April is Autism Awareness Month. Over the past few years, but particularly during the past month, I’ve been reading autobiographies of Autistic people.* I’d like to share them with you, so you can continue your awareness throughout the year(s).

Text: “Autism is NOT a disease. Dont try to cure us. Try to understand us.” Click the pic for an introduction to Autism, complete with reading list.

Preface: Jan wrote about April and Autism last year, and makes a very good point about the naming of the month and the implications of that name. She wrote, “The Autism Society calls April Awareness Month and the Autism Self-Advocacy Network calls it Acceptance Month, reflecting different advocacy tactics and goals. The goal of Autism Acceptance Month is to spread acceptance of people with autism AS THEY ARE, without trying to cure them of their autistic traits.” So chew on that distinction for a bit while picking out a book to read.

One theme ran through all the works below: the challenges of understanding and being understood by other humans. Because it is so hard to communicate, I think it’s important that non-Autistics try to understand Autistics. Not only does reading works by Autistic authors help further relationships between those two groups, but it also gives insight into radically different ways of thinking that help the reader understand the world better. Y’know, like how to improve your dog’s quality of life. Or how to regulate your own emotions. Or the importance of the objects around you. Or, or, or…

  • Emergence: Labeled Autistic, by Temple Grandin, Ph.D.  She’s pretty famous; this book is about her early life and the way she is able to make connections to the outside world, but she’s written prolifically about autism and other subjects.  Her style is very matter of fact.
  • In her book Animals Make Us Human, Temple Grandin writes about one of her favorite subjects – animals.  She gives a fantastic breakdown of how different animals (Dogs, Cats, Horses, Cows, etc.) are treated and what they need to lead fulfilling lives in and out of captivity. Here’s a link to Temple Grandin’s website.
  • Nobody Nowhere, by Donna Williams. This one’s a little bit harder to follow than Grandin’s works, partly because of its original purpose.  According to Wikipedia quoting the New York Times, “Williams ‘originally wrote it as a series of notes to herself, to help her make sense of her own chaotic world. She planned to burn her journal until a therapist helped her see the value in sharing it.”  Overall, this book was immersive in her world and gave lots of impressions without a lot of head-on, linear sections.  It left me with a sort of “looking at the world through water” feeling.
  • Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s, by John Elder Robison. This one is a bit more light-hearted.  Sure, Robison describes his difficulties as a child (making friends, family issues), but he also describes the joys of playing practical jokes and working with mechanical and electrical systems. He has a new book out about raising his son, who is also Autistic: Raising Cubby.  I haven’t read it yet, but I would like to soon!
  • Songs of the Gorilla Nation, by Dawn Prince-Hughes. I think it’s worth mentioning that Dawn is the only lesbian author listed here. Anyway, this is the most “storylike” of these autobiographies. There’s a clear narrative arc – it’s the story of what she calls her second birth, when she is able to feel connected to another intelligent living being.  She also puts some of her poems into the text, and I suggest you make a conscious choice to linger on these. I get in the habit of going through quickly when I’m in the swing of things reading, but these few poems are rich and deserve a second (third? fourth? nth?) read. Fake Spoilers: you’ll also learn about gorillas inthis book.
  • The Reason I Jump, by Naoki Higashida. Naoki wrote this with the help of a scribe when he was 13 years old. The format is Question and Answer primarily, with 3 or 4 short stories he wrote sprinkled in. The style is straightforward but has a kind of urgency to it. The main message I heard was how freaking hard it is not to be able to communicate with other people.  His thoughts have some major difficulties getting to his mouth, and he’s not always able to control his body to indicate what he wants or how he feels. Yet he has come to the conclusion that he would rather not be “cured” if such a thing were possible; he doesn’t know what our “normal” is like any more than we know his.

When you have learned how one person thinks and feels, you have learned how one person thinks and feels.

  • Send in the Idiots, by Kamran Nazeer.  This book adds another kind of perspective – the author is an Autistic adult interviewing other Autistic adults with whom he went to a special school for Autistic people when they were all children. So far, I’m only just past the introduction so I can’t really say much more than that.
  • Strange Faces, by Andrea Grody.  Okay this one’s not a book, it’s a musical; and Andrea, a friend of mine, is the only author on this list who is not an Autistic person. But “Strange Faces” was my first introduction to Asperger’s Syndrome, and I thought this post would be incomplete without mentioning it. “Strange Faces” gives a holistic view into the lives of different families with Autistic members, based on real people Andrea interviewed. The Musical format makes it easier to picture parents, siblings, and Autistic children interacting all together, rather than completely focusing on one individual. There are characters (the siblings) that I identify with more quickly than the Autistic characters, which draws me into understanding the family dynamic from many angles.

Hopefully this brief list has inspired you to find one these books in your local library so you can get a better understanding of the folks we live with.  If you need more options, here are links two to many engaging hours of reading ahead.

Other recommendations, DDPeople?

*This is a two part footnote: 1) Almost all of these books are written by folks on the Asperger’s end of the Autism Spectrum. 2) I will be using “Autistic person” rather than “person with autism” for a whole lot of reasons that can be found in following interesting link on identity first rather than person first language.