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‘Travel in parallel with us for a while’: sensory geographies of autism

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Drawing on autobiographies by authors with autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs), we consider how ASD authors use travel analogies and spatial metaphors to explore questions of difference in autistic sensory experience. ASD authors often appeal to the geographical imagination in an effort to communicate with ‘neuro-typical’ others for whom autistic behaviour can seem so peculiar as to be almost alien. Blurring the boundaries between pathology and normality, ASD authors counter typically negative and/or dismissive assessments of deficiency, disability and deviance with explanations of reasonable difference in environmental response. This paper takes up the challenge of ASD authors to ‘travel in parallel’, circumventing biomedical ‘checkpoints’, if only temporarily, in order to better understand the construction and experience of autistic lifeworlds, wherein spatial and embodied coherence is challenged at every turn and ‘sensory mapping’ is a means of survival. Rather than viewing perceptual and processing challenges characteristic of ASDs as problems to be fixed, we suggest non-autistic others might instead attempt to understand and appreciate sensory diversity in, and on, authors' own terms.

Keywords: autism; autisme; autobiographie; autobiography; disability; geographical imagination; imaginaire géographique; invalidité; politics of difference; politiques de la différence

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada K7L 3N6 ( ), Email: 2: Department of Geography, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada K7L 3N6 ( ), Email:

Publication date: 2010-12-01

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