Ellen Herman F'11
ACLS Fellowship Program 2011
University of Oregon
Autism, Between Rights and Risks
Adjudicating rights and managing risks have been two of the most important responsibilities of government in modem U.S. history. Since 1945, the expansion of rights claims and the multiplication of risk designations have coincided. This project probes that coincidence by considering the case of autism. Today designated as a developmental disability, autism’s key characteristic—aloneness—challenges the sociability that grounds secure personhood and civic belonging. Autism therefore illuminates the boundaries of the human as well as the rights of citizens. This research project explores the following themes: autism and the campaign to measure, predict, and control developmental risks; autism as a controversial and increasingly prevalent clinical entity; autism as the basis for advocacy movements; autism and the right to education and early intervention; and neurodiversity and democracy. Autism illustrates how risk itself became a legitimate basis for political mobilization, collective identification, and rights claims.