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Growing in to Autism

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There are a number of signs that are well known to the general population (inability to engage in social chit-chat, obsessive interest in one particular subject or hobby etc. I think I would have been much kinder to myself if I had understood that many of my differences and challenges were due to my neurotype and not due to some fundamental character flaw or to not trying hard enough or being good enough. Written with deep reflection, humour, and in part from a place of introspection, Sandra Thom-Jones has endured, as has her beloved family.

This is an important book for neurotypicals in understanding autistic behaviours for what they are, and for other autistics to gain some self-insight possibly. Structured around the diagnostic criteria set out by the DSM-5, this book is comprehensive while still feeling succinct. As my children grew, I continued to learn about autism but it was a long time before I really processed the fact that females can be autistic. My main reason for seeking a formal diagnosis was that I felt it would enable me to be a more effective autism advocate. As a teacher, I will use much of this information to support my autistic students’ self advocacy in communicating their particular needs.This book is perfect for anyone who is autistic, wants to learn more about autism, or just wants to read an interesting story about a person discovering themselves and being totally human. However, I thought that for many people, particularly those who are newly diagnosed or parents of people who are newly diagnosed and seeking to understand what it means to be autistic, this framework is probably where they start from because they walk out of the diagnostician with those categories and that framework. First, your undiagnosed autistic child will not be protected by the absence of a diagnosis: the labels other people will give them to explain their differences will be far worse. 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.

It is no surprise that what is emerging from her "lived experience" is "professional expertise", allied with her six degrees each of which in some way contributes profoundly to the conversation. 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. like not knowing what the rules are for communication, unable to read facial expressions and prosopagnosia or not remembering faces, avoiding eye contact while conversing (making 2 way zoom very difficult), needing recovery time alone after draining social contacts, meltdowns (overt) and shutdowns (covert) when stimulation becomes too great.

All that personal confusion has now been put to rest, yet without surprise, the challenges persist in our community: are we listening to one another? 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. It’s clear she is writing for a specific audience, despite this book being helpful to so many audiences, and that was really refreshing. 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. Her brilliant writing demonstrates a natural voice, powerful, fearless, experienced, controlled, and without inhibition.

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