Welcome to the first Diversity in Oz Fic post. This series of interviews and post aims to highlight the diversity that exists in Australia and how that diversity can be represented in our literature. It can be a tool to help Australian authors looking to have true and diverse representation in their works. Interviews will be with authors, book bloggers, readers and industry professionals who each have a personal take on diversity in Australian fiction. The series of interviews and posts aims to help authors educate themselves on various diversity topics. It’s important to remember that interviewees are relaying their personal experiences/areas of expertise. This may not be the same as what others have experienced. It’s recommended to research multiple sources when included an area of diversity that you don’t have personal ‘own voices’ experience with.
The first interview is with acclaimed YA author, Darren Groth, who is talking to us about neurodiversity and the autism spectrum.
Would you please tell us a bit about neurodiversity and the autism spectrum.
Neurodiversity was first coined by an autistic Australian scholar, Judy Singer, almost thirty years ago. The term gained notoriety in 1998 when Harvey Blume used it in an article he wrote for The Atlantic. A definition of neurodiversity I like: neurological difference is recognized and respected as per any other human variation. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is, according to the Geneva Centre for Autism, a lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder that affects how people communicate and relate to others.
Why is this area of diversity of interest to you?
My fifteen-year-old son is diagnosed ‘moderate classic’ ASD, placing him pretty much in the middle of the spectrum. I also taught special education for a number of years after graduating university.
My understanding is that there is a lot of diversity within the autism spectrum itself. Are you able to explain to us some of the differences that exist within the spectrum?
I’m not the best source for that explanation. What I will say is that the differences are as many and varied as the people themselves. There is a saying in the ND community: if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.
What are some of the stereotypes that exist around the autism spectrum/neurodiversity?
Silence, giftedness, aggression, a belonging or natural place in the occupations of information technology, lack of interaction with others and the world around them.
What are some of the most misunderstood behaviours of people with neurodiversity/autism?
I think what is most misunderstood is that challenging or perceived anti-social behaviour isn’t just uncontrollable compulsion, but more often than not is borne out of need or purpose. And, indeed, need or purpose that neurotypical people can very firmly relate to.
What issues have you seen in stories relating to neurodiversity and the autism spectrum?
Stereotyping. ND/AS as an enemy to be conquered. ND/AS as strange gift or magical power. ND/AS as a distancer, an ‘arm’s length’ phenomenon to be studied, observed, perhaps even awed by. ND/AS as the sole lens through which a character is described, viewed, voiced. ND/AS family life as suffering or noble or both. There is also the issue of ND/AS being towards the bottom of the ‘diversity hierarchy’. ND/AS rep overall pales next to race, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief and economic status.
What impact have you seen as a result of this problematic representation?
To be honest, due to ND/AS being something of a diversity afterthought, I’m not sure many people see it as a problem. The ND/AS voices advocating for more representation and truer representation are few and far between. Those that do exist lack the platform afforded race, gender, etc. As such, any narrative discussion of ND/AS still revolves around ‘Rain Man’ and ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’, both of which typify ND/AS as remarkable, arm’s length phenomenon.
What are some key points/character traits that are often missed when people write about neurodiversity and the autism spectrum?
About the Interviewee:
Darren Groth is a Vancouver author and citizen of Canada, having moved from his native Australia in 2007. His novels include ‘Kindling’ and the highly acclaimed YA work, ‘Are You Seeing Me?’. His new novel, titled ‘Exchange of Heart’ in AUS/NZ, will be published August 2017. In CAN/US, the book will be released October 2017 under the title ‘Munro vs. the Coyote’.
Darren was the winner of the 2016 Adelaide Festival Award for Young Adult Literature and has been a finalist in numerous other prestigious prizes including the CBCA Book of the Year (Australia), the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards (Australia), the Governor General’s Literary Awards (Canada) and the BC Book Prizes (Canada).
For fun, he watches ‘American Ninja Warrior’ with his beautiful Canadian wife and eats at Fatburger with his wondrous fifteen year old twins.