I’m presenting at four conferences between March and June. Two are smaller-scale, on-campus conferences with no travel required on my part. Two are national and are in California. Three of my papers will relate to ASD in some way. (And the fourth somewhat touches on disability studies.)

The papers for the two small conferences have already been written for the most part — they were portions of other projects, things written for past classes and so forth. So — two things less to worry about, I suppose. But four seems like a rather big, intimidating number right now.

I’m starting to get excited about CCCC (Conference on College Composition and Communication), which is the first conference in my slew of conferences. I’ve never been to CCCC, but from what I gather, it’s absolutely huge. And it also happens to be the big conference for my field. So, while the bigness of the conference (as well as the prospect of public speaking) have throttled me into anxiety mode, I am looking forward to attending sessions, some of which concern autism and rhet-comp. I’ve already begun scheduling my days in Excel.

My CCCC paper considers telepresence as a metaphor for autistic bodies. Typically, telepresence refers to telecommunications and the idea of virtual presence (or virtual reality): for example, when talking with someone on the phone, or even via IM or video conference, there are moments when the other person seems really there, even though they’re only virtually there. Lev Manovich, in The Language of New Media, describes telepresence as a sort of anti-presence. This whole “there but not really there” concept seems very applicable to disability when applied to issues of passing, of visibility versus invisibility. In describing the operative functions of digital media, Manovich maintains that “…telepresence can be thought of as one example of representational technologies used to enable action, that is, to allow the viewer to manipulate reality through representations” (165).

In light of Manovich, I analyze the ways in which those considered to have high-functioning autism are authored into enacting normalcy, a virtual and imposed identity: in what ways do professors regulate their students’ compositions into texts of normalcy, texts of autism, texts of defense? How does disclosure affect one’s tendencies—both bodily and rhetorically—toward (in)visibility? How do these telepresent masks resemble “good” writing or speaking?

Telepresence isn’t a perfect metaphor for the “autistic condition.” But the idea of putting up a virtual, communicative front in order to “pass” for NT, the idea that this metaphorical, bodily telepresence is often a forced thing — and the ways in which autistics are made to feel that this telepresent identity is “right” or “necessary” or “desirable” — bothers me, and I think it warrants exploration. And a metaphor of telepresence is certainly more adequate than the stupid puzzle piece. This metaphor actually considers how others (NTs, in particular) construct autism and autistics. The telepresence metaphor doesn’t blow off autistics as profound mysteries who are short a few cognitive pieces. At least, that’s my take, anyway.  🙂

Mixed metaphors

What is it with the autism spectrum and the word umbrella? Talk about a mixed metaphor. When I think of the metaphor that is “spectrum” — that is, in literality, a band of light — the umbrella trope perplexes me. If one is under the umbrella of the autism spectrum, we usually interpret that to mean “one has a type of autism, which is a disorder with various presentations.” But I keep getting a conflicting image in my mind — as if an umbrella is shielding us from a light source? Or the light source forms an umbrella? Or…?

It’s interesting that, in addition to textually referencing ASD in the context of umbrellas, we’re also starting to graphically represent the spectrum as an umbrella:

[Link]under the umbrella of... pervasive developmental disorders

Per this visual representation, “of” becomes a possessive, as if the umbrella belongs to the autism spectrum (i.e., the umbrella of the autism spectrum = the autism spectrum’s umbrella). Still, I fail to see the connections between umbrellas and spectra in this visual. So, um, maybe the spectrumish umbrella should look like… this?

under the umbrella of the autism spectrum

Of course, why mix two metaphors when you can mix three?

[Link]under the umbrella of the spectrum puzzle

So — not only is the spectrum something that can be encapsulated under an umbrella, but it is encapsulated under an umbrella that comprises multi-colored puzzle pieces. I’d like to say that the creator of this metaphoric monstrosity (eep! metaphor #4) created the puzzle motif as a comment toward the horror of mixing metaphors nonsensically — that is, that the trope-joining of umbrellas and spectra is puzzling, indeed. However, the puzzle motif obviously relates to the “autism as puzzle” metaphor, a metaphor that portrays autistics as “missing a few pieces.” </gag>

Of course, why not take the spectrum-umbrella marriage a [metaphorical] step further? Why not medicalize umbrellas, just like we’ve done with physics and rainbows and wavelengths?

[Link]umbrella with kids underneath

According to this umbrella-spectrum model, different cloth panels of an umbrella point toward specific learning differences and difficulties, a non-rain-proof continuum that makes little children become wet and distressed.

Boy with weird hair says: And I thought umbrellas were to stop me from getting wet!
Girl with missing bottom lip says:
Too late. You are wet!
Girl with string hair says:
Hey! That’s not very nice!
Girl with missing bottom lip replies with:
Man! I always seem to say things wrong…

Perhaps if this clinical umbrella-spectrum were visually designed to be missing a puzzle piece or two, this trope-fest would make more sense? </sarcasm>

This mixed-metaphor, umbrella-spectrum rant isn’t limited to random images that I unearthed on the interwebs. People are writing books about the autism spectrum umbrella:

book cover: girls under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorders

This visual makes me even more confused. Which part is the visual representation of “spectrum”? Which part is autism? And what’s the metaphorical significance of the umbrella, of the huge doomsday wave? Is autism the doomsday wave? Or is the wave the spectrum that is autism — as in, a pun on the physics understanding of wavelength? And maybe autistics are like unique little wave crests, all crashing down onto helpless NT umbrellas? Or maybe autism is the umbrella, which is also a spectrum, which is also a challenge, and the wave is a challenge too, and it’s about to drown out the helpless, challenged, little autistic girl on the beach? Or maybe the author ran out of title ideas.

More umbrellas, more autism, more rain:

dark and rainy day, an umbrella over a pile of money and credit cards

Erm. This image strikes me as everything that… isn’t… lovely. I found this on, which linked to an article concerning the finances of families with autism.  Apparently, money falls under the umbrella that is the autism spectrum?

In the context of the original article, autism is represented as a money-hungry entity. (So, in addition to stealing children’s souls, autism likes to rob parents of their hard-earned incomes? This image would make Jenny McCarthy proud.) Another metaphor: saving money for a rainy day. Here, the rainy day has come, but the autism spectrum umbrella thing-a-majig has taken the money, so it can’t really be used on a rainy day.

Why must tropes be so complicated? Autism makes a lot more sense to me when I think of it as neurodivergence that presents with a wide variety of embodied/enminded manifestations — makes a lot more sense than thinking of autism as an umbrella owned by a spectrum that may be physics-related but may also involve large quantities of water in the form of rain and/or tsunamis that also happen to like mooching credit cards and/or drenching and drowning children.

Yeah. I think that my explanation is more concise. And more accurate.