Two interesting autiebiographies


The Feeling's Unmutual 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 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.

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

15 responses »

  1. They both sound excellent.

    I would probably particularly like to read Hadcroft’s because I get involved with TV series like that too, the latest was probably Doctor Who which was reshown in Australia from 2003 to last year.

  2. “Common” is the word to highlight here for me, though you write about it’s referred to hear in parentheses–and also “misadventures.” I guess it is really three books you note here–

  3. Pingback: Autism Vox

  4. Ah, another ‘Doctor Who’ fan! You might like to know (apologies BTW as this is going to be an off topic post) that I’ve just watched episode 1 of the new series with David Tennant and Billie Piper here in the UK and it was totally fantastic! No doubt you’ll get it over in Australia in the near future.

  5. That’s all right. I hope you don’t mind Ballastexistenz.

    We have. We had it last July onwards. (July 2005).

    The new Doctor Who is as great as the old Doctor Who. The Davison episodes drag a bit so we had a reference. I think I like Baker best too (Tom). And also the Second Doctor and Pertwee.

    I wonder if the Americans have seen the new Doctor Who?

    And there’s going to be a series two. Do you already have it?

    I think the rebel rebel feel of Jeanette Purkiss’s autiebiography reminds me of my favourite stories, characters and legends. I like people who go against the rules, probably because I live such a conformist life myself.

    I wonder if the Hadcroft type is like Danny in Loving Mr Spock? But there’s a difference in the telling, which does hit on your subtle point about sterotypes which people reading these books for the first time might not get.

    Would love to see the Tennant series. I thought you were talking about the first of the new series. Oh dear my TARDIS isn’t working. I hope we do get it. I’ve been Who-less for a while and not been able to keep up with that world.

    I wonder how Hadcroft felt when he missed an episode?

  6. Part of Hadcroft’s book described him being persuaded to miss an episode of Doctor Who. He ended up in a decidedly awful social event or something, and vowed never to be persuaded to miss one again.

    Incidentally, the back of his book contains an endorsement by Colin Baker. :-)

  7. Yes I was talking about the first episode of season 2 with Tennant, whereas you are clearly talking about season 1 with Christopher Ecclestone. As the series is made by the BBC, it gets broadcast here in Britain first. I suspect you’ll get season 2 this summer, practically as soon as it finishes here in Britain. And of course, there’s a third series next year!

  8. Hello!

    Just thought I’d drop you lot a line and let you know I’ve been reading your blog. I must say,
    Ballastexistenz, that I’m deeply touched by your admiration for “The Feeling’s Unmutual”. I’m
    wondering if we perhaps met at the recent conference in Liverpool or if you wrote to me, because
    you say you’ve just discovered I wrote “Anne Droyd” too. Every child to date (autie and non-autie alike)
    who has read that book seems to love it. Hopefully the agent that I have just approached to represent
    me will recognise it and sign me up.

    As for “Doctor Who”, I was indeed utterly appalled when I missed an episode (“The Mark of the Rani”
    Part One if you’re curious!)to see Ken Dodd in panto (I would enjoy Dodd’s proper act immensely
    though). I also missed an episode of “Enlightenment” when I was killing time waiting for the
    episode to start. I killed too much time! Boy, was I frustrated with myself!!

    I utterly adore (for the most part) the revival of Doctor Who. The first full David Tennant
    story “New Earth” was great fun. And escapist – which is why the Aspie is drawn to it.

    Check out my “Anne Droyd” Yahoo group if you can. The more impressive my ‘following’ appears to
    be online the better.

    Thanks again for your comments.


  9. Oh right. Well thanks for the comments then and for buying my book.
    I’ve just remembered that I devote a whole chapter to “Anne Droyd” in
    “Unmutual”, so that will be how you ‘discovered’ I am the same author!
    It takes time, but I get there. :)


  10. Just been looking at your blog…
    Thanks for reviewing my book, – greatly appreciated, and you said such nice things!
    As a kid I was very into Doctor Who and was devastated when my Dad took us all along to watch him giving blood when the Tom Baker Doctor character died! I was filled with resentment at him for months afterwards and have never seen that episode (we didn’t have a VCR in the early 80’s and at the time I have difficulty with the concept of watching something from the TV at a later time). I’ve sort of left my Doctor Who fascination behind me, but did enjoy the new series that we saw here in Australia last year – not sure when the second series will be here though.

  11. A lot of people judge people badly for violating social norms in a way they can control more than they judge people for violating social norms if they “can’t help it”. So the things about Jeanette being rebellious means certain people are likely to judge her worse than an aspie who didn’t rebel in those ways. For example as a communist I’ve been hurt by anti-communist sentiments that seem to differ from anti-autistic sentiments by being less pitying and more hating, because I chose to hold the viewpoint that people should give what they can and get what they need rather than giving what they’re forced to or want to and getting what they can. I chose to be a communist but didn’t chose to be autistic, so the fact that I’m autistic is likely to be viewed as less of a character fault and more of a tragic affliction compared to being a communist.

  12. Wow, you’re popular enough to get comments from a famous author and spam comments in the same blog entry..:)

    I liked Will Hadcroft’s book as well, I read it in college. I don’t remember where I found it as it doesn’t seem to be one of the more immediately available or known autiebiographies (or at least it took me a while to find it), but was good to read. I wonder if I put it on my list.
    Incidentally I enjoy autiebiographies quite a bit and read about 40 of them, more or less, until I ran out. I would greatly enjoy reading any new ones that came out or any that I had missed over. (List on website that is linked to here if anyone is interested.) I liked almost everything I read, save for a few, they all had their own ways of telling a story.

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