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Professor's talk examines differing views of autism

January 08, 2009

What does it mean to be autistic? Majia Holmer Nadesan, an Arizona State University faculty member who authored the book Constructing Autism: Unravelling the “Truth” and Understanding the Social, will speak on the topic on Jan. 23. The event, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the Kiva Lecture Hall at ASU’s West campus, 4701 W. Thunderbird Road in Phoenix, is free and open to the public.

The title of Nadesan’s talk is “Constructing Autism and Promoting Advocacy.” A question-and-answer session will follow the presentation.

A documentary filmmaker from New York City will film the event. Todd Drezner plans to use footage from Nadesan’s presentation in Loving Lampposts, a film about autism that he is producing.

In her talk, Nadesan will address topics including how perceptions of autism have changed over time, how science and medicine define autism, the social implications of such definitions, and the relatively new concept of autism advocacy.

“Over the years autism has been defined by shifting paradigms,” Nadesan says. “It used to be attributed to ‘frigid’ mothers. Today the focus tends to be on genetics, allergies, and the environment.

“In recent years the growing autism advocacy movement has argued that you cannot simply ‘normalize’ people with autism. This perspective asserts that autistic individuals should be assisted, not ‘cured.’”

Nadesan says her aim is not to advocate for one view of autism over others. “I would like to see us consider the implications of how we think about autism, and to work toward the goal of helping without stigmatizing,” she says.

Nadesan, an associate professor of communication studies in ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, studies the topic of biopolitics, focusing on how expert understandings and technologies shape our experiences and treatment of our bodies and minds. She has authored two books on biopolitics (including Constructing Autism), and currently is working on a third book exploring the biopolitics of childhood.

For more information about Nadesan’s Jan. 23 presentation, call (602) 543-6668 or (602) 543-6606.