I’m a little behind the times, but I finally listened to Season One of Serial, the wildly popular Sarah Koenig podcast about the murder trial of Adnan Syed. I’m not going to weigh in on his guilt or innocence, but listening to such a well-done podcast has got me thinking, again, about the viability of podcasting as an educational tool and about potential podcast topics.Serial is already being used as a class text in secondary and college settings (see KQED Education). While I’ve always approached podcasting from the production angle (see some of my student-produced podcasts), asking what students could learn from writing and producing them, treating them as literacy/literary texts worth analysis is also intriguing.
I’m also thinking about starting my own podcast, though the tools I used for syndication (Odeo and Loudcast) are long-since defunct. I’d have to find another easy way to syndicate, to begin with. More importantly, though, I need an engaging topic. I think I might have one in a new research/teaching interest of mine: Autism Spectrum Disorder. Over the past couple of years, I’ve written articles and conducted research on the literacy practices of individuals with ASD (or autistic individuals, depending on which term you prefer). I’m currently teaching a class examining autism in works of fiction, and I’m presenting on a related topic at the 2016 NCTE Conference. So, needless to say, I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.
What’s interesting is the sheer number of autism-themed memoirs and novels that have been published in the last decade or so. Really, things begin with Mark Haddon’s 2004 crossover novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. In the interest of my own research and to learn more about the way my autistic son operates, I’ve been reading many of these texts. What I’ve learned is that while many works of fiction do an accurate job of representing some of the characteristics of autistic individuals, there is also a kind of literary trope developing–one that involves a hyper-verbal, quirky autistic narrator who uses his cognitive abilities (almost always at the savant level) to solve the mystery, get the girl, etc. I’m struck by the unoriginality of most representations of ASD. A recent example is Me Who Dove into the Heart of the World by Sabina Berman, the plot of which so closely echoes Temple Grandin’s life story that I’m surprised she hasn’t been sued for plagiarism. But there are other, brilliant works out there that get neurodivergence exactly right–like Sarah Baume’s Spill, Simmer, Falter, Whither .
So a podcast reviewing autism-themed memoirs and fiction? Maybe so . . .