Presenters

Ira EidleFollow

Academic department under which the project should be listed

COTA - Theatre and Performance Studies

Faculty Sponsor Name

Thomas Fish

Abstract (300 words maximum)

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disability that has a long history of being misunderstood. Said misunderstandings have led to falsehoods about autism and autistic people. The stigma surrounding autism encourages non-autistic people to see themselves as the best advocates for autism, leading to non-autistic people speaking over autistic people constantly. This has come to be known as the medical model of disability. Most autistic people do not consider autism to be a mental illness or disorder. (Kupferstein 2019) That is why when autistic people become informed on these aspects and band together, those misunderstandings can be mitigated. One such way is through the theatrical arts.

My paper will examine how A_tistic, a theatre company based out of Melbourne, Australia, uses theatre created by autistic people about autism to challenge the prevailing medical model of autism and disability that says disability is caused by personal impairments and not societal barriers, people with disabilities need decisions to be made for them, and the disabled person should adjust to fit society. One such production, from their most recent season, is Helping Hands, a play that tackles stereotypes and misconceptions about autism head-on through a myriad of different scenes. By evaluating the script and interviews and reviews of the play, I will explore the problematic representations of the medical model of autism and how said model runs at the expense of autistic people. In the scene “A Very Special Girl Named Charity,” a doctor gives a very common tragedy narrative found within the medical model of disability. Autism is also presented as an epidemic, which echoes the medical model. In “Donna and the Ball,” Donna is put through Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which exists as part of the medical model, treating the disability as a pathology, while trying to make the subject appear to be less autistic.

Through this research, I will illustrate how theatrical performances, like Helping Hands, can educate the world about autism from the voices of Autistic people through performance.

Project Type

Oral Presentation (15-min time slots)

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How Theatre Produced By Autistic People Dismantles the Medical Model of Disability

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disability that has a long history of being misunderstood. Said misunderstandings have led to falsehoods about autism and autistic people. The stigma surrounding autism encourages non-autistic people to see themselves as the best advocates for autism, leading to non-autistic people speaking over autistic people constantly. This has come to be known as the medical model of disability. Most autistic people do not consider autism to be a mental illness or disorder. (Kupferstein 2019) That is why when autistic people become informed on these aspects and band together, those misunderstandings can be mitigated. One such way is through the theatrical arts.

My paper will examine how A_tistic, a theatre company based out of Melbourne, Australia, uses theatre created by autistic people about autism to challenge the prevailing medical model of autism and disability that says disability is caused by personal impairments and not societal barriers, people with disabilities need decisions to be made for them, and the disabled person should adjust to fit society. One such production, from their most recent season, is Helping Hands, a play that tackles stereotypes and misconceptions about autism head-on through a myriad of different scenes. By evaluating the script and interviews and reviews of the play, I will explore the problematic representations of the medical model of autism and how said model runs at the expense of autistic people. In the scene “A Very Special Girl Named Charity,” a doctor gives a very common tragedy narrative found within the medical model of disability. Autism is also presented as an epidemic, which echoes the medical model. In “Donna and the Ball,” Donna is put through Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which exists as part of the medical model, treating the disability as a pathology, while trying to make the subject appear to be less autistic.

Through this research, I will illustrate how theatrical performances, like Helping Hands, can educate the world about autism from the voices of Autistic people through performance.