‘Out of My Mind’ is a children’s novel written as a first-person narrative by Melody, an eleven-year-old girl who is limited in her movement and speech due to cerebral palsy. Melody provides the reader with insights into her life and the way she is discriminated against by others. At the beginning of the novel, Melody shares the impact of her disability on her life:
‘I can’t talk. I can’t walk. I can’t take myself to the bathroom. Big bummer.’ (Draper 2010 p. 3)
The greatest challenge faced by Melody is that because she is unable to speak verbally, her intelligence is underestimated. Consequently, a doctor announces to Melody’s mother:
‘…it is in my opinion that Melody is severely brain damaged and profoundly retarded….You can choose to keep her at home, or you can send her to a special school for the developmentally disabled…You can also decide to put Melody in a residential facility where she can be cared for an kept comfortable.’ (Draper 2010 p. 22-24)
This novel describes Melody’s journey in finding her voice through Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). It has striking similarities to ‘Everything I Never Said’ by Samantha Wheeler, as both are first-person narratives from disabled girls who are non-speaking but who are desperately seeking a way to communicate the rich ideas within their minds. As well, both were written by mothers of disabled children. However, there is one significant difference. Samantha Wheeler’s book skilfully draws on the social model of disability to convey that the obstacles to inclusion are within the environment. In contrast, Sharon Draper’s book attempts to convey a similar idea but fails.
Part of the failure of Draper’s novel is the outdated language, concepts and ideas about disability that perpetuate the idea of the ‘other’. For example, disability slurs such as ‘retarded’, ‘spazzed out’, and ‘idiot’ are peppered throughout the text yet are never challenged in any way. There is an acceptance of offensive language and overt discrimination, even though Draper claims that her book promotes disability acceptance and inclusion. The concept of ‘inclusive education’ is poorly presented within the text. Melody is allowed to attend ‘inclusion classes’ with ‘normal students’. These classes are simply poor examples of integration, where large numbers of students from segregated classes are provided with the irregular opportunity to visit a general education class with a teacher assistant. The general education teacher refers to the disabled students as ‘guests’; there is no concept of being valued or belonging within the class. There is also no concept of ‘natural proportions’, which is a crucial feature of inclusive education, where the natural proportions of disability in society are replicated within classrooms. In Melody’s class, the students with disability were congregated together in ways that are not helpful.
I’m unsure whether the failure of ‘Out Of My Mind’ is due to cultural differences, as the book was published in the United States and language of disability varies from Australian terminology. I also wondered if the novel was set in a previous era, but if so, this is never made clear within the text. Either way, I do not recommend this book for children as it reinforces stereotypes and tropes while failing to challenge to status quo.