The Center for Writing Studies

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Rafters and skylights in the English Building

Colloquium Archive

Pamela Saunders

Name: Pamela Saunders, English Department

Presentation Title: "The Risky Rhetorical Performance of Autism Disclosure in Higher Education”

Date: April 14, 2016


In this presentation, I draw on qualitative interviews with one autistic student, Mike, about his experiences navigating higher education, focusing on the rhetorical practice of disability disclosure. I explore how Mike exploits the kairotic dimensions of autism disclosure in risky, contradictory ways and in service of his larger educational goals. The educational narratives that shape notions of autism portray autistics as unacceptably awkward, incapable of intentional stances, and fundamentally not rhetorical. Some scholars in rhetorical studies have utilized the autistic subject to theorize the boundaries of human rhetorical capabilities. I argue that assumptions like these obscure the temporal complexity inherent in the rhetorical practices of autistic students; this complexity is particularly salient in moments of disclosure. I also suggest that Mike embodies a relationship to time that disrupts widespread tropes of classroom accommodation, including that of “time-and-a-half.” Calling attention to Mike’s rhetorical work as a student on the spectrum necessitates acknowledging and locating complicity in the rhetorical situations that demand risky disclosure performances from neurodiverse rhetors in higher education.