Category Archives: Autism/Asperger Syndrome

Al Capone Throws Me a Curve

I love Gennifer Choldenko’s Al Capone books so much that when she told me the latest one wasn’t being published in the UK, I bought my own copy of Al Capone Throws Me a Curve. It was worth it.

Gennifer Choldenko, Al Capone Throws Me a Curve

Moose Flanagan is now 13 [and a half] and tall and kind and capable, and everyone expects a lot from him. But he’s still only 13, and it’s late May 1936 on Alcatraz, and school is about to finish and Moose wants to spend the summer playing baseball, hoping to join the team, just like other boys.

His older sister Natalie is about to turn 17, and needs to be watched over by Moose, because being autistic and living side-by-side with convicts on a rock isn’t ideal. Moose also needs to keep an eye on the Warden’s daughter, Piper, which turns his summer more into ‘girl-sitting’ than baseball playing.

So far it’s been quite easy to overlook Moose’s mother, but she has to be taken into account as well, and there is more woman trouble from Mrs Trixle, meaning Moose really has his work cut out. There’s only so much one boy can do.

This is a very much a baseball story and I happily admit to understanding almost none of it, except that Moose is dead keen. How to convince the team to take him and his friend on is another matter, though.

The story will ring true to anyone with an autistic sibling; how everything turns into being about them, and how you have to be the good one, putting your own needs aside. But even Natalie has some surprises up her sleeve. And when all is said and done, Moose discovers that while baseball is important, the safety of his family comes first.

Playing baseball with Al Capone? I’m not sure I recommend it.

This book, on the other hand, I do. And if you’ve not read the others, get them all. This is US history and a story about a boy and an autism book, all rolled into one. A great period piece!

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The Unpredictability of Being Human

I loved this book.

I’d have read it much sooner if there had been any mention of it being an aspie novel. This is not – necessarily – something you discover by leafing through a few pages. To me it looked like your typical Americanised school relationship story, albeit a good one. And I could never get my head round whether it was translated or not. Seems it’s not, as Linni Ingemundsen is Norwegian, but presumably wrote her book in English. Americanised English. I am being aspie about this, I know. But I believe Malin, the main character in this book, would understand what I mean.

Linni Ingemundsen, The Unpredictability of Being Human

14-year-old Malin watches the time and keeps us posted on how many hours and minutes and seconds it has been. She is open-minded, but clueless, which leads to her doing whatever the others at school tell her to do, when really it would have been better if she hadn’t. Very temporarily Malin acquires a friend, one who looks out for her, until she loses her by not understanding what you say or don’t say to others.

This is the story of her life, as Malin goes from one slightly baffling thing to the next. You can Google life, but that still doesn’t mean you get it right. As happens all the time in real life, she is suitable fodder for the mean girls in her class. Her dysfunctional family are more ‘normal’ than Malin, but not normal enough to realise quite how much she needs their help.

This book has it all; sex, drinking, how to avoid drowning, lying, how to kiss a boy, what not to do with scissors, dislocated shoulders, and death. If you’re not Malin, it comes across as mildly humorous. For Malin everything is puzzling. Unless it’s maths.

There is a genuinely Norwegian flavour to everything, including words and phrases not translated. I think I can guess what lapper might be.

Malin is a wonderful character and I wish her well for the future. I hope for someone to explain the weirdest aspects of ‘normal’ life to her, when she needs it.

Truestory

Reading Catherine Simpson’s novel Truestory, which is about a woman with an autistic son, I felt as if I’d never read this kind of story from the point of view of the parent. I must be wrong, but it seemed very new, somehow. As though I was seeing the same thing, but differently.

This is an adult novel – and I don’t mean that to signify sex, although there is sex – and I don’t always want to read adult relationship stories. But I’m glad I read this one.

Catherine Simpson, Truestory

Alice and Duncan live on a failing farm near Lancaster. They have been married for 23 years, and have an 11-year-old son, Sam, who is autistic. Sam refuses to leave the farm, virtually imprisoning his mum because of this. The dad seems a bit lost, not remembering what will set Sam off, and also blaming Alice for how Sam turned out.

And then, as the latest in a row of mad schemes, Duncan brings home Larry, a man he met in the pub, who suggested he should grow cannabis. Alice is furious, but Sam takes to Larry, and after a bit, Alice rather does too.

If it wasn’t for the autism, this could be any ‘romantic’ triangle drama. You like Larry but despise him at the same time. Duncan is hopeless. Or is he? Will Alice manage to leave the farm, and can Sam ever become more ‘normal’?

You can sort of see where this will go, but there are many surprises on the way.

Just as I said after the event in November where Catherine talked, I can identify with so much of this.*

Because of Sam’s limited lifestyle, this is a drama with five characters – the fifth being the neighbour – plus the weird people poor Sam consults online about the meaning of everything he discovers.

This is quite Shakespearian in some respects. Funny. Sad. There is some hope.

*Not the cannabis. Or Larry.

They’re all women!

They all seemed to be women. Or perhaps I merely happened to choose Book Week Scotland events that featured women. I picked what interested me, and what was nearby enough to be doable, and at times convenient to me.

Four events, though, and a total of nine women speaking at them. Only the last one, about gender violence, had a subject that determined who was likely to be taking part.

The audiences were slightly different. For Mary Queen of Scots there were three men. The gender violence had one man in the audience for part of it, one man to operate Skype (!) and one man who seemed to be working in the room where we sat. Several men for both Lin Anderson and the autism discussion, while still being in a minority.

Three events were during daytime, but that doesn’t explain the lack of men, when the women were mostly well past 70.

Do they read less, or are they not interested in events? Or do they go to the ones with men talking? (I’d have been happy to see Chris Brookmyre, but he didn’t come this way, or James Oswald, but he was sold out.)

Anyway, whatever the answer to that is, over on Swedish Bookwitch we have women today. My interview with Maria Turtschaninoff is live, and it’s mostly – just about entirely, actually – about women. And it’s in Swedish. Sorry about that. (Translation will follow.)

Spicy autism

You’ve heard of having mild autism? It’s a ‘kind’ way of describing someone as almost not autistic but nearly normal. Well, we won’t have it, so how about a t-shirt with the slogan ‘Spicy autism’ instead? Can you take it?

Monday night’s event for Book Week Scotland at Waterstones was like coming home, where I was surrounded by like-minded people, and they were clever and amusing and weird enough that they appeared normal [to me]. It was great. And we need more of this.

Nina Mega, Rachael Lucas and Catherine Simpson

The conversation between Rachael Lucas, who wrote The State of Grace about a teenage girl with Asperger Syndrome, and Catherine Simpson, whose adult novel Truestory features a boy with Asperger’s, was chaired by Catherine’s daughter Nina. I can’t think of a better combination of people to listen to on this subject.

It was Nina’s first experience of chairing, and her straightforward style and intelligence was just what was needed. When she was younger she caused Catherine much worry, mainly because neither the health service nor the education authorities were helpful or sympathetic. (I’ve been there. I know.) And there was one thing Catherine told us, which was uncannily close to what I’ve felt myself.

Rachael Lucas and Catherine Simpson

Rachael had spent a lot of time pointing out her daughter was unusual, but it still took ages for a diagnosis, for both of them. As is often the case; if one family member is diagnosed, another might be next.

With such interesting lives to discuss, I had very little need to hear [the usual] details about their books. It’s their lives we really wanted to hear about. This doesn’t mean that books about aspies are not needed, because they are. People like to find themselves in books.

‘Coming out’ as an aspie when you write a book about it, was both necessary and difficult for Rachael. Her daughter’s autism was not recognised because she didn’t line up her toys, and because Rachael helped her in trying to be normal. That in itself seems to be a sign of being on the autistic spectrum.

Catherine Simpson

Catherine needed something to do when she was stuck at home because of Nina, and eventually hit on writing, and did a course at Napier, before writing her novel which among other things features the f-word (as she discovered when starting to read to us), and growing cannabis. (It sounded much funnier when she said it. I suspect you need the book.)

Rachael decided to write about a teenage girl, partly because she had one herself, but also because everything people know about autism tends to be about boys. On the other hand, Catherine wrote about a boy, so people wouldn’t assume it was about Nina, but she regrets this now. And anyway, Nina has often been described as masculine, which is another situation I recognise. You can still love My Little Pony. And Doctor Who.

Rachael Lucas and Catherine Simpson

One side-effect after reading Grace has been that some people have got their own diagnosis, which both writers agreed was excellent, but they also pointed out quite how hard this can be to achieve. The internet is mostly for the good, and it suits autistic people well. You can pause your life briefly when online, and take a moment or two to think about how to respond to what someone has said. (Rachael aptly called this her ‘buffering.’)

And you don’t have to smile to look friendly (Rachael’s husband asked her what she was doing, and when she said she was trying to avoid looking scary by practising smiling, he asked her to please stop). Nor do you need to worry about eye-contact online.

These two women are funny. But it seems their books have too much of a happy ending. Autistic people are only ever allowed to be ‘tragic and inspirational.’ Happy is for neurotypicals. But when you’ve had your mothering skills questioned by (possibly well-meaning) staff at your child’s school, then you are surely permitted to rebel? “Have you tried the naughty step?’

Nina Mega

Looking at how Nina turned out, I’d say Catherine did as much right as any parent. And I’m sure the same goes for Rachael’s daughter [who wasn’t present]. There were lots of questions from the audience, but in case there hadn’t been, Nina was prepared with more of her own, as any good aspie would be.

Lists’r’us.

And yes, balloons are frightening things. The Bookwitch family has at least one member who always tenses up, in case a balloon will pop unexpectedly.

Doctor Dodo and other clever women

The Resident IT Consultant and I saw a few more roundabouts than we had counted on, as we travelled to Edinburgh yesterday to celebrate Dodo’s new PhD.

If we had pushed for tickets to the graduation ceremony (but we didn’t, as we felt that they should go to Son and the Dodo family), we’d have had the pleasure of seeing Mairi Hedderwick receive her honorary doctorate alongside Dodo. It’s always nice when the famous person is so famous that one has actually heard of them, but nicer still when it’s someone quite so special as Katie Morag’s creator.

Doctor's graduation

As it was, it was just one more missed opportunity to see Mairi this week, but more importantly, it was a time to celebrate with the Dodos by stuffing ourselves with tapas. It was very civilised, and very nice, and the company was good and we were nowhere near needing those reserve sandwiches I happened to have in my bag.

And the proud Father of Dodo got to tell us his dream – he now has three children who can call themselves doctor, and he’s looking forward to the phone ringing and someone asking for Doctor L, so he can ask ‘Doctor Who?’

When we couldn’t get any fuller, or wittier, some of us went home to collapse on some sofa, and the resident IT Consultant went off to a transport meeting to consult a bit, and your witch hobbled downhill for a quick look at the Christmas market in Princes Street Gardens, and then on to Waterstones for an evening on autism.

Edinburgh Christmas market

As part of Book Week Scotland, Rachael Lucas and Catherine Simpson were there to talk with Catherine’s daughter Nina Mega, on writing novels with autistic characters, and bringing up children with Asperger Syndrome, and about being ‘a bit like that’ yourself. I felt right at home and it was one of the better events I’ve been to and I will tell you more about it when I’ve had some sleep, and maybe been to another book event or two.

Nina Mega, Rachael Lucas and Catherine Simpson

Who knows?

The Party

This is not as much fun as the title might suggest.

Lucy Hawking has long had a deep interest in autism, and knows much more about it than I do. She has written a short film script, which has been recorded for the Guardian’s new virtual reality site. It shows what the world – or at least a birthday party – looks like to someone on the autistic spectrum.

Technology is hard, and I don’t know enough about it. If you bought Saturday’s Guardian you’d have found a mention of this new VR site, and if you were very lucky you’d have received a free pair of spectacles with the paper, to use when viewing the video. I imagine it’s similar to the kind of 3D glasses you have for 3D cinema.

No glasses for us, but I registered online to be sent a pair. I gather you could also buy some. The information is (hopefully) to be found here. And there’s apps and stuff. I always get worried when people mention apps…

You can watch the film online – albeit not on Safari – and I did. But I imagine I didn’t get the full experience without the glasses. (It reminded me quite a lot of parties I go to, and I think we can safely say I’m not always the biggest fan of such ‘happy’ gatherings.)

I’m grateful Lucy has gone to the trouble of working out a way to show the neurotypical world what it [can] be like. As with most things, I am sure we experience them differently.