We need to talk about stereotypes. Like, now. I

‘ve noticed a lot of stereotypes online amongst the Autistic community-mainly unhelpful comments from people who don’t necessarily have understanding of the condition. These are nine stereotypes I have counted, and sometimes experienced:

“You’re a liar because you can’t look me in the eye!”

Apparently not looking someone in the eye is a sign of guilt. It may well be. However, I think that this is slightly unfair; if a hallmark is that you find eye contact incredibly hard, I think it’s unfair to be automatically deemed a liar. (I’ve written more about this in “The eye contact problem.”) But please: don’t force eye contact with me. It’s unpleasant and invasive.

“Naive”

Yes, I can probably be naive at points. And it sucks, really; it’s not something that I enjoy, as this often comes from not understanding the world around me. But it’s not helpful in some of the contexts used: “She’s so naive it’s embarrassing!” I also think it brings in connotations of being an ‘Airhead’; it can be dismissive in a way.

“Rainman”

We’re all familiar with Rainman, aren’t we? Remember: Autism is a spectrum condition. We are not all the same, with the same hallmarks, same reactions. (But then again, that’s like being human.)

“Obsessional”

There is a difference between a special interest and an obsession. (The latter is something that you can’t step away from, and it consumes everything. ) But why be stereotypical about it? I feel very indignant when people have said to me, “You’re so obsessional!” And I’m pretty sure that if I was neurotypical, this would not be a criticism; it would be embraced. (And it has been an asset to me, over and over again.)

“No friends”

Talking from a personal experience here: a “friend” to me is very different from what someone neurotypical would count as friendship.

But: I think it’s damaging, in a way, to write individuals off as having “no friends.” Online friends surely count towards this; they may also show friendship in a different way. Then again, I also wrote The Friend Application. 

“Emotionally redundant”

Yep. I’ve been described as being like this. (But surely from my blog alone, you can see that I am very passionate? I am curious about the world around me; I care for ‘just causes’, to borrow an expression from My Paperchase. ) Music also is highly reactive for me. (I love the sound of “Help me find a way… c’mon everybody!” in the clip below.)

In spite of being on spectrum, we are more alike than you think. 

“No empathy”

Seriously? SERIOUSLY?

“Must have no life quality whatsoever”

And I mean this in a sort of pitying way; a few times when I have met people with a diagnosis, their parents react in (what I think is) a bad/non-constructive way. They forget that there is a person underneath a label, and set about reducing their activities, staging more intervention, managing their hours. (They also sometimes think “it’s my fault!” and “I wish we could cure it.”)

I have also seen this online; individuals, sometimes self-appointed experts, make horrible assumptions about ‘quality of life.’ And it makes me sick to my stomach.

“Loner”

I see this in the American press, particularly around the times of a school shooting. (And then, sometimes, there is an Autism diagnosis afterwards.) Now, I’m not disputing this, or the need to report on this; this is very important. (And why would I say otherwise? I’m a journalist, albeit in training.) But, I think the facts around diagnosis need to be clearer; I have seen a few reports using this label, but then using it almost like a stick to describe other people on spectrum.

For a little while now, there’s been an issue that I’ve been mulling over; beauty products when you’re on spectrum. My approach to this is shaped by my sensory issues.

I’m not one for a lot of make up; in terms of sensory issues, I dislike the feel of how foundation sits on my skin. I’m not a fan of how some lipglosses are greasy, how lipstick is waxy. I find Mascara really fiddly; eyeliner sometimes makes my eyes weep.
In spite of this, I like beauty. Messing round with nail varnish, trying the occasional face mask, sampling perfume…

There are some products that do ‘work for me’, as the expression goes; one of my favourites is Dr Paw Paw balm. (Because you can do anything with it. You can do EVERYTHING!) I also like the occasional use of a NYX eyeliner I recently bought. (And it has only caused weeping once, possibly due to the heat as I write this.)

One of the things I have started to love recently is perfume, enough so that I always have a bottle in my handbag.

In terms of sensory issues, I’m not one for strong scents. (The ones that you can smell from a mile away, that are a bit heady, and leave you wrinkling your nose.) The perfume I usually go for is a more subtle smell, usually flowery. (Sometimes it also has a memory attached to it. But that’s me being sentimental.)

My ‘collection’ so far:

Allure by Chanel. (Thank you to my Grandmother!)

By Night by Christina Aguilera. (I saw it in Duty Free in Germany, loved it, and bought it.)

Strawberry spray from Boots, thanks to my sister.

Christina Aguilera self titled perfume. (I love the bottle, so bought it in Duty Free.)

Sensory issues are less about personal issues for me, meaning that I occasionally enjoy beauty products. (It’s more likely to be noise that bothers me. For example, I cannot stand airports; the noise of clattering machines, people everywhere, bright colours, checking bags in, going through security, waiting around for hours, all comes together in such a way… But that’s a topic for another blog post.)

Lydia x

 

I’m not sure how I came across Odd Girl Out; it has been a book on my reading  wishlist for a while now. It was probably the bright cover, or the tagline; anyone, as I was given book vouchers for my birthday, I decided to buy it. And I was not disappointed.

About the book:

Odd Girl Out is a biographical account of Laura’s life; it examines with flashes back and forth, having received her Autism diagnosis. It begins with looking at paperwork related to her diagnosis, with her husband, on holiday. We then see Laura as a child, struggling somewhat. (I find how she writes this account very effective!) She is also a young mother, a journalist, a wife; there are also moments after the diagnosis, such as wondering how her life could have been very different.

Thoughts as someone #ActuallyAutistic:

Finally, at last someone ‘gets it’!

I have read around the subject of Autism, especially since I was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome in January 2015. Even by that point, I had had enough of medical jargon, the assumptions, and various individuals forming ideas of who I was as a person. (Not always someone who was valued a lot; they were the sort who freaked on finding out the diagnosis, then being horrible.)

But this book is a reflection, really, of what I felt. Since then, I have wondered what my life would have been like if diagnosed early; some teacher were not necessarily the best help with or without it. I also think that I’d have been told less of what I can’t do; I was told that I can’t cook well, that I cannot do PE well enough to be considered ‘good’.
As an Autistic individual, I was happy to find this book. I am bored with the instruction manuals about how to be more neuro-typical, the books by parents writing about how hard it is to have an autistic child is. Laura has an interesting writers voice-one we need-and I hope to hear more from her.

What could have been better: 

I found the first chapter revealing, really.

At times I think the book can be a little be ‘fact heavy’-which is ironic, as I kind of live my life by facts. (To illustrate further; I can recite all Presidents since Herbert Hoover, what their party was, and if they were a Vice President.) However, this is a way to illustrate a point-which comes across as being very much a hallmark. Though I couldn’t always quite get my head round it, I wouldn’t have changed it at all.


To buy the book on Amazon, click here. Follow Laura on Twitter here.  And read my interview with her here. 

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.


Thank you to Laura for answering my questions; you can follow her on Twitter.  If you’d like to read an extract of Odd Girl Out, read it here. And you can buy the book on Amazon. 

Filofaxes. They need to be pretty, right? I went back to using mine recently; this was due to giving up on my Moleskine planner, and needing something that was a lot less bulky. However, I like to make the insides pretty; for today’s post, I thought I would show you how I do that.

You will need:

  • One Filofax.
  • Post its.
  • Paperclips.
  • Washi tape.
  • Stickers.
  • Personal paper. (Ticket stubs, photos, bookmark.)
  • Inserts and refills.
  • Dividers.
  • Envelopes.

First of: I decided to have the three sections of Diary, NCTJ, and Information, complete with dividers. These required their own inserts; an academic diary on two pages, finance inserts, and coloured notepaper.
In the front pocket, I added a few things:

There are post-its (for to do lists, reminders, etc). In the larger pocket, I also added an emergency detail card (with the medications I take, etc), and a flyer from an NUJ event. (Because, yes, journalistically I need inspiration now and again.)
The dividers also needed some new stickers, hence the cats.

For a weekly layout, I use Washi Tape; the glitter makes me smile just that little bit more. It also covers up mistakes when logging appointments, etc.
There are also stickers; the purple one shown in this picture is available to buy on the Dorkface Etsy shop. But they are particularly used for Blogging-such as reminding me when there is a blog chat, or when to schedule tweets. The other ones are by Personal Planner; they remind me of occasions such as birthdays.

The last thing I would like to show you is this envelope, and how to make a small folder to keep things in your Filofax.
Essentially; find an envelope that fits inside the covers of the Filofax. Then; punch holes in it, leaving the flap open. (So, punch the holes at the bottom of the envelope.) And you can stick anything in it! This is where I keep stickers. I also have another envelope at the front of my Filofax, for scraps of paper.


Have you seen my guest post over at Philofaxy? And if you need more inspiration, you should see this post.