Autistic Disturbances

Theorizing Autism Poetics from the DSM to Robinson Crusoe
Julia Miele Rodas
Foreword by Melanie Yergeau
Finds and investigates the resonances between autistic speech patterns and literary texts


While research on autism has sometimes focused on special talents or abilities, autism is typically characterized as impoverished or defective when it comes to language. Autistic Disturbances reveals the ways interpreters have failed to register the real creative valence of autistic language and offers a theoretical framework for understanding the distinctive aesthetics of autistic rhetoric and semiotics. Reinterpreting characteristic autistic verbal practices such as repetition in the context of a more widely respected literary canon, Julia Miele Rodas argues that autistic language is actually an essential part of mainstream literary aesthetics, visible in poetry by Walt Whitman and Gertrude Stein, in novels by Charlotte Brontë and Daniel Defoe, in life writing by Andy Warhol, and even in writing by figures from popular culture.

Autistic Disturbances pursues these resonances and explores the tensions of language and culture that lead to the classification of some verbal expression as disordered while other, similar expression enjoys prized status as literature. It identifies the most characteristic patterns of autistic expression-repetition, monologue, ejaculation, verbal ordering or list-making, and neologism-and adopts new language to describe and reimagine these categories in aesthetically productive terms. In so doing, the book seeks to redress the place of verbal autistic language, to argue for the value and complexity of autistic ways of speaking, and to invite recognition of an obscured tradition of literary autism at the very center of Anglo-American text culture.

 “Julia Rodas rejects ableist repertoires of what language is and can mean, notably the understanding that language necessitates understanding or intelligibility . . . readers are viscerally confronted with autism’s many possibilities, are given neurodivergent mechanisms through which to re-see VilletteFrankensteinRobinson Crusoe, and more . . . What Autistic Disturbances offers is at once a method and a style for apprehending aesthetic autism, across genre and mode. This is an incomparable book, one brimming with ideas for how to reclaim autistic echoes in a morass of literary expression.”
—Melanie Yergeau, author of Authoring Autism

A “clever and charming approach to autistic language … ”
—Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, author of Extraordinary Bodies and Staring

“Replete with swerving insights, expostulations, and lists that … help us reimagine the full plentitude of the language of autism.”
—Lennard Davis, author of Enforcing Normalcy andThe Disability Studies Reader


Julia Miele Rodas is Professor of English, Bronx Community College, CUNY.

Praise / Awards

  • "An important book that makes significant contributions to the study of autistic language in the humanities and, in particular, literature." 
    --Ralph James Savarese, author of Reasonable People
  • "Anyone seriously interested in disability studies should have a copy of Autistic Disturbances on their shelf. There is much in the to excite the interests of students of eighteenth and nineteenth century literature, as well. It covers previously foraged terrain in a new and interesting way."
    --MIchael Northen, Wordgathering

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Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 248pp.
  • 1 Table.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2018
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-07394-8

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  • $75.00 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2018
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05394-0

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  • $29.95 U.S.

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