Dissertation Update: Week 5

A couple of days late, I know, but I was busy Tuesday and spent a lot of Wednesday asleep, recovering.

Anyway. I wrote 2000 words about the representation of autistic women in crime fiction, only to be told by my supervisor that I was doing it wrong. So that essay got put to one side and I re-wrote it, covering a range of subjects in relation to my dissertation. I’ve sent that, and an updated draft of the creative piece off on Wednesday morning.

On Sunday, before all that, I got an email with feedback. As usual, the supervisor doesn’t like Lucie or the murderer. I accepted that there was something flat about the murderer, because in the first 13,000 words I’d been concentrating on setting up the situation and establishing Lucie. What I didn’t appreciate was being told Lucie wasn’t recognisably autistic.

I may have been a bit blunt in my response email:

I have written Lucie based on my own, and other women’s experiences of being autistic. If you are unfamiliar with autistic women it may not be immediately obvious that she is, but to those who know or are autistic women, it is. Current representations of autistic women in popular culture are limited to socially-inept autistic savants, an unrealistic stereotype. The vast majority of autistic women are not Sheldon Cooper with breasts and I’m not writing Lucie as such just because the rest of the world are too ignorant to look past stereotypes created by non-autistic people about autistic people. She needs to be realistic, to widen popular representations of autistic women beyond the ‘autistic savant’-type, because there are autistic police officers and to provide a role model for those autistic women who aren’t Saga Noren. That’s what I’m trying to do with this character.


My description of her autistic traits goes beyond the ‘likes pattern and order’ you mentioned:

  • She is described reacting to sensory stimulation in several chapters. Sensory Processing Disorder is a common co-morbid condition, as is anxiety. She mitigates her processing problems with the use of noise-cancelling headphones
  • She stims, tapping and running her fingers across patterns and materials
  • She blocks out visual stimuli in meetings and in busy rooms so that she can concentrate on her work or the meeting by looking at her computer screen and by building her file fort
  • She has hyper focused on the idea that someone at Witham View is the murderer and is ignoring the other lines of enquiry. This is based on her putting together small clues that others have missed, and looking at it from a different angle. Her autism is relevant because it helps her see the case differently.
  • She struggles with social interaction and communication, forgetting her carefully learnt ‘scripts’ when tired or stressed, and oversharing personal information with colleagues. This causes conflict with her colleagues and will be a subplot that evolves through the full length novel. This is where her autism is also relevant.
  • She has a limited sense of danger – wandering around Lincoln, a place she doesn’t know well, in the early hours of the morning to take photographs in the rain because she enjoys photography and needs to relax.
  • She’s blunt, although she’s learn to hold back when dealing with witnesses – for instance in her conversation with Vera. And it is a learnt behaviour, she doesn’t have the instinctive ability to gauge other people that neurotypical people have.

These are recognisably autistic traits. Your response was the equivalent of ‘but you don’t look autistic’, an insulting comment the majority of autistic women hear at least once in their lives that is used to dismiss their experience of autism because it doesn’t fit with the stereotypes.

I have yet to hear back, either about this complaint or my dissertation drafts; I suspect my dissertation supervisor is ignoring me now. I added extra stuff, making it obvious when Lucie was stimming and her anxiety about dealing with work colleagues. I felt like I had to exaggerate to appease the ignorant.

I don’t like humans very much, at times.

Some of you are okay, I suppose.

30 Dogs Sleeping Like Awkward Doofuses - The BarkPost
Not my dog. I found it doing an image search and thought it was cute.

In other news, I went to my first Adult Autism Forum Cafe on Tuesday evening (after going to craft club in the afternoon); the topic was supposed to be ‘confidence’ but I ended up on a table with two other women, we drew trees and talked about yarn. One of them got out her spinning so I got out my crochet. It was fun. I think I’m going to go to the sensory group on the 18th and the Forum on the 19th. Also, I have an appointment with a clinical psychologist and a support worker from the High Functioning Autism Service (I didn’t name it – I don’t like the functioning labels) on Tuesday morning to see what support they can offer. I need to write a list.

Right, it’s 5.15 a.m., and I should try to get back to sleep. The dogs are snoring at me.

4 thoughts on “Dissertation Update: Week 5

  1. Sounds like you’re having a really tough time with your supervisor. I guess it’s a difficult balance, trying to authentically represent what it’s like to be autistic while also cluing in readers who don’t know any better.

    1. He’s just emailed to give me more feedback. He said something similar, while I feel like I’m writing a stereotype, but he thinks it’s okay so that people can recognise the character is autistic. I suppose I’ll have to accept it. I need to work more on my essay and the landscape.

      1. Well, I think it’s important to write what feels authentic, especially what feels authentic to your lived experiences. Whatever you end up doing, I hope you don’t lose that.

      2. I plan to write authentically, but I’ve had to play it up with references to her autism explicitly. She makes mental references to her various behaviours in the first 11 chapters. If anyone misses them then they aren’t reading it properly. 😊

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