The autism spectrum is called a spectrum "disorder" (though I prefer to say we are different, not disordered!) for a reason. Autism Spectrum "Disorder" (ASD) is diverse, specific, individual, and widely varying. We autistics contain multitudes, and our lives are not well-represented in the media, fiction or film. As a late-diagnosed autistic woman, I seek to destigmatize what we call neurodiversity (a diversity of neurology) and to break down ableist barriers that view autistics as less capable, human, and worthy of opportunity, independence, and love.
“Don't turn away. Keep your gaze on the bandaged place. That's where the light enters you.” — Rumi
August 4, my first #OwnVoices romance, Always Only You (Bergman Brothers #2) will be out in the world. Writing & publishing my first autistic character is both a pride & a vulnerability—it’s not just gazing on my bandaged place but inviting you to gaze there, too.
While I’ve shared here before, I don’t often talk about the fact that I’m on the autism spectrum (ASD), my diagnosis aligning formerly with Asperger’s.
Do you know how I recognized that I was on the spectrum—what led me to seek and receive formal diagnosis?
I read a romance novel.
AUTISM AWARENESS MONTH is almost over, but before it ends, I wanted to spend more time talking about autism in fiction & life. For this photo, I pulled the only romances about autistic people that I know of & support either as #OwnVoice stories or as well-researched, compassionate portrayals.
I’ve got only one problem with this tiny stack. I want more. More opportunities to broaden understanding & empathy in the transformative experience of reading.
I tried to read a book recently that purports to be about love featuring a woman with autism but wasn’t written by a woman with ASD. Could be that it was based off of someone the author knew but it’s dangerous to rely on such narrow material as one person when you’re representing something as historically ill-understood and nuanced. If I had to narrow down my grievance with the woman’s characterization here it is: it was a stereotype, jammed full of every type of social faux-pas and impulse control failing a person with autism might have, including portraying the woman as emotionless and callous, wrapped up in a bow of a damaging love triangle.
It’s Autism Awareness Day & for those who don’t know, I’m autistic! I was diagnosed a year ago & today I’m sharing my perspective in the hope of broadening understanding & empathy.
I think of autistics as bearers of the Mona Lisa Smile. We’re among you, but not quite the same, carrying bittersweet mystery beneath our surface. Inside us is a sense that the world is counterintuitive—words aren’t literal, expressions confuse, noises startle & our soothing movements are considered “odd”. Inside some is tenderness for animals, in others a sense of patterns, in many solitude & unexplainable feeling. We can’t handle lots of relationships but we love deeply. When we love you we must learn you—the meaning of your jokes & expressions, your behavior & tone, in the pursuit of loving intimacy.
Six months ago, weeks after I joined this platform as an author, I sat across the desk of an evaluating psychologist who told me what I’d known in my bones my whole life—I’m different.
Specifically, I have autism. Autism Spectrum Disorder, which affects my ability to navigate the loud, crammed, social, subtle world through which I’ve been swimming upstream.
The moment he told me, I was relieved. I can only tell you that to go from a confused little girl who doesn’t understand why loud noises make her scream, why jump scares make her weep, why tags and seams feel like knives in her skin, why the need for a deep hard hug and no featherlight touch is who she is...
Here are some highly recommended autism resources endorsed and informed by the neurodiverse! Please take their critique of organizations, verbiage, and attitudes seriously, even if it makes you uncomfortable. As with any marginalized group, there are often nonrepresentative voices trying to speak for us. To make true gains in autism and neurodiversity acceptance and understanding, we must be given the platform, open ear, and respect we deserve to inform others:
- Autistic Self Advocacy Network: Nothing About Us Without Us
- Autism diagnosis discrepancies between boys and girls explained (hint: it’s socially upheld & medical gender bias, not genetics)
- Spectrum News: In particular, "The Cost of Camoflauging" and "Women with Autism Hide Complex Struggles Behind Masks"
- Healthline Article: "Why I Fake Being Normal"
- Child Mind Institute: "Why Do Many Autistic Girls Go Undiagnosed?"
- Fiction: The Kiss Quotient, The Bride Test, The Girl He Used to Know, and The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie
- Nonfiction: 22 Things A Woman with Asperger's Syndrome Wants Her Partner to Know and Aspergirls: Empowering Female's With Asperger Syndrome. Also, Funny, You Don't Look Autistic. On my To-Read that looks promising: NeuroTribes