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Constructing competence: autism, voice and the ‘disordered' body

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Definitions of intelligence have traditionally been rooted in literacy competence. In this article, the authors examine two historical examples where societal prejudices and institutional forces worked to limit and regulate access to literacy. The first example illustrates how racism and denial of competence were so profoundly linked and established in 18th century America that author and poet Phyllis Wheatley was forced to go before a tribunal to demonstrate her faculties. The second example concerns Helen Keller. She too was, on more than one occasion, presumed a fraud and had her literacy interrogated. The authors then identify contemporary instances of societal monitoring of who may be literate, drawing especially on experiences of individuals classified as autistic. Based upon these examples, the authors examine the connection between perceptions of communicative competence and understandings of intelligence and mental retardation.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, USA 2: University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA, USA

Publication date: March 1, 2006

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