self-identified autistic scholar Yergeau (2009) notes, "very few, if any, theories of autism and composing have been offered by autistic individuals themselves" in writing studies. Writing teachers are beginning to feature ASD students in valuable collections such as Autism Spectrum Disorders in the College Composition Classroom (Gerstle & Walsh, 2011); these accounts, however, contain little quoted material or direct reflections from ASD students.1

A more potentially damaging trend is developing in other pedagogical accounts. Some teachers of ASD students are so focused on their own journey of learning about autism that issues of student disclosure and self-identification are overlooked. Yoder (2008) prefaces his week-by-week account of the behaviors exhibited by a student he assumes has Asperger Syndrome (AS) by noting that his student, "Fred," never self-identified as having AS. Despite this, Yoder reaches his lay diagnosis through his own detective work, taking examples of Fred's atypical social behavior as "clues" and finding correlations to "classic symptoms" in his research. Jurecic (2007) also takes a detective's approach to her writing student, "Gregory," whom she suspects of having AS. Gregory does not disclose this diagnosis, but Jurecic assumes it, seeking advice from a neurologist, parents of children with ASD, and Gregory's high school English teacher to confirm her suspicions.

This investigative strategy is part of a trend in pedagogical literature that Yergeau (2009) calls "cue the anecdote," a move in which teachers describe wellmeaning but limited efforts to understand an ASD student in their classroom: "A Temple Grandin book and a WebMD article later, you feel like you've got a grasp on this ASD thing." Price (2011) identifies a similar impulse as the "diagnostic treasure hunt," in which teachers describe their journey to identify and diagnose difference (p. 55). What these efforts share is their reliance on suspicion and anecdote to make a case for someone else's cognitive status and, more troubling, their tendency to speak about ASD students, often without their knowledge, rather than with them. As Lewiecki-Wilson and Dolmage (2008), Heilker (2008), Vidali (2009), Yergeau (2010), and Kerschbaum (2014) relate in their critiques of Jurecic's approach, the voices of ASD students risk becoming lost in this discussion. …

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