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Growing in to Autism

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Sandra does an excellent job of describing the many traits that autistic people may present, how they have shown up in her life and possible opportunities for support. And that’s honestly what makes it so compelling as a book too, the fact that it isn’t a scientific analysis, it’s an experience. We are not all the same, nor will we ever really comprehend what the other is going through, no matter how much empathic intelligence we believe we have. You will find yourself wanting to know more, and for this the author includes References and Resources at the end of the book. She discusses how she has learnt when and where it is appropriate to unmask and be herself, particularly as she has grown into her Autistic identity over a number of years.

There were so many moments that I wished I had bought this book instead of borrowing it from the library as the author articulated my experience in ways I have been struggling to, from experiences at school to early days of parenting. One of the hardest things as a late diagnosed autistic person was reflecting back on my experiences as a child, adolescent, young adult, and even somewhat older adult and realising how much different my life would have been if I had been diagnosed earlier. There weren’t really specific chapters or sections that I found hard in the sense of a particular topic, but there were definitely aspects of the book that I struggled with.

I was concerned about doing it this way because I didn’t want to pathologise autism, or support a medical model that reduces autistic people to a series of “symptoms”. In articulating her experience of the world as an autistic person, the author also helps neurotypicals to view ourselves through another lens. Photograph: Melbourne University Press View image in fullscreen Professor Sandra Thom-Jones, author of Growing into Autism.

After much encouragement from my family, I decided to broach the subject of my own autism with my younger son’s psychologist – the practice principal, with whom we had spent a great many hours.When tropes such as the above are utilised, they tend to refer to societal and capitalistic standards of success, which emphasise career, family, and so forth. Part memoir, part guide to growing in to autism, I can see this book being really helpful for autistic people - whether they have a diagnosis already or if they are thinking they might be autistic and are looking for a diagnosis - and non-autistic people who are looking to understand autistic experiences. Growing in to Autism is a book for everyone, not just those adults seeking a clinical diagnosis of autism.

Here I was, a person with an abject fear of failure and a strong need for control, who had gone through school with the absolute conviction that anything less than 100% on an exam was tantamount to failure. I know that growing up I would have been much more comfortable being referred to as “autistic” than the terms regularly used by my peers to describe me -words like weirdo, freak, and others I wouldn’t want to put into print.I had many conversations with my husband where I tried to explain that I felt my life was passing me by and I was missing something fundamentally important, but I couldn’t work out what it was. Repetitive patterns include a wide range of aspects to autism: hypersensitivity to stimuli as in “that smells painful”, hyperkinaeshesia where sensory stimuli intermingle, loud noises including music can be painful, poor proprioception as in judging distance while eating and clumsiness, multiple sensory inputs are exponential, obsessive collecting, perfectionism in everything one does with accompanying eternal regrets, extending to black and white morality with no relativity in moral judgements.

You will want to lend it to your neighbour, your child's teacher, your best friend, your lover, even your boss.

For me “success” was for him to be happy, to be able to communicate his needs, and to not harm himself or his brother. It celebrates the uniqueness of the person and provides for us a vehicle for understanding the other. The “at home with my family” me was somewhere in between the two of these but still felt the need to keep certain aspects of herself hidden even from her closest family members in case they realised just how damaged she was.

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