Authoring Autism

On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness

Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 9 illustrations Published: December 2017

Author: Melanie Yergeau

Disability Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Queer Theory, Media Studies

In Authoring Autism Melanie Yergeau defines neurodivergence as an identity—neuroqueerness—rather than an impairment. Using a queer theory framework, Yergeau notes the stereotypes that deny autistic people their humanity and the chance to define themselves while also challenging cognitive studies scholarship and its reification of the neurological passivity of autistics. She also critiques early intensive behavioral interventions—which have much in common with gay conversion therapy—and questions the ableist privileging of intentionality and diplomacy in rhetorical traditions. Using storying as her method, she presents an alternative view of autistic rhetoricity by foregrounding the cunning rhetorical abilities of autistics and by framing autism as a narrative condition wherein autistics are the best-equipped people to define their experience. Contending that autism represents a queer way of being that simultaneously embraces and rejects the rhetorical, Yergeau shows how autistic people queer the lines of rhetoric, humanity, and agency. In so doing, she demonstrates how an autistic rhetoric requires the reconceptualization of rhetoric’s very essence.


"Authoring Autism provides many thought-provoking insights for disability scholars. . . . Melanie Yergeau’s double perspective as a rhetorician and autistic activist that makes Authoring Autism valuable to a larger audience." — Marion Schmidt, H-Disability, H-Net Reviews

"A new exploration—a work that defines, defies, and defiles the boundaries of rhetorical regimes of neurological oppression. . . . An intervention, a disruption, an eruption." — Anna Williams, Disability & Society

"Deftly integrates rich theoretical analysis with moments of humor, irony, autoethnography (autie-ethnography), and poetic insight. Authoring Autism will be appropriate for graduate courses in rhetorical theory, whether feminist, queer, disability, posthuman, material, or embodied. It is essential reading for anyone who does rhetorical theory, and it will transform not only how we think about who a rhetor can be, but also what rhetoric should be." — Jordynn Jack, Rhetoric Review

"A closely argued, elegantly performed, and even joyfully humorous work of critical emancipatory scholarship. Yergeau carefully intertwines lived experience, autistic memoir, clinical discourse, and humanities theory (particularly rhetorical studies, narrative theory, disability studies, and queer theory) to achieve a highly insightful hybrid discourse. In the process, she breaks down binaries and opens new possibilities of form for scholarly invention and cultural creation. . . . An excellent book and a major contribution." — Bradley Lewis, Journal of Medical Humanities

"To oppose a medicalized flattening of autism to a passive embodiment of seemingly autonomic dysfunction, Yergeau makes a powerful case for 'autism’s rhetorical potentials' grounded in the resilient ways that autistic people self-consciously 'story' their desires for better, more inclusive futures. . . . Autistic people, Yergeau reminds us, have always been rhetorical beings. Only by redefining the very definitions and conventions of rhetoric can we begin to attend to these autistic narratives on their own terms." — Travis Chi Wing Lau, Los Angeles Review of Books

"I need to (want to) read it several times in order to process the many profound, challenging, and delightful layers of [Yergeau's] rhetoric on rich display. . . . Authoring Autism is a masterclass in simultaneously claiming and dismantling rhetoric." — Tara Wood, College Composition and Communication

"Authoring Autism doesn’t just show us what the neuroqueer can offer rhetoric, what the embodied experience of autistic people have to teach us of rhetoric, it resists these clinical gazes for us to study and instead urges readers to consider their own rhetoricity. How it might be neuroqueered—expanded, warped, and blown up. Yergeau wishes for us to embrace a future rhetoric full of tics and stims, and if this book is a glimpse of that future, it’s one every rhetorician should be advocating for." — Jay McClintick, Enculturation

"Authoring Autism is a revolutionary book, a neuroqueer revelation." — Michael Bérubé, Public Books

"Authoring Autism will be a book of keen interest to disability studies scholars and activists who are engaged in intersectional approaches to troubling the rhetoric of normalcy. . . . Through her many invitational gestures Yergeau provocatively intervenes in the readings of the rhetoric of normalcy while also evoking new possibilities for distinctly different autistic rhetorics." — Maria Karmiris, Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

"Yergeau’s book is a welcome history of autism and critique of contemporary perceptions and 'treatments' of it. It is an insightful, often refreshingly irreverent argument that should be read by professors, administrators, and students." — Patricia A. Dunn, College English

"Beyond the finely parsed analysis, Authoring Autism is also just a pleasure to read. . . . Beneath the humor, however, bubbles a righteous and justified rage that such a book even has to be written, that Yergeau essentially has to spend all this time pointing out that autism is not, in fact, a lack (as everything from the clinical literature to organizations that at least ostensibly 'speak' for autism seem to portray it as); that she has to defend herself and autistic people as human." — Jodie Nicotra, Rhetoric of Health & Medicine

"Yergeau stocks wicked humor, manifesto-like passion, historical knowledge, a hard-hitting combination of rhetorical tightness and raw honesty, and an important bread crumb trail of autobiography in her authorial quiver." — Deborah Jenson, American Literature

“Yergeau’s much-needed scholarship and activism crack open academic space to make room for those of us who do not fit the academy’s mandates for logic and legibility. Sketching new terrains of thought, Authoring Autism gestures toward vibrant words, images, and textures that sit with us, and we feel their weight.”

— Clare Mullaney, GLQ

"This is an excellent book and a major contribution to our understanding of the cultural, political, and rhetorical dynamics of autism.” — Braldey Lewis, Journal of Medical Humanities

"With philosophical and rhetorical acuity and a large dose of humor, Melanie Yergeau interweaves autism research into other areas of thought, providing new ways of thinking about rhetoric, queerness, and neurology. This is without doubt the most thoroughgoing, rigorous, and creative work on authoring autism I have read. As a reader I have been changed, my attention drawn to the necessity to attend not only to the style, and to writing, but to the terms according to which some of us are given access to these voices we too often take for granted." — Erin Manning, author of The Minor Gesture

"With incandescent wit and defiant exuberance, Melanie Yergeau employs her rhetorical scalpel to dismantle the clinical assumptions and cultural stereotypes that have been used to deny, dismiss, and obscure the basic humanity of autistic people for generations. This is not just a landmark book; it's a book that opens up a whole terrain of discourse informed by the insights of queer theory and the disability rights movement." — Steve Silberman, author of NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity


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Price: $27.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Melanie Yergeau is Assistant Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  vii
Introduction. Involution  1
1. Intention  35
2. Intervention  89
3. Invitation  135
4. Invention  175
Epilogue. Indexicality  207
Notes  215
Bibliography  261
Index  289
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner of the 2018 Modern Language Association First Book Prize

Winner of the 2019 Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) Lavender Rhetorics Award for Excellence in Queer Scholarship Book Award.

Winner of the 2019 Rhetoric Society of America Book Award

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-7020-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-7011-6
Publicity material