FSEM 100A4 | Disability Studies: Representations of Autism in Contemporary Literature and Film


This FSEM has the potential to be one of the most memorable, rewarding, and transformative courses you ever will take. Disability is as fundamental a component to human identity as class, ethnicity/race, and gender/sexuality. According to the Census Bureau (2010), 19% of all American citizens report some level of disability. Yet, despite how disability is such a common part of daily life for so many of us, we rarely stop to think about the role it plays in how one views oneself, others, and society. What is more, we rarely stop to analyze how far too often our views on disability reflect truly disabling biases, prejudices, and stereotypes that undermine our collective ability to grant the full humanity of persons with disabilities.

According to the CDC, 1 in every 59 children now is diagnosed as on the autism spectrum. It is thus increasingly crucial for all of us to become fully aware of the controversies, the facts, the histories, and the popular representations of autism. This course will explore how an intensive immersion experience with cinematic and literary representations of autism might serve as a test case for how the neurodiversity perspective may not only help increase our awareness of popular attitudes toward disability but also even lead to acceptance and appreciation of autism as a natural form of human variation and difference. Your participation in this FSEM can be a truly meaningful way of advancing the cause of disability rights and improving the quality of life for millions.

Photo of Chris Foss, Professor of English

Chris Foss, Professor of English

Hailing from the Great State of Minnesota, I have a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in English, with a specialization in 19th-Century British Literature. However, as the child, sibling, and parent of persons with disabilities, during the past decade I have developed a very strong secondary expertise in disability studies. If you take my FSEM, you will find me to be an experienced teacher who is truly passionate about our course focus. You also will find me to be a friendly and funny classroom presence, and my emphasis on discussion-based (rather than lecture-based) learning helps keep classroom time both lively and non-intimidating. You further may expect a proven successful product; my course is the most taught FSEM in the history of UMW, as I have taught over 30 different sections of the course since its debut in Spring 2008. This is my favorite class to teach, and I hope it will be your favorite class to take!