The Feeling’s Unmutual: Growing Up with Asperger Syndrome (Undiagnosed) consistently reminded me of several people I have known, or still know. I keep wanting to recommend it to all of them. For whatever reason, all the people it reminds me of are male, as is the author.
I found out that he’s the same person who wrote Anne Droyd and Century Lodge, which I’m now going to have to remember to put on the booklist. It’s a children’s book with at least one character who seems autistic. But he wrote and published it before he knew anything about autism.
I think what I liked the most about it was that he interposes his thoughts — for a long time, unfortunately, thoughts of confusion and self-loathing — in his descriptions of events throughout his life. He talks about being a kid who loved Doctor Who and proselytizing his religion, but didn’t know how to really talk to most people, and had few friends. He was regarded as “a little slow” at school. It’s really a very common sort of story, in a way — I wasn’t kidding when I said it reminded me of a lot of people I know — but it’s well-told.
(Note: “Common” isn’t an insult here. My sort of life story is very common too, and one of the reasons, among many others, that I’ve never written it is because others have already covered the same ground better than I could and I’m interested in writing about different things than that, if I’m going to embark on a lengthy writing project.)
Finding a Different Kind of Normal: Misadventures with Asperger Syndrome is another good and fairly recent autiebiography. The woman who wrote it is an artist who grew up with a very rebellious personality, and did a lot of things and joined a lot of causes more to rebel than because of her beliefs. She eventually ended up in prison, and talks a lot about her experiences there, where she later made a strong effort to return after realizing it may have been one of the few places she felt like she belonged.
Donna Williams writes an introduction to this, that urges people (including autistic people) not to blast the author for telling this story, which she says is less “acceptable” than many of the other autistic people’s stories that are published out there in print. I’m not sure why that’s necessary. I don’t see anything particularly wrong with this story. It’s certainly less standard than, say, Will Hadcroft’s story, but just as there’s nothing wrong with standard, there’s nothing wrong with non-standard either.
These are both books, I think, that are primarily about people, not “Hello, this is my life and this is how it fits into the DSM.” I’m sure some people will dissect them for DSM-style characteristics (and not just of autism), because that’s what people do, but that’s not what the authors themselves are doing. (Will Hadcroft even has a “Hadcroft Syndrome” at the end of his book that is very similar to “Neurotypical Syndrome”.)
I think that’s my main criterion for what I like in autiebiographies, before I start looking at whether I agree with the authors on various things or not. Does this read like an autistic person, or a textbook’s dissection of an autistic person. I have another book I haven’t read yet, but that is written by an autistic person and two non-autistic people. It seems like it’s going to be a textbook-type “here is a case study of an autistic person” book, and like I’m therefore not going to enjoy it nearly as much. The issue there isn’t whether someone is stereotypical or not, but whether their life story is doctored to the stereotypes or not, which is at times a subtle difference but a very important one.
I think a lot of autistic people I’ve known, particularly a certain sort (that I have no name for, but that seem to get along with each other well and that are unlike me in many ways, like me in a few ways, and again for whatever reason mostly male), would really see themselves in Will Hadcroft’s book. At least, I see them a lot in his book.
Both of these books are fairly standard autiebiographies, in that their purpose is to tell a story and they tell it from a point of view that is acceptable to most readers. They’re well in the range of things that aren’t going to make people too uncomfortable in their basic viewpoints about the world. But they’re also fairly good ones, and there are other reasons to write books than to do that. I liked them.