Laura James has written the ultimate book about Autism ; Odd Girl Out should be on your ‘must read’ list.
It’s about an Autistic woman, Laura, in a neuro-typical world; she looks back at earlier parts of her life, and how she reacts and gets on with her diagnosis later on in life. As an autistic female, this book felt very ‘human’ to me; it spoke to me, almost as if Laura was inside my head. Forget the diagnosis, and medical terms; here is someone who ‘gets it’, and is probably undergoing what you feel.
I was lucky enough to speak to Laura about Odd Girl Out via email; she is also a journalist, which was another thing that interested me.
First of all, how did you come to write your book, Odd Girl Out?
When I got my autism diagnosis, one of my first thoughts was ‘will I write about this?’. About three months later I wrote a piece for the Daily Telegraph and the response was so huge, writing further on the subject in the form of a book seemed like a natural next step.
Why did you think writing about your diagnosis, which came later in life, should be the centre of the book?
I used it to underpin the book, so it’s where I start, but I also dart back in time and look at my childhood, my teenage years, young motherhood etc. It felt like a good jumping off point as it was so fresh in my mind and writing was allowing me to process all the emotion around being diagnosed.
How has the reaction been to the book?
The reaction has been amazing. It’s not often that I’m surprised, but I have been surprised by the sheer number of people interested in my story. I got thousands of messages in the month around publication and most days I still get a message or two on social media from someone who has come across the book.
What do you think about early intervention to diagnose people on spectrum?
I think everyone deserves to know who they are and to have the very best opportunities in life. If that can be done by spotting autism early, then I am all for it. What happens afterwards, however, is important, as is that ongoing support, nurturing and caring is put in place. I don’t like interventions that major on teaching children how to behave in a neurotypical way, as they can only do damage in the long term. Support that encourages children to be their best and most authentic selves is what we should be striving for.
What did you think on finally being diagnosed?
Overwhelmingly, I felt relief and vindication. My autism diagnosis came a few months after my Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome was diagnosed and suddenly everything in my life made sense. I wasn’t a hypochondriac or unlucky – there were concrete reasons as to why my body behaved the way it did. The autism diagnosis was so vindicating as it allowed me to know why I find some things much harder than others do.
“The reaction has been amazing. It’s not often that I’m surprised, but I have been surprised by the sheer number of people interested in my story.”
-Laura James on the reaction to Odd Girl Out.
How did you start out as a journalist?
I was working for a publishing company and an amazing editor called Gill allowed me to interview Jilly Cooper, who was my absolutely favourite writer and one of my intense interests.
In terms of being autistic, how do you think people on spectrum could be an asset to journalism?
For me, the ability to hyperfocus is a huge asset at deadline time, as is the way I can get to grips with complex information very quickly. Having intense interests helps a lot too. Finally, I can look at all sides of an argument in a non-emotional way and I think that really makes for balance.
For people who are on spectrum, who aspire to get into journalism, what would be your advice?
If it’s someone who likes to be around people, then maybe contacting their local paper and asking if they can do some work experience or intern for a bit. I am not necessarily a huge fan of journalism degrees as I think you learn much more in the working environment. Most of the really great journalists I know have done an NCTJ course or apprenticeship and I can’t recommend them highly enough. I was lucky that I learned on the job and my husband, who at the time of our meeting was a magazine editor but who spent many years working in news, taught me everything over a number of years.
“Overwhelmingly, I felt relief and vindication. My autism diagnosis came a few months after my Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome was diagnosed and suddenly everything in my life made sense.”
-Laura James on what she felt after her Autism diagnosis.
Random: If you were on Desert Island discs, what would be the book you’d take to the Island with you, and why?
Oh gosh, only one? That feels terribly hard. I think if I had to pick, I would probably choose Rivals by Jilly Cooper. It’s real comfort reading to me and the characters feel like people I have known for years. They are beautifully drawn and feel very real, plus it’s funny, has lots of stuff on W.B. Yeats (my favourite poet) and the book is quite long so would take me a while to get through.