Infantilizing Autism

Authors

  • Jennifer L. Stevenson Ursinus College
  • Bev Harp University of Kentucky
  • Morton Ann Gernsbacher University of Wisconsin, Madison

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v31i3.1675

Keywords:

Autism, charity, infantilization, media, parents

Abstract

When members of the public envision the disability of autism, they most likely envision a child, rather than an adult. In this empirically based essay, three authors, one of whom is an autistic self-advocate, analyzed the role played by parents, charitable organizations, the popular media, and the news industry in infantilizing autism. Parents portrayed the face of autism to be that of a child 95% of the time on the homepages of regional and local support organizations. Nine of the top 12 autism charitable organizations restricted descriptions of autism to child-referential discourse. Characters depicted as autistic were children in 90% of fictional books and 68% of narrative films and television programs. The news industry featured autistic children four times as often as they featured autistic adults in contemporary news articles. The cyclical interaction between parent-driven autism societies, autism fundraising charities, popular media, and contemporary news silences adult self-advocates by denying their very existence. Society's overwhelming proclivity for depicting autism as a disability of childhood poses a formidable barrier to the dignity and well-being of autistic people of all ages.

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Published

2011-07-18

Issue

Section

Disability and Rhetoric