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


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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.

"A rhetorically vibrant conception of autism that flourishes throughout her close readings of literary texts and her theoretical meditations on the effects of autistic poetics."
--LA Review of Books

“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

Autistic Disturbances invites both disability scholars and literary scholars to reframe ‘listening’ in classic texts. Julia Miele Rodas’s clever and charming approach to autistic language bids us to understand ‘autism poetics’ as valuable and exemplary of the generative work of language.”
—Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, author of Extraordinary Bodies and Staring

“In this beautifully written book, Julia Rodas gives us autism as an aesthetic and a rhetoric. She finds autistic language in texts as diverse as poems, medical treatises, and the words of autists themselves. Like her subject, the books is replete with swerving insights, expostulations, and lists that constitutively and intellectually help us reimagine the full plentitude of the language of autism.”
—Lennard Davis, author of Enforcing Normalcy and The Disability Studies Reader

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

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
  • "If you think academic books are all drudgery, you’re wrong in this case. Autistic Disturbances is lively, funny, political, outrageous, and just what the Great Conversation of academic thought needed someone to say. Rodas says it with spirit and leaves our perception of the literary landscape forever changed for her readers."
    --Thinking Person's Guide to Autism
  • "Autistic Disturbances thoroughly and engagingly examines what Julia Miele Rodas terms 'autism poetics' in the anglophone cultural canon, from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries. ... Developing her own framework for categorizing the concept of autistic language, or autism poetics, she re-negotiates the pre-existing diagnostic language of medical researchers both to describe these categories and reclaim the terminology in a manner fitting to disability studies scholarship."
    -- Journal of Cultural and Literary Disability Studies

Look Inside

News, Reviews, Interviews

Read: Autistic Disturbances reviewed in Public Books (Link) | 9/23/2019
Read: Autistic Disturbances reviewed in the LA Review of Books (Link) | 5/2/2019
Listen: Interview on Inside Voices
Listen: Julia Miele Rodas interviewed for the New Books Network (Link) | 9/3/2018

Product Details

  • 248 pages.
  • 1 Table.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2018
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12410-7

  • PDF: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

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