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Resources for Autistics
by Chris Wayan 2018
This list is embryonic. Broaden it! What's helped you? Send me your recommendations (pro or con!): firstname.lastname@example.org
++ = wow!
+ = worthwhile
- = meh, don't bother
- ++Silberman, Steve: Neurotribes
- The best history of autism I've found. Starts from its dual definers/discoverers: Asperger was really first, but he wrote in German and was suppressed by the Nazis; his American rival Kanner gave Asperger zero credit, pretended he never heard of him, and for decades kept Asperger little-known here. Kanner blamed career moms, insisted autism was rare, & offered little hope. For generations his views prevailed (with fraud Bruno Bettelheim's help) over Asperger's view (based NOT only on gifted autistics; his patients covered the whole spectrum from mild to severe) that autistics can flourish, with sympathetic teachers & unprejudiced neurotypicals; you can't predict outcomes because many "symptoms" are just coping strategies that evaporate if toxins vanish, stresses shrink, or better tactics are learned.
It pays to know your minority's roots. Terminology matters.
Equally liberating: later chapters showing the Web fueling autistic self-awareness, pride, and skepticism about neurotypicals' picture of us. My own list of links and sites (at foot) is largely based on these chapters.
- ++ Grandin, Temple: Thinking In Pictures (introduction by Oliver Sacks)
- Grandin doesn't make the neurotypical error of assuming other autistics won't be reading. She also understands humans from the outside pretty well, really.
Is Thinking objectively her best book, or do I cherish it because it showed me just how autistic I am? I recognized myself. You?
My focus on Thinking in Pictures should not deter you from her other books, especially Animals in Translation and Animals Make Us Human. The latter has fascinating stuff on the evolutionary differences between species' thresholds or triggers for curiosity, fear, loneliness, happiness, anger, play, desire, affection. Quite relevant to autistics; our thresholds are as far from human ones as deer or cats. (I haven't yet read her newest, The Autistic Brain. On order...)
- Highly associative image-based thinking, without much control. It's one of the reasons I need a lot of time alone. Around humans, I'm more than distractable--I'm hijackable.
- Grandin visualizes intensely much the way Tesla did, as I do in dreams--though when I wake that ability's blocked. It's one reason I write and paint dreams so much.
- Terrible facial recognition--Grandin, like Oliver Sacks, who coined the term 'prosopagnosia' for face-blindness, knows people mostly by voice, body language, or unusual features. Me too.
- Strong spatial skills EXCEPT for faces. I rarely get lost or disoriented spatially--just socially! In contrast, Sacks, prosopagnosic but not autistic, also gets lost readily, and he assumed most or all prosopagnosics have trouble navigating. Not true of at least some autistics.
- Audio playback almost note-perfect--"phonographic memory". I rarely play music except when studying it. I don't need to. It's always playing inside.
- Intolerance of touch; feel easily overwhelmed, overstimulated by it. Yet impersonal, controllable pressure or being covered soothes me--an animal safe in a snug den.
- Rocking stretching twitching; stillness causes distress
- Easily overwhelmed, unable to tune out distractions (beepers at a lecture or other voices at a party)
- Simple, unmixed emotions (just primary and secondary colors, so to speak; normals seem layered and muddy.)
- Catlike emotional attachment to places more than to people
- Trouble remembering that others sense and think differently (but then, don't humans project onto us too?)
- Animal fears of being trapped, always noting exits and gates
- Generally reading animal thoughts and emotions better than human ones
- + Solomon, Andrew: Far from the Tree
- Ten ways to be unlike your parents--autistic, deaf, gay, dyslexic, a prodigy... For each, Solomon spends about 100 pages, showing subtypes, community, worldviews, support groups, identity, prejudice, minority pride, separatism vs integration. Autistics should read their own chapter, but I also recommend reading a non-autistic chapter for comparison. Just don't pick prodigies! Solomon shows nine minorities in their full diversity--but for prodigies, he only covers... classical pianists! As if Dickinsons Teslas or Darwins never existed. Weird. Nor does he cover the community's issues as he does for all the others.
- + James, Laura E.: Odd Girl Out.
- I picked this up to explore the intersection of gender and autism, but got sidetracked by something else. Laura James has both Aspergers AND Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, type 3 (hypermobile EDS)--a rare genetic disorder causing weak collagen/connective tissue, rubbery joints prone to dislocation, easily-bruised skin, a risk of aneurisms, and serious digestive problems and food intolerances (also, curiously, a tendency toward careers in music). Since I'm an Aspie with EDS type 3 too, and EDS of any kind is quite rare (1 in several thousand), I just can't dismiss the double genetic whammy as chance. Neither can she. Yet there seems to be little research exploring the correlation between the two syndromes. It makes me wonder if the reason so many clinicians dismiss reports of chemical sensitivity and food intolerances in autistics is that skeptics' autistic patients happen not to have EDS. Yet if you have both, it's real and devastating--as I know firsthand. (First step: eliminate gluten and food additives. Saved my life.)
- + Saltz, Gail: The Power of Different: the Link between Disorder and Genius.
- Like Solomon's Far from the Tree above, Saltz covers a spectrum of mental 'disorders'--as an autistic I'd have said 'abnormalities', since some are quite as orderly as neurotypicals. She argues modest difference spurs originality, though extreme difference hinders it. Best point: successful weirdos spend 80% of their time following passions & talents, and just 20% on remedial drills to fix deficits. "Focus on disability means neglecting talent; that's discouraging AND unproductive." Amen!
It's brief and a bit stereotypic--dyslexics master adversity so they're persistent workers; autistics are good at detail work and routine. Oh? I thought we might like art and science and improving the world, instead of scheming to raise our status a notch in the tribal hierarchy like
chimps neurotypicals. Sorry, that was rude.
The book omits some abnormalities that fit Saltz's theory quite well: 1: Intelligence! Giftedness aids success, but genius is isolating and problematic. Yet she treats intelligence as an unmixed good, upping the odds that weirdos can contribute; she denies it a chapter as a weirdness in its own right. 2: If y'all wouldn't laugh at me for it, I'd say second sight fits, too; it runs in families (like mine) and causes similar problems when severe. Like getting burned as a witch! But I quibble.
- + Higashida, Naoki: The Reason I Jump and Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8
- Higashida, mostly unable to speak, wrote The Reason I Jump at age 13. Short pieces mostly impressive that he went from silence to writer at all. His follow-up, Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8 is stronger I think. But Higashida's views are so specific to Japanese culture (or rather to any monoculture with fine-drawn rules) that their worries about worrying or causing worry may not be too useful to readers in multicultures, where behavior's judged more loosely (in New York (71) he notes this himself). For example, in Anger (45) Higashida thinks most autistics who witness a scolding do grasp personal boundaries, do get that WE'RE not being blamed; but he guesses our stress is a feedback loop of panic at one's own overreaction, at one more failure of self-control. Not so for me! I was raised a hippie, with a quite Japanese need to be considerate; but I lack the need (or even hope) to pass as normal. So I don't get into loops like "I blew it! I'm melting down about melting down". What stresses me is just seeing rage; and if the target feels fear or pain, I feel that too. For me autism is often just being a bared nerve. Overactive mirror cells? Lidless third eye? Well, whatever the reason, painful feelings (expressed or not, directed at me or not) all pierce my weak defenses and hurt me. That fragility is simpler and more drastic than Higashida's. And your pattern may be unlike his or mine. Neurodivergents diverge!
My faves are Higashida's personal experience and tactics, like Hitting My Head and Biting My Clothes (51), "Grooved-In" Failure (56) and Misunderstandings (68), and his comparisons of autistics and normals, like Empathy and Endurance (43) and Loneliness and Autism (44). The short story A Journey is fascinating too. He convincingly gets inside an Alzheimer's patient preparing for death. Sure disproves the claim that autistics can't imagine different minds! (I agree with Higashida that neurotypicals are equally bad at that).
- + Life, Animated (documentary feature, 2016)
- A film showing Owen Suskind's painful climb out of isolation. And his original fall! At three he was sensitive, but generally okay. And then he went silent. By his own account, everyone started talking gobbledygook; his sensory and social world stopped making sense. Except, famously, for Disney animation, which he used to learn about the world; after years he slowly started quoting films to express himself. I sure understand why cartoons attract us! Animation offers a safe world of patient rolemodels (just hit rewind!); clear, vivid body language, expressions and voices; stylized images and sound, pruned of clutter, highlighting vital elements; vivid patterns (catchy music! visual effects!) like candy to our brains; many nonhuman characters, easy for us other nonhumans to empathize with; and scenes orchestrated to be meaningful, even didactic (okay, formulaic in bad films, but I'd argue that, say, the weekly friendship lessons in My Little Pony teach real skills--ones hard to get in "real" (neurotypical-dominated) life, with its competition, tribalism and general chaos). Owen's faith in the Church of Disney hasn't yet led to the Promised Land of full independence, but who says he's done climbing out of the Pit? Took me decades. If I'm out yet.
- + Karasik, Judy & Karasik, Paul: The Ride Together
- A memoir in alternate chapters--plain text by Judy, comics by Paul--about their autistic big brother David; largely how his need for care shaped the whole family. A book aimed mostly for caretakers and family of autistics, but literate autistics ought to try it. I felt some shame--I'm so much better off than David, how dare I complain? And yet even his more extreme behaviors are tactics I recognize, to cope with familiar stresses. I recognize, too, his drive to create, even if his fake TV interviews don't quite work for others. And how language fails us most when it really matters. David can write and perform shows, yet couldn't warn when he was getting hurt; had to wait till physical evidence got that facility busted. I relate; my speech locks only when it's painful or confrontational.
If you like The Ride Together, try David B.'s Epileptic; B's family, too, tied itself into knots seeking a cure for his brother; yet none of the drugs, therapies, diets, gurus or cult communities ever quite delivered.
- - Robison, John Elder: Be Different.
- Book by an aspie who didn't know till middle age, like me. "What? I'm gay?" That sort of identity shock should be riveting... but the writing's blah. The only stuff truly grabbing me were the autism criteria in DSM-IV, spelled out--the gold standard till the controversial DSM-V revision. You're clinical if you score substantially in five of the eight symptom-clusters. I'm well past that, strongly positive in six of the eight. I thought of myself as a sub-clinical autistic, but I'm not--just smart/lucky enough to have found/built a sheltered milieu where I can function. Put me in jail, or a mall, or an army, and I'd collapse. I pass only because I skitter round the edges of human civilization. That was Asperger's main point--even the severest autistic can do well if we can just find nontoxic environments. You?
- - McKibbin, Karen: Life on the Autism Spectrum: A Guide for Girls & Women.
- Female autistics are WAY more common than admitted (one pundit claimed just one-ninth of all cases) because they hide better. A third, half? Unknown. (I know just as many autistic women as men). McKibbin jumps to the conclusion the hiding's innate; girls want to fit in more. Really? I was a boy desperate to hide in the herd like my sisters; but male classmates and teachers simply didn't let me. Geek girls hide because they can; boys get aggressively exposed as defective. Not that hiding works well, in the end; you may avoid active shunning or persecution, but it's exhausting, and you doubt yourself, and get no help or treatment.
- + "Android 0": see Kelman, Nic
- + Chokshi, Roshani: Gilded Wolves.
- Paris at the opening of the Eiffel Tower, in an alternate world where spells work. Great magical houses conspired to end one they see as racially tainted. Chokshi's main concerns are gender and race, but they aren't her characters' only differences: Zofia's an Aspie in a world with no concept of autism yet, and Laila's a magical construct who fears she'll come apart at the seams. My own autism (and that of quite a few others) comes from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a mutation weakening my collagen--less brain-insulation made me a prodigy, but one vulnerable to sensory, emotional or physical overload--joints dislocate and tendons rip! I and other 'zebras' (folks with EDS) were, like Laila, made with weaker glue, and it causes Asperger's like Zofia. Weird to see two facets of me walking around separately in one book...
Nonfictional bio of an EDS Aspie: Laura James's Odd Girl Out.
- + Choldenko, Gennifer: Al Capone Does My Shirts, Al Capone Shines My Shoes and Al Capone Does My Homework:
- Historical trilogy set on Alcatraz during its prison years. The child narrator's big sister Natalie is severely autistic but grows steadily--starts saying "I", starts to make real friends; in Al Capone Shines My Shoes she foils a prison break by spotting the guns are fake when the neurotypicals don't. Kids' books but intelligent ones, with strong characterization and historical research.
- + Dowd, Siobhan: The London Eye Mystery
- Autistic Ted & neurotypical big sister Kat pool talents to figure out how cousin Salim vanished from the big wheel--saving his life in the end. Quite a wonderful ride. I mourned when I learned the author died young; this is all we get.
- + Erskine, Kathryn: Mockingbird (Mok'ing-burd)
- A ten-year-old autistic, Caitlin, loses her best mentor (big brother Devon) in a school shooting. Now she's alone--no friends, Dad lost in grief, Mom dead. Full of strong scenes readable two ways, like: Caitlin sees Josh (whose cousin was one of the shooters) knock down an autistic boy; she scolds Josh... and everyone assumes it's about the shootings. They're right about Josh, who feels tarred by association and is acting out. But Caitlin says "I'm mad at your bullying here and now." Neurotypical readers will likely figure she's autistically blind to displaced feelings; but this autistic reader admired such clearly portrayed neurotypical deafness to Caitlin's blunt honesty.
Erskine can wobble--in one scene Caitlin melts down when told she's like the bullied autistic, who's not verbal; she furiously denies being autistic (while shrieking). I was skeptical. Caitlin's precise and literal; she'd know she's autistic, and scream "I'm not WILLIAM!" And a page or two near the end got preachy--Caitlin discovering Empathy with a capital E; the whole town getting all teary. Sank to a "Kids With Issues, Pull Out Your Tissues" book. But for a KWIPOYT, not bad.
- + Haddon, Mark: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
- A mystery solved by its gifted autistic narrator. Warning for autistic readers: Haddon assumes all his readers are normal, and elbows you about the human stuff his poor geek-narrator misses. Well, half of it left me baffled too. Had those crazy humans been truly explained in autistic terms it'd just as funny AND a better bridge. But I'm carping; still a good read. Still, Aspies wanting to learn from fictional rolemodels might prefer Elizabeth Moon's The Speed of Dark or Reif Larson's The Collected Works of T.S. Spivet.
- - Hatke, Dan: Mighty Jack and Mighty Jack and the Goblin King
- Graphic novels about three kids stumbling into an alien dimension and fighting to get back; one of them, Maddie, is autistic--almost never talks. Vigorous art--Hatke draws expressive figures--but character and story are thin. Maddie's likable but her role's basically to be rescued. Also, her abilities are basically magical--rather than, say, contributing by seeing patterns the others overlook, she turns out to speaks the language of dragons. A little much--like Hatke's giving us a patronizing little peptalk, "Hey, your differences are secret superpowers." Yeah, they are sometimes, but...
- + Hughes, Matthew: The Damned Busters
- A Faust tale about a likable, shy Aspie guy who gets wishes... and tries to fulfill his own na´ve dreams instead of neurotypical ambitions. Quietly subverts the whole human pattern.
- + Kelman, Nic ("Android 0"): How to Pass as Human.
- A scathing graphic novel by Nic Kelman writing as Android 0: alternating chapters of Zach/Android 0's field guide to passing, with his personal misadventures--activated suddenly in Vegas, seeking his creator, finding a friend or maybe lover, outgrowing his creator. The field-guide sections are more interesting to me--funnier, even. A few clear errors and falsehoods in the charts, but some plausible explanations for neurotypical craziness that hadn't occurred to me. Kelman emphasizes their obsessions to belong and puff up status, and those are no surprise... but also laziness/shoddiness and a selfishness born of ignorance, due partly to limited intellect, but partly to sensory limits I don't entirely share either.
- + Larson, Reif: The Collected Works of T.S. Spivet
- Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet is a 12-year-old science prodigy stuck on a ranch. He thinks in patterns, maps and charts. His journey from Montana to the Smithsonian as a hobo-geek is funny but genuinely heroic too. Reif Larson's maps and charts are brilliant--and central to the character and the story, not grace notes.
So--a question for y'all. T.S. Spivet, like Temple Grandin, thinks in pictures and patterns--he is his graphics. So isn't this really a graphic novel? One denying its bastard medium?
I notice a repeated error TS would never make--Larson ignores the Great Basin, though TS lives by it! Tells me the author is not himself a cartographic prodigy, or even much of a cartographer. This really is literary creation. That's almost more impressive--he mostly sustains a convincing autism. But he has, behind all the charts, neurotypical concerns--and assumes neurotypical readers! There are clues--the adult conversations TS doesn't get. Layton's death. Why'd his parents marry? What's his mom up to? Her manuscript's marginal notes. Is TS really Terry Yorn's child? Is Gracie?
Curious to be a real Spivet reading a fictional version of me.
- + Larsson, Stieg: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire, and The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest
- Lisbeth Salander is a pretty convincing abused Asperger genius--speaking as one myself. I was certain that Larson couldn't get all three of those aspects right--but he does, showing how they potentiate to make Lisbeth who she is. He deserves a ++ for that--and for his savage portrait of oh-so-enlightened Sweden. But I grade him down for writer's bloat--Tolkien built a whole world in fewer pages! Still, they're compelling reads. I don't buy the complaint that the books advocate vigilantism--any more than the average spy thriller or mystery. Lisbeth is, after all, unlike most cops OR vigilantes, actually vigilant.
- ++ Moon, Elizabeth: The Speed of Dark
- The narrator is an autistic prodigy who climbs step by step out of his autistic isolation, risking the loss of his known self for growth. Mind you, I might not take the Normal Pill myself... It's sharp and unsentimental; I found this near-future science fiction more realistic, sympathetic and powerful than Mark Haddon's better-known The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Dark deserved the awards it won; I suspect it'd be better known if set in the present. But Moon's son is autistic; she knows her stuff. Required reading for aspies!
Thanks to Katie Cook for sending many updated links!
- http://www.globalautismcollaboration.com has many links plus a large (and excellent) section of essays and advice by autistic author Temple Grandin.
- Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical: isnt.autistics.org (because all autistics should understand those people)
- Guide to Improving Gastrointestinal Symptoms among Children with Autism Spectrum:
- Help with Behavioral Issues & Learning Life Skills:
- Health Issues Specific to Autism:
- A Guide to Keeping Your Children with Autism Safe:
LISTS AND LINKS:
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