Publishing the full Spectrum

From The Bookseller:

For a long time, I felt like I had been failed by publishing. After a diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome – now Autism Spectrum Disorder (or ASD) in 2015 – I set out to learn more about my new ‘label’, and what it meant to me. Recommendations included looking to TV, because characters such as Sheldon Cooper in “The Big Bang Theory” were ostensibly ‘good’ representation. I couldn’t relate. Frustrated, I turned to books, expecting someone, somewhere, to have written about my experience. There was very little that was supportive, or even relevant, to me.

It’s good to see that this is changing at long last, although publishing still has a long way to go to plug the gap. Despite Autism Spectrum Disorder being exactly that – a spectrum! – there remains a lack of nuance in books that touch on the varied experiences of people with ASD.

Take the recent backlashes around books about Autism. To Siri With Love – Judith Newman’s recent memoir about her Autistic son – may have been met with huge praise, but Autistic individuals shot back. Accusations of eugenics and ableism abounded – Kaelan Rhywiol summarised the objections in a piece for Bustle – as well as a ‘Twitterstorm’, complete with the hashtag #BoycottToSiri. The author responded that she had not written the book for an Autistic audience.

And this year, my Instagram feed flooded with petitions calling for the removal of I Wish My Kids Had Cancer by Micheal Alan – a book that appeared to equate Autism with cancer. Enough said.

. . . .

There are also a lot of books about parenting – but they are written by parents not on the spectrum. Spectrum Women: Autism & Parenting is out next month – and, so far, has been seen as a ‘revelation’. Why? Because it is written by people on the Autistic spectrum! As the saying goes, ‘nothing about us, without us’ – and this should apply to books about parenting Autistic children. It’s good to have books that are almost like textbooks – but they are not necessarily the real, lived experience of being on the spectrum. They miss the colour, the humanity. And that, I think, could often be said when someone not on the spectrum writes about being Autistic. 

. . . .

Stim: An Autistic Anthology was released earlier this year. Edited by Lizzie Huxley-Jones, this book was notable for giving free rein to the Autistic contributors. Essays, art, even fiction – not necessarily about Autism! – made this book a stand-out tome in its niche. It’s refreshing to read, offering a range of non-neurotypical perspectives.

Illustrator Megan Rhiannon has also released Existing Autistic – a self-published, illustrated book that contains information about functioning labels, sensory overload, and more. It has been received with thunderous applause – with her needing to re-stock it at least once since the release. 

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

2 thoughts on “Publishing the full Spectrum”

  1. The main message I took from this is that non autistic parents of autistic children should not be allowed to write about their parenting experiences. I suspect that this may not be the authors intention but it’s certainly what she said.

    The whole piece though seemed to be part of the “write what you are, and only what you are” movement that is trying to restrict authors’ freedom and replace diversity within books by diversity amongst authors. What matters, of course, is the skill, imagination – and where necessary research – that the author brings to the task. Which is not to say that autistic authors should not be encouraged to write – though I fear that the publishing industry will only want them to write about autistic characters rather than giving them the freedom to write whatever they can imagine.

    A final thought. The writers of The Big Bang Theory were careful not to pathologise Sheldon Cooper and telling someone to watch the programme to learn about autism was pretty stupid (but then the series did result in a lot of pseudo-psychological nonsense appearing on line).

    • The fact that ‘Autism’ and ‘Autistic’ were capitalized, as if they were religions or nationalities, is a very strong tell. This comes across as someone with a currently unfashionable disability trying to claim a place in the Grievance Olympics, and exactly mimicking the irrational scolding and intolerant rhetoric that too many other people habitually employ to announce their membership in an approved victim group. ‘Only X can write about X’ is an entirely typical form of that rhetoric.

      Anyone who resorts to such a claim is expressing opposition to the basic principle of free speech, and as writers, we need to recognize that these people are our enemies. They are the opposite of Jack Sprat and his wife. The modern Jack Sprat can eat no fat, and wants to forbid it to everyone else. His wife, of course, can eat no lean, and demands the same concession. Give them both their way, and everyone starves.

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