Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Another autistic hero (re)discovered?

Thank you to Michelle Dawson for spreading the word about an interesting article from the New York Times on her Twitter page. The subject of this story is an innovative, educative and compassionate specialist doctor by the name of Dr Chevalier Jackson who practiced in the 19th and 20th centuries in the US. There are many indications to be found in this biographical article that he was autistic. Dr Jackson collected objects that were of central importance to his work. The scientific, historical and curiousity value of this collection is such that it has been preserved in the Chevalier Jackson Foreign Body Collection of the world-famous Mutter Museum at Philadelphia. The doctor's collecting has been described as obsessive, but there is nothing mad or irrational about building a work-based collection that is of lasting value. Autistic obsessions aren't pointless or crazy.

Dr Chevalier's story is the subject of a new book titled "Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration, and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them". I hope to get to read the book sometime, and I would so much love to visit the Mutter Museum.

Down the Hatch and Straight Into Medical History.
New York Times.

January 11, 2011, p.D5 New York edition.
Online January 10, 2011.

Publisher page for the new book
"Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration, and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them." by Mary Cappello
The New Press.

Michelle Dawson at Twitter



Mary Cappello said...

Dear Lili,

I was fascinated to read your post about the possibility of Chevalier Jackson's being autistic. Certainly, I would not suggest that he is crazy, and I don't represent him as such in my book. Really, I was interested in taking a deeply thoughtful and sensitive approach to the complexity of his psychology--what I could understand about him from his writing primarily. I know a bit about autism--based on my experience with my 11 year old autistic nephew, Casey, and my sister in law, his mom, who has devoted her life to autism activism in BC, Canada. I've also read a bit about autism, though I'm certainly no expert on the subject. But I'd really be interested in continuing this conversation with you and your community. Now that you bring it up, I do have thoughts about whether Jackson could be considered autistic or not, and I'd love to share those with you and hear your insights. I'm guest blogging for Powells books this week, and maybe I will include the question in one of my blogs before the week is out, and provide a link to your query. Thank you again for making me think about this! Mary Cappello, author of SWALLOW

Lili Marlene said...

I should really be in bed at this hour, but in the heat we go nocturnal.

You have written another book about awkwardness, Ms Cappello? There seems to be a common theme running through your work :-)

I don't deserve the credit (or blame) for seeing possible autism in the account of Dr Jackson. I think the fact that Michelle Dawson mentioned the doctor in a Twitter tweet strongly suggests that she saw this first - see it here: http://twitter.com/autismcrisis

Ms Capello, I'm surprised that you don't represent the doctor as autistic in your book, based on the description in the newspaper article. Do you speculate in your book about why Dr Jackson had a cold manner, was a very keen collector and was seriously bullied as a child?

Heaps of biographers of eccentric genius types speculate about autism /Asperger syndrome in books these days. I've waded through stacks of biographies in the course of compiling my big list of famous people who are, might be or could have been autistic. You can see it here: http://incorrectpleasures.blogspot.com/2006/09/referenced-list-of-famous-or-important.html

Ms Cappello, if you write anything about Dr Jacksonin relation to the autistic spectrum, I'd love to know about it. You can leave a comment here if you like. Link to me all you like!

Here's a tip about writing about the autistic spectrum - many of us don't like to be described as "sufferers" with a "disorder". I personally don't mind being described as an autist or an autistic who has a neurological condition. I'm happy with the term "loner" but many aren't. If this was already obvious, I apologize.

Lili Marlene said...

I'm also happy to use the term "obsession" or "autistic obsession" although I do understand that the term has some negative connotations. I think it is time to reclaim lots of words.