How "special needs" parental memoirs contribute to neoliberal and ableist ideologies
When children are born with disabilities or become disabled in childhood, parents often experience bewilderment: they find themselves unexpectedly in another world, without a roadmap, without community, and without narratives to make sense of their experiences. The Disabled Child: Memoirs of a Normal Future tracks the narratives that have emerged from the community of parent-memoirists who, since the 1980s, have written in resistance of their children’s exclusion from culture. Though the disabilities represented in the genre are diverse, the memoirs share a number of remarkable similarities; they are generally written by white, heterosexual, middle or upper-middle class, ablebodied parents, and they depict narratives in which the disabled child overcomes barriers to a normal childhood and adulthood. Apgar demonstrates that in the process of telling these stories, which recuperate their children as productive members of society, parental memoirists write their children into dominant cultural narratives about gender, race, and class. By reinforcing and buying into these norms, Apgar argues, “special needs” parental memoirs reinforce ableism at the same time that they’re writing against it.
Amanda Apgar is Assistant Professor of Women's and Gender Studies at Loyola Marymount University.
“The Disabled Child is beautifully written, compelling, and greatly needed. This book is a tour de force, a thorough, in-depth, far-ranging account of the complex topic of parents’ memoirs about their children’s disabilities. Through an exploration of a great variety of autobiographies and memoirs, Amanda Apgar asks how people narrate or fail to narrate the normalcy of their children with disabilities. The book offers an important challenge to normative understandings of what it means to be a person.”- Amy Shuman
—Amy Shuman, The Ohio State University
“The Disabled Child challenges and disrupts dominant assumptions about disability and invites new ways of thinking about the nature of belongingness and normalcy. It makes a valuable contribution as a text for scholarly research in disability studies and coursework for in-service professionals.”- Priya Lalvani
—Priya Lalvani, Montclair State University