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Autism in Children's Fiction

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Many people who do not personally know anyone with autism will have read about it in a novel and that novel’s vision of autism both creates and perpetuates stereotypes about autistic individuals (Loftis, 2015). However fiction can also work against stereotypes and create empathy (Bal and Veltkamp, 2013; Parsons, 2013) but this requires inclusive approaches where those who have been marginalised are included in the research (Leavy, 2015) and the accounts produced by autistic individuals are focused upon (Murray, 2008). Taking the example of M is for Autism, written collaboratively by 72 autistic girls with their creative writing tutor, I will examine the key features of autism that emerge and review them with regard to perpetuating or deconstructing key autistic stereotypes (Loftis, 2015; Murray, 2008) that have been a feature of foundational literary works.

Dr Shalini Vohra is a Senior Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University and researching the representation of autism in children’s fiction. Her discussions with autistic young people, autistic adults, parents, school teachers, authors and publishers, identified lack of autistic representation as an issue and collaborative writing with autistic children and young people as a potential way forward. Her research has featured on The Conversation, and she has presented her work at the AHRC connected communities conference at UEA , as well as the Sheffield Institute of education.

This talk is part of the Centre for Research in Children's Literature at Cambridge series.

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