This book came from a recommendation on one of the ND Facebook groups I’m in. The post was by someone looking for books to give to people in their circle, family and friends, to help explain what it’s like to be autistic…and maybe to legitimize the experience, because for whatever fake reason, if it’s printed in a book, somehow people will accept it better than just us saying, “No, I’m actually different and this is why. Please listen to me.”
The author of What I Mean When I Say I’m Autistic: Unpuzzling a Life on the Autism Spectrum, Annie Kotowicz, is an autistic blogger at Neurobeautiful. Great name. She is AFAB and–surprise–late-diagnosed. (I’m still a little jealous, because her late diagnosis was in her late 20s, not late 40s like me.) This book was born of her blog posts, so these are bite-size chapters that cover a lot of topics, like an intro class on autism. It’s a lot easier to hand someone a 100-pager with twelve chapters than some heavy, academic brick of a book with no human face to it.
While I am a couple of years into (some might say intense) study about how my brain works and didn’t necessarily learn anything new from the book, for someone in the position I was in a couple of years ago, it would have sent me off to seek my diagnosis. So many shared experiences. Kotowicz does a good job of broadening the view of autism and explaining how autistic traits can present differently in different people, like what stimming can look like or how we mask when handling sensory or regulation needs.
The final three chapters, Optimizing, Uplifting, and Beautiful, are helpful both in a practical sense but also as a happy or hopeful ending, for those who need an attitude shift when they think about an austism diagnosis. Optimizing shows how the author has adjusted her life now that she understands how and why she functions the way she does, in the sections: Meeting Needs, Noticing Needs, Energy Budgeting, Asking for Help, and Learning Patterns. Uplifting shifts to the power held by friends or family members or coworkers, explaining what you can do to make our lives more manageable. And finally, Beautiful wraps up the journey thus far, to a place of acceptance.
So who’s the book for? Well, if you’ve found me you’re clearly in the market for autism information, so I’m guessing my answer is YOU. If you have someone in your life who is autistic, this is a really great place to start. Take notes for questions to ask and learn how you can support them. (And don’t judge yourself if you start to worry that your actions have caused a loved one harm–you’re doing the work now and that’s what counts.) Or if you suspect you may yourself be autistic, you should also dig in and take notes, then perhaps look into seeking a diagnosis or therapy to make better sense of the struggles you’ve lived with but couldn’t understand and, after decades of trying to change yourself for an ill-fitting world, you can start making your world fit you.