For the sake of transparency, I guess I should delve briefly into why I went down the autism rabbit hole that led me to reading this book. It all started with occasional “maybe you are autistic” jokes from my fiancee that I brushed off. Over time, particularly after watching multiple seasons of both versions of Love on the Spectrum, among other things, a reassessment began that brought me to the conclusion that there was likely something to those jokes. I saw some of myself in these people, and I remembered relating strongly to Max, the Aspie (short for Aspergers, the now defunct label that has been rolled into Autism Spectrum Disorder), from Mary and Max, and this got me exploring why exactly I did. Numerous deep-dives later and I’ve arrived at the point where I’m awaiting the final part of my intake (probably mid-July, due to a temporary halt in appointments) for an autism screening. My fiancee questions why I need a formal diagnosis at the same time as she says she doesn’t take self-diagnoses seriously. The reason is my whole life has felt like trying to fit disparate pieces into puzzles they don’t match, whereas ASD feels like the puzzle in which they’ll finally complete the picture, giving me a deeper understanding of myself and a solid platform from which to work from in bettering myself. As she says, I don’t need governmental assistance, or anything along those lines. The only further assistance I would seek would be therapy tailored towards those with my diagnosis, if I do in fact get diagnosed, because I feel like ASD brings with it very unique challenges that a mental health professional, even if it’s not one through their system specifically, should know going in.
There’s also my deep-seated hatred of not knowing factoring into it all. When it comes to my health, unless it’s prohibitively expensive (such as a sleep study, which I recently had quoted at ~$4,000), I’m not the sort to sit at home and cope. Rather, I want to root out the cause and treat it. For instance, after realizing later on in life that my anxiety was anxiety with a capital A, something worth treating with meds, I was amazed at how much a difference a little pill could make, and lost in the numerous could-have-beens had I gotten on that pill sooner. So, if certain aspects of myself are, in fact, tied to ASD, it would go a long ways towards de-stigmatizing the behavior (as I’ve worried throughout my life that this or that just meant I was a weirdo, crazy person, or some other negative term), as well as help with game-planning how to work on the things that I know are less than ideal. It’s not that I think I’m broken and in need of fixing so much as it is I want to better myself, but want to know ahead of time if there are distinct weaknesses and strengths I would have as somebody with ASD to take into account.
But, enough rambling about myself. This is the first time I’ve broached the subject with anybody aside from my fiancee and my one sister, who also happens to be a child psychiatrist with a son on the spectrum. My fiancee worries I’ll lob the “autism” word around freely upon being diagnosed, if it happens, yet I honestly fear telling even my mom if it does come to fruition. I would ideally want to be like the aforementioned Max, out-and-proud, so to speak.
However, I think that would be a tough sell for someone like myself. On the inside, sure, just not on the outside. Deep down, I know the argument I’ve heard makes sense, that people diagnosed with ASD telling everybody they know would enlighten plenty of folks by cluing them into the wonderful and varied people that can exist throughout the spectrum, people that to them might just seem like your average Joe or Jane. That being said, I know plenty will balk at the mention of it. I saw it on Love on the Spectrum; one neurotypical guy acted okay with the reveal of her ASD on the first date, only to ghost her. People think of autism as such a death-sentence that they’d rather die of COVID than get a vaccine because one study years ago didn’t realize that autism symptoms also tend to present roughly around the same time as when childhood vaccines are administered. This seemed like a safe place to test the waters, though.
Onto the book itself, Temple Grandin might as well be the poster child for autism. As an advocate, you can’t ask for much better. She is both a shining example of what she shouts to the rooftops, that most people on the spectrum can find great success so long as they’re funneled into the right work, and a wealth of information on the subject of ASD itself, having lived with it as well as researched and written about it extensively. She’s not a psychologist, mind you, but she’s thorough enough in all of her pursuits that I don’t think you necessarily need to hold that against her. Plus, as she details in this book, even the field of psychology didn’t know what in the hell they were doing when it came to autism for many years. Autism began as a descriptive word, not expounded upon, in a description of schizophrenia symptoms. How we got from there to where we are now, with ASD as a formal diagnoses allowing for a wide breath of folks under the same umbrella, is kind of impressive in how bumbling it was.
To their credit, though, there’s still so much we don’t know or understand about ASD. Scientists have spent years researching it and found a bunch of maybes, as Grandin details. Maybe men being older and women being heavier when having kids leads to an increased chance of ASD appearing in their offspring. Maybe ASD is caused by certain mutations of the DNA; except, even when they nail down specific mutations that only those with ASD have, they seem to appear in maybe 2 people if they’re lucky. The whole field is kind of a crapshoot, and I personally wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that the funding doesn’t seem to be there. You hear very little about ASD programs or research. Sure, there’s plenty of talk about that autism-vaccine tie that has long-since been debunked and recanted, but to say I was shocked to see something like Love on the Spectrum appear on TV would be an understatement. ASD is like Harry Potter, in the house technically, but hidden beneath the stairs, only coming out on occasion. And when media does decide to write a character as being on the spectrum, or code them as such, the results are… not particularly helpful. Film and TV have such a narrow, white, and male view of ASD that it does a massive disservice to the community. There’s a reason the lightbulb moment for me was Love on the Spectrum, not The Big Bang Theory. There you see a more wide swath of folks, from the ones who could pass as neurotypical to the less discerning, to the ones who need more of a helping hand. You see men, women, gay, straight, and various ethnicities.
Grandin does a great job of exploring how wide the spectrum is, telling us of various real-life people she’s met and interacted with, and it really helps. It also helps to see her highlight not so much their weaknesses as their strengths. People think of ASD in terms of what limitations it causes, not the benefits. They neglect to think that, as she says often in the book, Silicon Valley is probably littered with undiagnosed autistics. As she says, the most important thing is finding those strengths and finding ways to foster them, even if you have to get creative. And I think it’s this that is the most valuable part of Grandin’s book: the advice for how we should be approaching people on the spectrum. Yes, recognize they are different, and that they have weaknesses, but don’t let those things define them. Seek out what makes them special and work with that, just as you would with anybody else. All anybody asks for is some humanity and caring. Hopefully one day people with autism will receive that with greater frequency than insensitivity.
P.S. Sorry if this was a mess of a review. I feel like I may have lost the thread a bit. Hopefully it came out okay enough.