Category Archives: Autism/Asperger Syndrome

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.)

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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.

ABCs and much more

I do miss Sesame Street. We used to watch every lunchtime; me in the corner of the Klippan sofa, lunch balanced on the armrest (I think it only fell off once or twice), Daughter on my lap and Son nestled next to me.

Presumably we moved away from it gradually, or school got in the way. I can’t recall. And when I woke up missing it, I couldn’t find it anywhere. I have been thinking about Sesame Street on and off over the years, trying to convince myself I’m too old for it. That I don’t need it.

But when I read about their new autistic character, I was seized by a strong wish to start watching again. This time I researched a bit more. And it is on, but only on some pay channel I’d never heard of and that I can’t get. I mean, I suppose I can, but we don’t believe in paying for parcels of programmes that will rarely if ever be watched.

So I’m feeling a bit disappointed, to be honest.

I’m wondering, too, how it ended up on a pay channel. Is it because it is so valuable that you must pay, like for new movies and sports events, or is it because it’s so uninteresting that none of the regular channels could be bothered? Had a quick look at a typical day on CBBC and it was dire. I used to enjoy watching after school. Not everything, but quite a lot, and would have to drag myself off to cook dinner. Mornings were also good, but I could rarely fit in more than a minute here and there as we were getting ready to leave the house.

Whereas I’d actually sit down for Sesame Street. ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ…

Kid Got Shot

Oh, Garvie Smith how I love you! (At least from a distance. Your mum loves you too, but I think we are both a bit exasperated by now.)

Simon Mason, Kid Got Shot

Simon Mason’s Sherlock/Cumberbatch crime-solving hero is back with another school murder mystery. It is still the exam period, so the deaths at Garvie’s school are coming hard and fast. And how could anyone sit exams, or revise for them, when there is a death to investigate?

Not Garvie. He sacrifices most of his GCSE exams for this unknown boy with Asperger Syndrome who has just been found shot. Pyotor was ‘known’ to everyone, while still not known by anyone, because he didn’t socialise or even talk to people at school. So how come this stickler for routine who spoke to no one was found dead in the middle of the night, close to a well known criminal?

Well, Garvie just has to find out. His old police pal DI Singh, who is in disgrace after ‘working’ with Garvie on the last murder, is the one who discovers the body, and this time the two do talk rather more easily, but poor Singh isn’t getting on too well with his colleagues.

Grown-ups are often stupid and can’t see what this lazy teen genius is doing (other than missing or failing his exams), but the reader knows Garvie will get there in the end.

Don’t miss this perfectly written, light but serious, and occasionally humorous crime novel. It’s the kind of book YA was invented for.

The State of Grace

It is – or ought to be – a well known fact that girls ‘hide’ their autism rather more successfully than boys do. This new book, The State of Grace, is about one such struggling girl, and as Rachael Lucas who wrote it is on the spectrum herself and also has a daughter with Asperger Syndrome, you can be sure she will get it right. Well, one right of many.

The story about 16-year-old Grace is full of neurotypical thoughts and behaviours. More than I’d have expected. But then, that is one kind of reality among many different kinds of aspie realities. It’s just not mine.

Rachael Lucas, The State of Grace

Grace has a younger sister who is very ‘normal’ and a mother who is pretty perfect as the mother of an aspie, standing up for her girl at school and knowing what she needs. That is, until she seems to stop being like that. Grace’s father is working away and no doubt it is tough for his wife, but I found the sudden change in parental support rather hard to deal with. As did Grace.

There is an almost too good to be true best friend for Grace, and when the two girls attend a birthday party it is just as difficult for Grace to cope with as you’d expect, but she also ends up kissing the most fanciable boy at their school, and is no stranger to giving her friend a full account of what happened.

But this is me nit-picking. When life gets tough, Grace escapes off to her horse Mabel, and she makes quite a few stupid decisions. One is working out how to be a popular girl and setting in motion some less well thought out ideas.

I’d like to think that in ‘real’ life Grace’s mother would have come to her senses sooner, and maybe the romantic interest wouldn’t have been the most good-looking boy around. But this is a fun story, it has lots of situations other aspies should be able to recognise, and there is a learning curve for all the characters.

We need more aspie books, and more girl aspie books, and especially ones like this one where it’s not all computers and robotic behaviour. And you just can’t go wrong with a Doctor Who t-shirt.