Academic journal article College English

"Know Thy Work and Do It": The Rhetorical-Pedagogical Work of Employment and Workplace Guides for Adults with "High-Functioning" Autism

Academic journal article College English

"Know Thy Work and Do It": The Rhetorical-Pedagogical Work of Employment and Workplace Guides for Adults with "High-Functioning" Autism

Article excerpt

Disability and childhood have an enduring and deeply entangled relationship. Across cultures, appeals to pity are made via images of disabled children and disabled individuals relegated to "eternal" childhoods-both in depictions of disability and in the material world of citizenship rights.1 Yet, as psychologists Jennifer Stevenson, Bev Harp, and Morton Ann Gernsbacher elaborate in their Disability Studies Quarterly article "Infantilizing Autism," few disabilities have been so persistently associated with the figure of the child, so persistently and falsely portrayed as a disability of childhood as autism-a portrayal which they conclude "poses a formidable barrier to the dignity and well-being of autistic people of all ages." However, it would seem that barrier is being penetrated at long last. According to career coach Barbara Bissonnette, whose writings figure prominently in my forthcoming discussion, there is now a fast-growing "genuine concern among families, professionals, and government agencies about the waves of young people on the autism spectrum" entering adulthood (Complete 188). "In some ways, it seems that neurotypicals have suddenly realized that children grow up, and they don't outgrow autism," Bissonnette observes (Asperger's 188)-the belatedness of this collective revelation attesting again to the pervasiveness and power of autism's infantilization.

In response to this cultural awakening, scholars in rhetoric, writing, and Eng-Karen lish studies have begun to ask (and answer) questions-often within the pages of this journal-about what it will mean to have these waves of young adults enter our classrooms (for example, Jurecic, "Neurodiversity" and "Mindblindness"; Heilker; Heilker and Yergeau; Lewiecki-Wilson and Dolmage; Price).2 Beyond academe, we can witness a related rising attentiveness to questions of what happens when waves of young adults on the spectrum enter, or seek to enter, the workforce, one manifestation of which has been a veritable explosion of guidebooks designed to help adults with high-functioning autism (HFA) or Asperger's syndrome (AS)3 find and maintain employment or "survive" and even thrive in the neurotypical workplace. Variously authored by neurotypical career coaches such as Bissonnette (who specializes in coaching adults with AS), by professionals with AS or autism (including Temple Grandin), or by those intimately involved with individuals on the spectrum, these books have a number of rhetorical-pedagogical aims in relation to different audiences. Primarily, of course, they address individuals with HFA in order to deliver the types of career advice and support just mentioned. Secondarily, the books are written for and often directly address families, teachers, advocates, and, most significant for my purposes, prospective employers of those with HFA, with the professed goal of increasing understanding of the condition.

Yet just as overtly, as I will demonstrate, these guidebooks strive to convince the secondary audience of prospective employers of the market value of HFA and actually serve to market individuals who have it. In those three processes (advising, facilitating understanding, and marketing), the books accomplish more notable rhetorical-cultural and pedagogical work still: they reflect and reinvent US cultural desires and fantasies about twenty-first-century workers, constituting-and often endeavoring to actively (and rhetorically) train-the ideal worker subject. In this essay, I will review and discuss a representative selection of employment and workplace guides for adults with HFA with an eye to these underlying, ideological rhetorical motives and effects. Though I do not deny the practical value of the guidebooks, I seek to ask what rhetorical-discursive and pedagogical work they might do, and what rhetorical-discursive and pedagogical consequences they might have, beyond aiding certain individuals in job searching, career development, or workplace "survival. …

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