Justifying Existence: Positioning Autism in a World of Capitalist Expectation

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Richter, Jacob D.
In Glen Finland’s memoir Next Stop, a mother confronts the decades-old American parenting ritual of helping a child to obtain their first job. Finland’s experience with her first two sons proved relatively typical; the same cannot be said for her third son, who was diagnosed at a young age as being on the ASD spectrum. David Finland’s challenges in obtaining employment are very different from those of his older brothers, as are the expectations placed on him within the larger cultural conversation he’s a part of. The rise of the disabilities studies movement in the 1980’s coincided with a massive surge in literature concerning autism. Memoirs produced by writers confronting autism demonstrate complications with cultural expectations attached to adulthood, specifically those regarding self-sufficiency normally associated with obtaining employment. This ethos is called into question within the disabilities studies movement. The presence of disabled (or differently abled) individuals in a society clouds cultural expectations, begging questions to be asked regarding how independent an autistic individual can be expected to be and in which ways a person with autism can or should contribute to the fulfillment of their own needs. Capitalism privileges the neurotypical mind, and every child with autism faces an adult life affected by the condition. My research examines the attitudes and ideologies surrounding the manner in which autistic individuals achieve various degrees of self-sufficiency through entering the workforce, presenting the argument that malleable social environments are capable of structuring and supporting the “pushing back” of limits imposed by autism, fostering the cultivation of a more self-sufficient individual.