Author Archives: kaitlynschweda

Schweda, With the Light

Pre-Warning: I’ve been struggling with keeping up with names in this novel so I apologize in advance for my very generic labeling of characters.

With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child was probably the most heart-wrenching piece I’ve encountered this semester.  I think that we’ve read a lot of really interesting pieces this semester that painted autistic children as savant or incredibly gifted but skimmed over a lot of the hardships of actually raising a child with this disability.  I think this series of stories shows the raw hardships of how the stress of raising a child who is deemed different at an early age can completely change somebody’s life.  The hardest part about this novel for me was seeing how hard the mother worked and worked to build a relationship with her son, only to be struck down by her husband, her mother-in-law, her friends, and ultimately society.  The use of the word “depression” didn’t shock me when reading this novel.  I actually did some research to find out exactly how many mothers raising children with autism suffer from disease. According to the Illinois News Bureau:

“More than 30 percent of the mothers raising children with ASD reported moderate to severe depressive symptoms when their children were 9 months old. That rate compared to 21 percent of mothers raising children with other disabilities and slightly more than 16 percent of mothers with typically developing children.”

As an avid mental health awareness supporter, I found a lot of comfort when the mother in our novel began going to the classes designed to help mother’s raising children with autism. In fact, according to Autism Speaks, these classes are very real and show extremely positive rates of success in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression in mother’s raising children with ASD. The research mentioned in this article found that by reducing such factors, the mothers were able to strengthen their interactions with their children, which I think we also see in this novel.

Raising a child with autism is a selfless act and as a parent, I imagine it’s really difficult to see the payoff at times.  Like in the novel when all the mother wants is to hear her son refer to her as “mommy”.  She struggles and struggles to communicate and work with him and right when she all but forgets that that’s the goal she has, he looks at her and says her name.  The fact that the artist took two whole pages for the picture of joy the mother has says everything about that moment.  What can be seen as something small for a normal parent, has the possibility to mean the world to a parent raising a child with ASD.

In conclusion, I think that this book does a remarkable job with describing the hardships of being a parent in this situation.  The author leaves nothing out and attacks the hard and raw issues that I haven’t seen as much of from the other novels we’ve covered this semester (not to say that they aren’t there as well).  I think that telling this story as a graphic novel enhances the story because we physically and metaphorically see so many different things at play.  Between the physical reactions of some of the sub-characters and their actual remarks, this book encompasses so many different aspects of raising children with autism and I personally think that it’s incredible.

Citations:

https://news.illinois.edu/blog/view/6367/204598

https://www.autismspeaks.org/science/science-news/reducing-stress-depression-and-anxiety-mothers-kids-autism

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Schweda, Analysis: Martian Time-Slip

Small disclaimer: I’ll be the first to admit that sci-fi is not my favorite genre.  That being said, this week’s reading was a bit of a struggle for me so I relied heavily on the analyses that I found in my research of this novel.

Arguably, I think one of the most interesting aspects of this novel is the intricate way the authors weaves in and out of different narratives.  While this isn’t the first novel I’ve read with this type of point of view, I think it might be one of the best.  He has an incredible talent for showing how characters come in contact with each other through different contexts and has a unique way of almost pitting them against each other through their intentions. I found an apologetically lengthy quote that I think explains his characterizations well:

“PKD had a particular talent to imagine the inner lives of other people. Throughout his career, he created a series of ambivalent antagonists, and none are better realized than Arnie Kott. Kott is not an evil man. He is sexist, racist and exploitative, but he is also generous, cultured and adaptable. He is a gentle tyrant, a small-time crook with a soft underbelly. Kott is the Supreme Goodmember of the Water Workers’ Local union. In other words, he’s a big fish in a small pond. And it’s not long before he has drawn Jack Bohlen, who might in theory be regarded as this novel’s protagonist, into his sphere of influence.”

Through the use of this characterization, the author creates this completely unreal setting with the most real characters and I think that’s a very noteworthy quality of the novel.  Especially when you take into account the amount of nuero-divergent characters and how they’re involved.

The basic idea behind these complex characters is that mental illness such as schizophrenia is actually some sort of “derangement of time” (From the same source). As much as I love the interactions between the characters in this novel, I think there are a lot of issues with this idea of the story.  We’ve spent a lot of time in class talking about how neuro-divergents are portrayed in media and I think this is another example of how characterization can create false beliefs and stereotypes.  This is another case where a neuro-divergent is portrayed as having a special power but is also pretty different than the autistic savant that we covered earlier in the semester. Part of me wonders why there aren’t more novels with a neuro-divergent character without these special powers but I think that a lot of it is just a way to thicken the plot, which is sad and potentially harming the neuro-divergent and ASD communities.  I don’t think that authors necessary plan for these things to occur or even realize what they’re doing but I hope that in the future we have more neuro-divergent authors and less neuro-divergent “super powers”.

Schweda, analysis 4: Bromden, reliable or nah?

“I been silent so long now it’s gonna roar out of me like floodwaters and you think the guy telling this is ranting and raving my God; you think this is too horrible to have really happened, this is too awful to be the truth! But, please. It’s still hard for me to have a clear mind thinking on it.  But it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen.” –Chief Bromden, page 8

I think one of the most important parts of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest is deciding on if you can trust a neuro-diverse narrator.  Chief Bromden is a Columbia Indian who suffers from schizophrenia.  While this is completely different than autism, Chief is still different than the nuerotypical people that work in the asylum. By pretending to be both deaf and mute, Chief appears powerless to the general public.  However, through his narration Chief reveals his power is his knowledge.  People talk freely around him, assuming he can’t reiterate what he hears when in reality, he understands and recalls everything. He defines himself as a “Chronic” or somebody who is in the hospital not to get fixed, but rather to stay off the street. I think this is important because it shows that Chief isn’t trying to fit the mold of the neurotypical.  He’s figured out the “combine” and has no interest in joining that world. However, Chief’s illness is real.  He suffers with schizophrenia which weakens his credibility.  The Brain and Behavior Foundation defines schizophrenia as the following:

“Schizophrenia is a severe, chronic, and generally disabling brain and behavior disorder.  Positive symptoms may include delusions, thought disorders, and hallucinations. People with schizophrenia may hear voices other people don’t hear, or believe other people are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts, or plotting to harm them. Negative symptoms may include avolition (a lack of desire or motivation to accomplish goals), lack of desire to form social relationships, and blunted affect and emotion. Cognitive symptoms involve problems with attention and memory, especially in planning and organization to achieve a goal. Cognitive deficits are the most disabling for patients trying to lead a normal life.”

Despite the diagnosis of schizophrenia, I think Chief Bromden is a perfect example of a reliable mentally ill narrator. He clearly has some hallucinations but overall, he’s a smart man who uses his mental illness to his advantage (like pretending to be deaf and mute to learn secrets).  He has an understanding of the hospital and the world in general that the reader can figure out using context clues. I really think that the reader can trust what Chief tells them as long as they can sort through the occasional hallucination. I think it’s a safe assumption that it would be a lot harder to trust the narrator if somebody like Murphey was telling the story rather than Chief.

Citations:

https://bbrfoundation.org/schizophrenia?gclid=Cj0KEQjw4rbABRD_gfPA2uQqroBEiQA58MNdHqLjJBVASRQwQFNDWifuQrL05ZAxtPAkIf_q-2GMvQaAsYa8P8HAQ

Schweda Analysis 3: Baskerville

After our discussion last Monday, I decided to further research the term “savant” in relationship to autism and Sherlock Holmes.  To begin with the absolute basics, Meriam-Webster defines the word savant as either “a person who knows a lot about a particular subject” or “a person who does not have normal intelligence but who has very unusual mental abilities that other people do not have”.  With his unique detective skills, Sherlock Holmes clearly fits the first definition however I’m not 100% sold on the second part. It’s hard to clearly define “normal intelligence” but Sherlock Holmes has at least the basic functions to make it in the real world without a strong dependence on any sort of assistance (besides splitting rent with Watson, although that’s not a completely unusual circumstance).

From there, I decided to research the autistic savant. The Wisconsin Medical Society states that “the combination of Autistic Disorder + extraordinary special abilities + remarkable memory is the autistic savant”. I think it is very important to note that savant skills are not limited to autistic persons, nor are all autistic persons savants.  Therefore, I do not think it is extreme to label Sherlock Holmes as only savant rather than autistic, since they’re separate entities. Last week I found an article in the Huffington Post that suggests viewing Sherlock Holmes as an “autistic savant” can harm society’s (already poor) understanding of autism:

“If people are lead to regard Holmes as the autistic archetype, then it minimizes the full range of behaviors that people with ASD exhibit. People with autism won’t be seen as needing understanding and support, instead they’ll be expected to be geniuses with a quirky forthrightness unencumbered by social inhibition, when the reality is far more complex.”

As I stated last week in my comment, Sherlock Holmes is well known for his quirks and sometimes peculiar behavior but there’s no evidence that the writer intended for this to be signs of autism (especially since the diagnosis didn’t exist when the original stories we have read were wrote). I think it is important to repeat my observation from last week.  If the general public begin to associate Sherlock Holmes’ behaviors with what they think is ASD, they won’t understand the entire spectrum.  Instead, they’ll associate quirks and seemingly odd behaviors with autism without understanding the full diagnosis.

In conclusion, after reading both short stories, I think it’s safe to say Sherlock Holmes is a savant.  However, concluding he’s on the autistic spectrum has the possibility to invalidate the actual diagnosis in real people with ASD.

Citations:

https://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/professional/savant-syndrome/resources/articles/the-autistic-savant/

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/savant

Schweda, Analysis 2: Frustration is a two way street

“I am a man who, from his youth upwards, has been filled with a profound conviction that the easiest way of life is the best” (Melville 19)

This quote from the beginning of Herman Melville’s short story Bartleby the Scrivener emphasizes the narrator’s general contempt with taking the easy way out.  As seen with his three employees, the narrator is the absolute definition of non-confrontational.  From allowing Turkey to drink on his lunch break, to ignoring Nippers (completely sketch) “clients”, this story teller might be the chillest lawyer known to man-kind. However, Bartleby’s quirks test the patience of the narrator and bring up important societal issues and constructs.

Bartleby shows signs of having autism during a time in which autism wasn’t well-known to society.  By choosing to narrate the story though the eyes of the lawyer, Melville allows us to closely observe Bartleby but he also leaves a sense of mystery.  Bartleby’s employer is directly affected by his seemingly strange quirks which allows the audience to feel fully engaged in figuring out exactly what’s going on with him. The first societal construct I feel Bartleby challenges is the idea of rules and order. Generally people follow a certain routine.  We wake up, go to work or school, go home, and then repeat day after day.  Bartleby’s “I would prefer not to” challenges that which frustrates the narrator. It’s abnormal to question the system of the working world so who is Bartleby to do so?  The narrator assumes his preference to do absolutely nothing stems from his isolation or a hidden sadness. The narrator tries his hardest to work with Bartleby by allowing him to stay for a while and eventually offering him money to leave. The aftermath of the narrator leaving Bartleby in the building brings up the next ethic. How far do our moral duties extend? How responsible are we for our fellow human beings?

Society’s response to Bartleby’s quirks is to send him to jail. Reading this story today, we can see the problems with that decision.  It’s a safe assumption that Bartleby merely required some extra attention from professionals. He’s able to function in the work place for a little while on his own so I would assume he’s high functioning. One author suggests “Melville himself may very well have had the traits that would qualify him for an autism diagnosis today. If that is indeed the case, then Bartleby is essentially a story of an autistic person, told by a neurotypical narrator, who is in turn written by an autistic author” (Belek). To me, this is a kind of crazy circle of projections but it adds up.  I think Melville wrote a story about what society wants him to be (the lawyer) versus what he more closes related to (Bartleby).

I think the saddest part of the story is the very end. Before working as a scrivener, Bartleby worked at the dead-letter office.  He spent “considerable time processing broken communications and expressions of emotions that never made it to their destination” (Belek). That job represents the entirety of Bartleby’s life on its own. The lawyer feels frustrated after dealing with Bartleby for a short period of time. However, that’s nothing in comparison to how frustrated Bartleby must have been his whole life trying to communicate with a society that dubbed him as different. This is comparative to neurotypical versus neurodiversity. I can personally say I’ve had some frustrating times working with students who have autism. However, the tale of Bartleby showed me that they’re probably just as frustrated with me as I am with them.  Frustration is a two way street in this case. I can’t imagine what it’s like to go through my whole life failing to communicate in the “right” way as dubbed by society.  I think the story of Bartleby is important because it shows the importance of society recognizing differences and learning to work with them, rather than push them aside like they did with the scrivener.

Citations

Benek, Ben. The Autism Anthropologist: Bartleby the Scrivener. Pub. 15 March 2014. Web 15           September 2016. Path:

            https://theautismanthropologist.wordpress.com/tag/bartleby-the-scrivener/