Autistic Voices: An Echo

I’ve been reading. That’s not news really. I’m always reading. I used to read voraciously and quickly, but ten years ago I changed my style. Why would I rush through words that I love, when I can pause and savour them? Where’s the logic in that. 

Sometimes my autism makes me repeat lines over and over. It’s like a mental record-skipping. If it’s really bad I will have to turn the page and miss out on lovely words, just to get to others. I’m not sure what makes it catch like that, but it does, and I work with it. 

People have colours and shapes that match their personalities. I don’t need to have met them for my brain to make its assumptions. 

Warmth is rich and vibrant and rounded. 

Cold is sharp and grey and distant. 

And everything in between. 

I have never met Laura James, but through social-media interactions she was awarded a deep green, rounded edges and straight lines. 

Not the sharp green of thorns, but the warm green of sun-drenched, dry moss on Summer bare feet. 

Some of my favourite people are green. It symbolises a connectedness to me, an intelligence and knowledge of how things fit together, a positivity, an easy-going forwardness. The darker the better. 

I’ve been reading Laura’s new book, “Odd Girl Out”. Its rich detail suits me. The sheep-shape of spilled milk is imagery I savour. Multilayered and reinforced. 

There are two things I’m enjoying analysing as I read; the parallels and the crossed lines. 

We are all different, with different viewpoints and angles for viewing the world, and yet Laura echoes my own comparisons between us and the Princess and the Pea (Blog Post Here). All the same angles are there beneath the surface. 

It saddens me that Laura never found the true value of the Sindy doll: her feet were the most delightful things to chew on; soft rubber with firm plastic bone beneath. Sensory loveliness. 

We share creating stories about strangers. Writing their backgrounds, making assumptions about couples. Creating contained worlds wherever I go. 

We share reading books over and over again. I shall like this book more the second time around. I will absorb different angles, notice different nuances. With the “story” out of the way, I can focus on the “journey”. 

There are differences too: dancing is at my core. Not good-dancing, but passionate-dancing. I throw myself into it with everything I am. I will dance here and there and everywhere, to the beat of the rhythm in my head. 

Unlike Laura, I was lucky at school that education came easily to me. I used facts to focus away from people for a while. I loathed anyone but me or the teacher speaking and interrupting my brain. But, similarly, I also had many superficial friendships, and struggled when people tried to get closer to me. I would suffocate in their warmth. I stayed closest to those who kept me at arm’s length. 

Primary school was a wonder of everyone making up their own rules, in secondary school that all changed and I was lost. I was once taken under the wing of a group of teen girls in my year who loved fashion and beauty. I let them dress me up, like their doll. They paraded me around as their protégée and people gasped, like I was Sandy in the final scene of Grease. 

But I didn’t understand. I couldn’t touch it. The clothes pushed me this way and that. The earrings too heavy, the makeup too cloying. 

“I could be one of them.” I thought, “All I have to do is be slightly uncomfortable forever. I can do that.”  

I couldn’t do that. I pulled my green Doc Martens back on. I slipped away from them, as I’d slipped away from many before. Later I would suffer their wrath. Another confusion. Another injustice. So many rules and no instruction manual. How could anyone be offended by how I wore my hair? Or that I’d rather listen to Meatloaf or The Pixies than Take That?

At the same time I needed people. I envy Laura her ease in escaping alone. They’re one of my coping mechanisms. I use them as a focus. A familiar face by my side and I can put all my processing on them. I will not worry about new places or variety or bright lights; their presence will shine more brightly. In my own way I have more social needs than most. All I ask is to borrow your face, to keep it beside me, is that so bad?

Laura is right, we are not built for the cruelties of the teen years. 

I am writing this before I’ve finished reading. It feels like another social faux pas, but I’m working on going with my mood. Now is the moment that the words started flowing, and stemming them goes against the point of this book. 

Unless the final page ends with “Then I woke up.” then there is nowhere this can go that I won’t follow. And it doesn’t, because I broke other rules and have read the ending, as I often do, just to track the paths better. 

Laura’s writing beautifully intermingles personal experience with the words of Autism Professionals. She brings them in, gently, to create the wider balance of Autistic people. It doesn’t jar. It flows. 

“Odd Girl Out” is raw and honest. It has a personal touch that makes me not want to splurge its intimacy here. It feels like a friend has confided in me, and although she’s happy for me to share all that with you, I want to say, “Actually you should really hear it all straight from Laura.” 

I was diagnosed a couple of months after Laura. I am still tormented by the words in my diagnosis that read, “Doesn’t always respond correctly to others’ non-verbal cues.” Not because I don’t think it’s true, but because if I knew what cues they were, I could practise and perfect them!

I am always astounded by the similarities between other late-diagnosed autistic women and me. The paths we have travelled, alone, were all just a stone’s throw from each other. What might the world have been if we could have pushed through that invisible screen and found each other sooner?

It brings me great joy to know that books like this are being written and published. Our stories need telling. 

On the same day as “Odd Girl Out” appeared, Rachael Lucas’s “The State of Grace” was published too. I was lucky enough to hear Rachael do a reading last week. Warmth and beauty spring forth from both book and author. We need something for the younger autistic girl to see herself mirrored. Another image to make the world a truer reflection of life. 

There are many fantastic Autistic authors out there fighting to be heard. It’s not easy when the world of publishing means inescapable interaction. 

I wish “State of Grace” had been around for me when I was a lost and strange little girl. I wish I had been able to see women like Laura and Rachael. 

Change the story and you change the world. 

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