A Short Blurb on Language and Citizenship

Filed Under (Language, Research) by Estee on 09-11-2012

Reading, reading. Writing, writing. I can’t believe I’ve almost finished a third of my M.A. and applying for Ph.D. We’ll see how all that goes. In the meantime, Adam and I feel co-joined. What do I mean? Well, as always I adore him. I need to put more of my own words to how I may move around him and how I see him move around me, how we can make each other happy (or sad). I never stopped joining him, nor him, me. Is this simply a mother’s love talking? The nuances of our communication — this is what I try to put words to. My language doesn’t do this justice. In lay terms, we interact with our surroundings, we “dance” around each other in a type of language. What is language anyway? “The forest thinks in trees,” I’m reminded. I’m not a philosopher, yet find myself needing to enter. I’m trying to resist names-of-things, for things; to reify. Adam doesn’t do this. Why must I?

I stand and wait in a grocery line. I hear people talking about the autism spread in The Toronto Star today. I haven’t read it yet. I will. Like a car accident I am compelled to look. We are teaming up with China on autism science? What will genetics do to one’s right to live and be? How will this shape us? “That’s great,” I hear someone say. I’m not so certain it’s great. Viscerally, there’s something wrong. I feel it, and it’s not with Adam, not with autism. There is something amiss with how we value, who we value, who gets to value… people.

I am intrigued with Barnbaum’s analysis of theory of mind theory. I am still thinking about it in creative terms — the way I feel and interact with Adam, typical English language failing me, of course. Is it possible to create a new language with my translations and his?

While the following premise rests on the theory, I feel it can be also applied in general terms. In other words, I feel that people have a right to be disabled. Everyone has a right to equal citizenship and we need to unpack how we arrive at capacity/competency citizenship-notions because at the moment, autistic people are not considered (or treated as) equal members of society:

…persons with autism are individuals, with personalities and preferences just as varied as those of the non-autistic population. It is a similar moral wrong… that persons with autism should be valued because they make non-autistic people better…to foist a “cure” on a person with autism fails to recongnize him as a person in his own right, because that cure assumes that the person would be better off cured. There is no reason to assume that once theory of mind is restored that an adults with a mature set of prefences would undergo a personality shift such that he would suddenly come to enjoy the world of mentalizing. If a member of the non-autistic population were confronted with a comparable option — ‘Let us change you fundamentally, and trust us, you will come to love your new life’ — we would find this a horrific violation of that person’s autonomy. Ther person’s integrity as an autonomous individual would be compromised…curing cancer or restoring sight to the person who was blind would not fundamentally change that individual qua person. But restoring theory of mind would…An ethic that requires the non-autistic population to respect the differencts of the autistic population places the burden on the non-autistic population.” (Barnbaum, 2008).


Deborah R. Barnbaum, (2008), The Ethics of Autism, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, p.206.

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About Me


I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (www.taaproject.com), and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.