One of my hobbies is collecting books by autistic people. At this point, I don’t even always read them, but I love to obtain them, put them on the shelf, and keep them in order.
Anyway, one of my aims for several years now has been to create a searchable index so that other autistic people (or other interested people) can pick out books more easily by any of a number of subjects. I thought of the idea because people were always asking me “How can I find a book by an autistic person that…” “…addresses this particular subject,” “…has this particular interest,” “…had this particular experience,” “…had this particular label,” or else actually lamenting the idea that books didn’t exist by autistic people on those subjects/interests/experiences/labels (when in fact the books did exist, the person had just never heard of them — it’s only a relative few autiebiographies and such that people tend to know about, out of over a hundred that actually exist).
The problem is, this is a project better suited to an entirely different set of skills than the one I have.
I have a lot of trouble reading books for immediate comprehension, which is the sort of reading you have to be doing in order to scan through a book and write down how each subject category you’re doing pertains to the book (or even one subject category). I’m far better skimming through it, having no clue what I just read, and later finding that when someone asks me “Can you find me a book by an autistic person who’s into Dr. Who?” and then remembering the spot on my bookshelf that that book goes, going and grabbing it, and finding that it’s a book by Will Hadcroft. Or someone asking me about people who discuss employment, and going, grabbing a whole pile of books, and writing the names down.
It’s much harder to get the systematic sort of index that I want to make. On the employment issue, for instance. I would want to make a list of books by a number of categories:
- Employment status of the author
- Jobs the author holds or has held
- Books that instruct about employment
- Books that give experiences of employment
- Books that are primarily about employment
First off, I see all sorts of areas where the categories are imperfect, and this drives me nuts. I am horrible at categorizing things because of this. Not, as some autism “experts” would have it, because I’m “incapable of seeing the big picture.” But rather because my version of the “seeing the big picture” does not involve cutting out the real information and substituting in an abstract thought for a whole variety of actual pieces of reality that may not, under closer examination, fit the abstract thought. (Which seems to me to be what autism “experts” always mean by “seeing the big picture”, which might be why so many autism “experts” are so clueless about autistic people.)
Second off, even if I establish categories and such, this requires going through the entirety of every single book searching for how this particular book fits into that category. This requires reading for immediate conscious comprehension, which is not my best form of reading, as I mentioned. It requires then, while struggling to get through the actual book (while the entire world seems to be turning into a headachy blur of little black squiggles) reaching over and writing things down whenever they become important. It requires not suddenly seeing something else in the book that I need to remember for a later category and trying to write that down in addition to or instead of the original category. And it requires doing this to over a hundred books, where each new book just adds to being overloaded.
I have tried this several ways. I’ve tried it as “Pick category, go through, write down information, go on to next book.” I’ve tried it as “Pick book, write down every conceivable important piece of information for every single category for that book.” I’ve tried combinations and variations on those two ideas. Invariably, I end up with books everywhere in sight and totally overloaded (to the point of starting to throw the books across the room or hiding under my blankets trying not to look at them). And this is supposed to be a hobby, something I do for fun. Good grief.