Autism TBR Pile Review: Stim – An Autistic Anthology, edited by Lizzie Huxley-Jones

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Hardcover, First Edition, 216 pages
Published 2020 by Unbound
ISBN13: 9781783529025

Around one in one hundred people in the UK are autistic, yet there remains a fundamental misunderstanding of what autism is. It is rare that autistic people get to share their own experiences, show how creative and talented and passionate they are, how different they are from media stereotypes.

This insightful and eye-opening collection of essays, fiction and visual art showcases the immense talents of some of the UK’s most exciting writers and artists – who just happen to be on the spectrum. Here they reclaim the power to speak for themselves and redefine what it means to be autistic.

Stim invites the reader into the lives, experiences, minds of the eighteen contributors, and asks them to recognise the hurdles of being autistic in a non-autistic world and to uncover the empathy and understanding necessary to continue to champion brilliant yet unheard voices. 

My review

When Lizzie was hawking this book around Twitter, trying to get enough backers on Unbound, I asked to be put on the list for a gifted copy – that is, I was too poor at the time to support the book but if someone paid for an extra copy for someone without funds then I would be in with a chance of getting one.

I did, and I’ve been meaning to read it for a while, but blog tours and my job got in the way. But in the last few days I’ve managed to get up to date with the blog tours for March and have some breathing room so I read Stim.

I laughed, I cried, a lot, I enjoyed the stories and the art work, it was so refreshing to read other peoples’ experiences of life and see my own reflected back. People from many places and with different support needs. The only thing they had in common was a diagnosis of autism/Asperger’s Syndrome/ASC/ASC/whatever we’re being labelled as these days.

This is a weighty little book, nice texture to the pages, right size for carrying around. I love the cover, it’s not overwhelming or too bright. The resources at the end might be useful for a reader who isn’t autistic.

Autistic people are quite capable of telling their own stories, whether in words, pictures or gestures, and this book shares some of them.

Feeling the need to journal – Anxiety 2021

Happy New Year. How’s everyone doing?

My anxiety has been high, unfortunately. Lockdown 3 has been a sudden change. I do not like sudden changes. It messes with my head. After the interruption to routine that is the Christmas and New Year break, I was looking forward to getting back to swimming this week.

The sudden imposition of lockdown at midnight on Monday/Tuesday meant that the pool was closed and my plans were thrown out of the window. I need to swim because it provides structure to my week, aerobic exercise that I enjoy in the form of walking and swimming, and a sensory environment that I find soothing. Warm tiles, the smell of chlorine, the all-around pressure of the water on my body, floating and stretching my muscles and lungs. It’s absolutely the best thing for my brain.

The state of the world isn’t helping, although my dogs are. Ezzie has taken up standing next to me when I’m at my desk and keeping her eye on me all the time. Gyfa takes over at night. She has a bed in my room and likes to climb into bed with me until I fall asleep.

I last left the house on Sunday when I had to go to the shop to get dog food. I have to go out later to get more dog food. I’ve spent the last three days persuading myself that it’s safe to go out to walk the dogs. We’ve just been out for a half hour walk, though so I managed to push through it. I need to go out with them again tomorrow or Sunday. I’m dealing with the anxiety of other people, the dogs being reactive and people treating us badly because they’re reactive, with dogs off their leads running at us and the dogs feeling threatened.

I’m scared of humans generally anyway, but there is a level of judgmentalism by dog owners at times. Ezzie and Gyfa are protective of me and reactive around strange dogs, while my anxiety makes it hard for me to talk, so it can be hard to be around other people and dogs. I prefer going out at dusk when it’s quiet, but I need to go to the shop later. That means I had to take them out earlier than usual.

I’m mentally gearing up to go to the shop. I have my visor ready, my bluetooth headband has a fairly full battery so I can listen to an audiobook and put the visor on. I tried wearing masks but the sensory pain is too much when added to the sensory overload of the shop. I like to go shopping in the evening when it is quieter and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. On Sunday it was rammed; I was not happy, I got so overwhelmed that I had to get a taxi home, and I think that put me in a bad place to start the week.

Every time I have a bad experience I have to treat the next time I do the same thing as though it were the first time and reset my anxiety and routine. It can take a while to feel comfortable again.

I need to rebuild my routine and make it through the lockdown.

The Faraway CIC Launch: My presentation about Autistic Employment Barriers

In December the community interest company I do a bit of research for (supported employment, the DWP know about it), had their official launch and I presented the research I’d done about the employment situation for Autistic adults in North East Lincolnshire.

Yes, that really is my voice.

I had a script and sort of stuck to it, but not all of it. I’ve added it below for people who don’t want to endure my voice or need captions.

Continue reading “The Faraway CIC Launch: My presentation about Autistic Employment Barriers”

Trying to process why I write autistic characters and what I would like to know

I have occasionally joked that I learnt to be human by reading fantasy. What I mean by this is that fantasy explores so many different possible situations, so many different characters, that I was able to learn about human behaviour and psychology. I sometimes even learnt the appropriate responses to situations and why typical people do things that seem nonsensical to me.

Actually, most of the stuff they do is still nonsensical but I try to be tolerant. I’m probably more tolerant of the typical need to make small talk than most people are of my need to not make small talk, for example.

I write autistic main characters most of the time, it is sometimes deliberate, sometimes not. For me it helps to have a character that is trying to navigate a situation and to put myself in their place. I struggle to visualise things so I have to embody that situation instead. I can’t know how the character will react until I put myself there. I can usually work out how the other characters will react though, based on past experiences or reading, e.g. MC gets into an argument because the other person is in the wrong, other person either admits or gets defensive, MC will get upset and other characters will chide them for bringing up something that people don’t want to talk about. Creates conflict.

Or the end of the world is coming, Autistic MC has a sensible, logical plan, everyone else is panicking, how would they react? Baring in mind, my sisters and I regularly plan out what we’d do in even of a zombie apocalypse, and I have seriously considered preparing a go bag and clearing out the cupboard under the stairs to use as an emergency shelter, this is something I can ’embody’ fairly easily.

I have written accidentally autistic characters, who react and process their lives in an unconsciously autistic way and I have also written deliberately autistic characters. The difference is, when it’s deliberate there’s a purpose behind. In my Lucie Burns stories (especially my unfinished Dissertation piece) the purpose was to show a realistic autistic woman as a police officers, in opposition to the less than realistic and sometimes actively harmful depictions of autistic women in books and film/TV.

I’m currently working on a story for my writing group about a forensic psychologist who is autistic and helping to investigate a series of child murders (I go through phases of loving crime fiction and wanting to write crime all the time); I don’t have a defined purpose in this story, I just want to show an autistic person in a situation people might think unlikely – I don’t think people realise we make decent psychologists, teachers, social workers, etc. because they’re ‘people’ jobs and we don’t like people/have no empathy/all that nonsense. Also, I wanted to. I sounded like fun when I first planned the story out. I might even have my two autistic investigators meet in a future story, just for the hell of it. I expect their colleagues would all be ‘oh you’ll like (character), she’s autistic too’ and they don’t hit it off at all. Because we’re all human and different.

I do think representation is important, especially Own Voices representation, because for too long other people, typical people looking from the outside in, have defined us, defined our narrative and told the world they’re the experts. No, we are.

Anyway, I read a bit of fiction written by other autistic writers who also have autistic main characters, and I find it helpful, because other writer present other perspectives. I want to know if it’s deliberate, or their default character writing, I want to know their purpose, and reasoning. Is it hard to write about the difficult parts of being autistic, is it hard to write typical characters. I find my typical characters can be a bit flat, while my autistic characters tend to be more rounded. I actively have to try not to make older male typical characters bigoted boorish drunks, for example. Can’t imagine why…

I want to know about the writing process. I write almost a script first then have to go back and fill in the details, like body language and descriptions. Writing is an active process. I might get flashes of a scene in my brain but then I have to embody it to move beyond that. How do other autistic people work, especially if they have aphantasia?

I never know what my characters look like beyond an outline, and I actively have to pin things down as I write the story. I have face recognition problems if I haven’t seen people often or if I have haven’t seen them in a long time – especially with children. Do other writers have this problem, or do they know write from the start what their characters look like and will do?

How do they cope with characters of different backgrounds? I actively stick to white AFAB main characters, because I can’t begin to know what it’s like to be anything other than that. I have a limited ‘pool’ of friends and where I’m from isn’t diverse, so except for my BFF who is half-Egyptian and who has talked about what that means, and obviously I’ve observed, since we’ve been friends for 25 years, I don’t have much reference material. I don’t think it would be right for me to write a character from a different background if I couldn’t get a really detailed understanding of what it’s like to be someone who isn’t a white, working class AFAB person. I have an intellectual understanding of people’s experiences with discrimination and different cultural backgrounds but not the visceral understanding. I need to visceral understanding to embody a character. Is that just me, am I limited in my ability to ‘put myself in others’ shoes’ or is it a common thing?

Do autistic people, as readers and writers, use fiction to form their identity, as part of autistic culture or as a human in general? How does fiction help with this identity formation?

There’s so many questions, and I don’t know how to get the answers. I want to do a PhD on autistic writers and their autistic characters, but I don’t know how to phrase what I want to study, I don’t know where to start with applying for PhDs, either. It’s such a niche area, who would I even talk to?

Luckily, a new ‘neurodiversity and literature’ list serv has been started so I can ask them. If I get my courage up to ask all these academics with scary qualifications and careers.

Review: Explaining Humans, by Dr Camilla Pang

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This book is truly exceptional. Applying science to the problems of human relationships, the perils of perfectionism and the pitfalls of social etiquette, Millie has written a joyous, funny and hugely insightful text for all of us – whether neurotypical or neurodiverse. This ‘outsiders guide to the human race’ is warm, witty and a joy to read.’ Prof Gina Rippon, Cognitive neuroscientist/autism researcher and author of The Gendered Brain.

Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at the age of eight, Camilla Pang struggled to understand the world around her and the way people worked. Desperate for a solution, Camilla asked her mother if there was an instruction manual for humans that she could consult. But, without the blueprint to life she was hoping for, Camilla began to create her own. Now armed with a PhD in biochemistry, Camilla dismantles our obscure social customs and identifies what it really means to be human using her unique expertise and a language she knows best: science.

Through a set of scientific principles, this book examines life’s everyday interactions including:

– Decisions and the route we take to make them;
– Conflict and how we can avoid it;
– Relationships and how we establish them;
– Etiquette and how we conform to it.

Explaining Humans is an original and incisive exploration of human nature and the strangeness of social norms, written from the outside looking in. Camilla’s unique perspective of the world, in turn, tells us so much about ourselves – about who we are and why we do it – and is a fascinating guide on how to lead a more connected, happier life. 

Continue reading “Review: Explaining Humans, by Dr Camilla Pang”

Autistic need for sameness: an intrinsic part of autism or a soothing mechanism to cope with anxiety?

I might have mentioned I’m doing a course with the Distance Learning Unit at Grimsby Institute at the moment. It’s a free one, ‘Level 2 Understanding Autism’, and I’ve been getting a bit frustrated by the way the first part presents autism. For instance the insistence on using, even when it makes things linguistically and grammatically awkward, the phrase ‘individuals with autism’, rather than ‘autistic people’. The organisations they recommend to find out further information are ones run by non-autistic people. And they have an extremely poor description of neurodiversity. Seriously, the learning material are really out of date.

By about thirty years.

Continue reading “Autistic need for sameness: an intrinsic part of autism or a soothing mechanism to cope with anxiety?”