Autism in Literature (Panel)

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Northeast Modern Language Association
contact email: 

NeMLA conference in Baltimore, MD, March 10-13, 2022

From the savant to the quirky person, there are various ways that people on the autism spectrum are presented in fiction. One common trope of a person on the autism spectrum is the savant, particularly the detective savant, as seen in such novels as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd, and the Asperger’s Mystery series by E.J. Copperman and Jeffrey Cohen. However, not all autistics are savants or detectives, and literature that promotes savant characteristics of autism does a disservice to people who are not savants. How can authors write autistic characters into fiction without relying on savant characteristics? In addition to the savant characteristics, certain themes and symbols, such as mice, have been perpetuated in literature about the autism spectrum, including Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck and Flowers for Alergnon by Daniel Keyes, (and my own sister). How can these common symbols reflect autism in everyday life?

Representations of autism in literature can influence how people perceive autism. Therefore, how has literature challenged previously held misconceptions of autism? And how has literature reinforced stereotypes of autism? This panel seeks to explore representations of autistics in twentieth and twenty-first century fiction and nonfiction, including self-narratives from those on the autism spectrum.

Submit abstract on the NeMLA website: