UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Configuring the autistic child in literature : autistic characters’ language and agency in Rules and Rain Reign Lee, Haewon


This thesis investigates how autistic characters are represented in children’s literature, especially in regard to their language use and their linguistic relations with other characters. This analysis has two parts. First, I examine how Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and relevant experiences are represented in children’s literature. Drawing on several models of disability representation, I found that ASD characters often fall into three broad categories: 1) othered characters, 2) incomplete characters, and 3) symbolic or inspirational figures. Second, I use this framework to analyze two texts that include ASD characters, specifically Cynthia Lord’s Rules and Ann M. Martin’s Rain Reign. In my reading of these texts, building on work in the fields of Children’s Literature, Sociolinguistics, and Disability Studies, I sought to determine 1) if these texts repeat the conventional representation of disability or deviate from it, and 2) how the autistic character’s language or linguistic relationship affects the overall ASD representation. The findings suggest that autistic characters’ language use and conversation with other characters can be understood as a useful indicator of the autistic character’s agency. The analysis of Rules and Rain Reign also illustrates that the overall portrayal of ASD is conditioned by a wide range of factors, including the presence of an autistic character’s voice, autistic character’s narrative agency, positioning of an autistic character in the plot structure, character dynamics, and the descriptive language used for autistic characters. The findings have implications for the development of emerging literature on the autistic experience for young readers, as well as how those books would be mediated by teachers, librarians, and caregivers. I conclude my thesis by calling for scholarly attention and public interest to bring positive changes in depicting and understanding ASD both in the literary world and the real world.

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