What role can literature play in elucidating how nuerodiverse populations identify and express empathy in ways not immediately recognizable according to normative conventions? This question is at the center of Ralph Savarese's book See it Feelingly. Part personal narrative, part critical engagement, Savarese's text produces a counternarrative to the assumed limits of autistic empathy. Savarese declares his purpose "to eschew the customary focus on autistic deficits and to explore instead how a talent for sensory engagement—and, yes, strong feeling—might contribute productively to the reading process" (6). See it Feelingly chronicles Savarese's time spent reading works of literature with five autistic readers, each professionally established in their own right, providing an ethnographic account of how each partner engaged the texts in thoughtful and often surprising (to Savarese) ways. The book draws on the experiences of Savarese and his reading partners to illustrate how pedagogical spaces can broaden expectations as to the recognizable performance of empathy and shed light on the nuanced ways in which neurodiverse individuals identify and/or disidentify with characters from the literary cannon.

The chapters of See it Feelingly build on one another, each adding nuance to our understandings of the way neurodiverse readers connect. Each chapter is dedicated to Savarese's time discussing a particular book with a particular reader in a distance-learning context. His relationships with his reading partners demonstrate the value of individualized support and customizable engagement in neurodiverse learning environments, something often unavailable in large-scale university contexts. Although Savarese's subject group is admittedly small, he makes a strong case for rethinking traditional pedagogical approaches to literature in order to recognize the unexpected ways in which readers become emotionally attached to characters in a narrative.

See it Feelingly addresses mainstream assumptions and prejudices about the relationship between Autism and empathy while also interrogating assumptions that persist from within the disabled community. Throughout the book Savarese acknowledges the ways he found his own biases and expectations influencing his approach to the project. Savarese most clearly acknowledges the limits of his own assumptions in Chapter 5, which discusses his time working with Temple Grandin. Savarese set out to complicate other representations of Grandin that emphasized her preference for logical relationships. These representations include Grandin's description of her own emotions as "'simpler than those of most people.'" (156-157). Savarese retrospectively questions his approach to his time with Grandin including his choice of texts and his expectations of Grandin's response based on those choices. In admitting his own faulty assumptions, Savarese further emphasizes his overall point about the limits of neurotypical perspectives when understanding the ways in which autistics develop empathetic relationships.

The complexity of these identifications become most clear in Chapter 3. Here Savarese recounts his experience reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick with Dora Raymaker, an autistic self-advocate and cofounder of Academic Autism Spectrum Partnership in research and Education. The book's genre and premise both underline the relationship between autism and empathy. Savarese identifies a connection between science fiction and autism in the former's use of other worldly or alien figures which often share descriptors with stereotypical definitions of autism. In Dick's novel, the protagonist, Rick Deckard, is a bounty-hunter sent to uncover androids masquerading as humans. To identify the androids, Deckard uses a test which measures a subject's empathetic response to stimuli. If the subject performs empathy according to the test's standards, they are human. The empathy test in the novel drives many discussions between Raymaker and Savarese about how a lack or deficit of empathy (or what we conventionally recognize as empathy) is often used to define autistic individuals. These conversations elucidate one of the key points of See it Feelingly—that the recognition of empathy relies on the normative standards as to the performance of empathy. I found Savarese's emphasis on how contingent our understandings of consciousness are on conventional expectations of timeliness and expression particularly important for ongoing conversations in mad studies.

Because See it Feelingly is non-traditional in that it does not present a clear argument and relies more on ethnographic narrative, it would pair well with a more theoretical text such as Margaret Price's Mad at School. Putting the two in conversation would encourage deeper discussions about classroom engagement and would fit well in a pedagogical seminar. As I read Savarese's book, I was often reminded of similar experiences I have had as a student of literature. It made me consider new ways of structuring classroom discussions that open up new avenues of identification between readers and text that would improve access to discussions for neurodiverse readers. Overall, See it Feelingly is a wonderful addition to contemporary work being done in critical autism studies and accessible education.

Works Cited

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