Odd Girl Out: An Autistic Woman in a Neurotypical World

I absolutely loved this book, and read it in two days.

As I read, I saw myself in the pages far more than I ever have before. I know that being autistic gives us a commonality, but I didn’t expect to see so much of my experience in a book written by someone I follow on Twitter. From the time I read that Laura finds sameness an anchor, and that she can’t listen to music while needing to concentrate because the lyrics mix with thoughts “and it becomes a confused mess,” I knew I was going to enjoy the book.

I relate to the way Laura’s sensory issues make the world so confusing, and often assaulting, to live in. I agree that silence to others isn’t actually silent, and like Laura, sensory bombardment has led me to leaving wherever it is I’m supposed to be. For me that’s usually the supermarket.

I have the same (possibly obsessive in my case) need to research things immediately. I cannot let it go, and my phone is constantly at my side so I can Google whatever pops into my head. I too need to be distracted from the millions of thoughts whirling around my brain, and use compulsive checking of messages and social media as a distraction from them.

I always thought people were being metaphorical when they told you to “picture a beach,” or similar, when leading a guided relaxation practice. I’ve since found out about aphantasia, and though I do see fleeting images, I empathise with Laura’s struggle to form a mental picture of those you love.

I too create a sort of ‘social story’ whenever I need to go somewhere new by looking up everywhere I go – hotels, offices, train stations etc – on the internet so I know what they’ll look like. I recognise Laura’s need for clarity and to know what’s happening, coupled with a need to be in control without wanting to be controlling.

I share her relief of finally getting the answer in adulthood as to why I was so different. I have also experienced the feeling of not wanting to exist; to have not been born. I also find talking exhausting when anxious, and her description of the weight of words resonated with me, as did her inability to stick to things if she doesn’t get immediate results.

This is, at the time of writing the review, the book about being autistic I have related to the most. The most glaring difference between our experiences is that I feel emotions at an almost unbearable level, to the point that I have wished I could stop feeling altogether. I do often struggle to accurately label them though, and therapy has taught me that I feel them so explosively because I don’t recognise the build up – only the climax.

I was slightly uncomfortable at the inclusion of person-first language, though this typically surrounded input from professionals working in the ‘autism business’, so it could be over-spill from their wording. I also cringed at the amount of input Tony Attwood had (considering how unhelpful he’s been for the autistic community in the past), but I must admit I agreed with what was included in the book, so that’s more my problem than anything else.

I would highly recommend this book to autistic women, their partners, and those who love them. I’d also recommend it to professionals, particularly those who still maintain that women can’t be autistic, and those who equate those who can work, have a relationship, and be a mother as having no support needs. It’s clear that Laura has some quite significant support needs (as I do) yet it’s much harder to get them recognised.

I’m sad that I got the book on Kindle. I couldn’t find a print copy on Amazon, but I’d love to buy a print copy so I can lend it to people, but so it can also sit on my bookshelf as I feel a need to have physical copies of books, particularly ones I love. This would have taken residence next to Neurotribes, my favourite ever book about autism, though this is a very close second.

Diary of a Young Naturalist

This book is one of the most beautiful pieces of poetic prose I’ve read in a long time, and I’m studying literature. Beginning with Saturday 21 March – spring – Dara takes us through an entire year of his life as an Autistic naturalist.

I bought the book to add to my collection of works by Autistic authors, and while I’d read a lot of praise prior to reading it, I didn’t realise just how excellent it is until I’d started reading it myself. By the time I reached May I bought a copy for a friend of mine who has an Autistic son who is also fascinated by (and very well-versed on) nature, not only because it’s an excellent book but also because her son reminds me of a younger version of Dara and I thought he’d enjoy it too.

Though I wasn’t diagnosed until I was in my 30s, I can relate to Dara’s experiences of school (in his first school anyway) and I too sought solace in wild places, though this changed when I moved from my grandparents’ house in the countryside to the city I live in now. There was a large period of time where I lacked a connection with the natural world, yet even when my visits were sporadic and fleeting, I’ve always found a sense of calm when surrounded by green and cocooned by a canopy of trees.

Since reading, I’ve encouraged my children to spend time searching for nature wherever we can find it. Our tiny concrete courtyard garden is filling with pots of tangled plants and trailing vines because I forgot to buy trellis (I’m not a natural gardener), but it’s also full of woodlice, butterflies, ants, bees, and finches. Through taking the time to explain the wonders of the natural world, my older boy (also Autistic) is no longer frightened of bees, accepts that wasps do have an important role in the circle of life, and will go for walks in the woods without much complaining. My younger son (also Neurodivergent) has always been a nature lover, but we’ve spent more time together watching nature documentaries, going on bug hunts, and searching for “baby ducks” whenever we’re near water. One of his proudest moments during lockdown is helping me rescue a ladybird from drowning in a water feature, and then checking on it regularly to make sure it was still okay.

This book has made me appreciate the world around me more freely and openly. In a world where we’re constantly rushing, it became too easy for me to forget to really see what it has to offer. I’ve seen more butterflies, birds, and bees since reading Dara’s diary, and I don’t think it’s purely because there are physically more of them. I’m looking for them. Watching them. Truly appreciating and connecting with creatures which used to flit past my peripheral vision.

The beauty of Dara’s words match the beauty of nature, and I’m genuinely sad that the book had to end.