I Will Not Stand By This

I will not stand by this.
Written by Bex Ryan

Today marks the month and the week
I must do something so important to me
Do you wonder how much I feel in my body?
Do I do what people think what I am doing
I leave that with you to think about that.

I thought so long to saying this
A new month will be the beginning of my journey
The steps I take in and the words I hear I breath out
I meant every word what I just said.

This week has finally come
I must do something about that
Something I really care about
Do you know what that could be?

The strength I take in
That thought came to me just in time
I feel this is the right time for me to write this
I do wonder myself if this is the right time for me to
do this now.

I will not stand by this no more
I will strive my best at work
I will join in
I will come to you and you come to me
You brought this to my attention.

We will be together
We will have each other
We might have more friends we thought we did
We will have the world and the people
For month and week, we all care about it.
This is important that we all take part in this.

Anti-Bullying Week 2020: United Against Bullying

I started writing a piece about how our online community looks after its members and where improvements are desperately needed, saying bullying should be called out at every opportunity. About half way through my third paragraph (bullies using the internet as a shield), when I found I needed to write about something I have never admitted in public before.
 
I have a bully.
 
Our community is blighted in a way rarely spoken of, particularly on social media. This Autistic community is made up (mostly) of vulnerable adults Yet too often, we see these personal attacks and hide to avoid being collateral damage. The bullies only see a self-satisfying, point scoring exercise in cancel culture and one-upmanship; whilst the silent majority remains that way out of fear. We all have enough problems IRL without some troll behind a keyboard doing their damnedest to destroy you, in order to satisfy their own twisted, selfish desires.
 
My bully thinks of themselves as a paragon of virtue, a person to be respected; a self-appointed Crusader who enjoys bullying through selective PMs suggesting inside knowledge, posing as a victim, posting slander, hints of wrongdoing without proof. Most advocates and activists find this this device to be anathema, but it is the mainstay of this bully’s armoury. I make no claim as a paragon of virtue. I’m Autistic. I’m as human as the rest of you, so I’ll not name my bully just yet, but you know who you are. Don’t you?
 
My bully came about when a group I was in tried to discipline them for bad behaviour. I wasn’t involved the second time, but it didn’t matter. With two others, I was targeted. The bully’s emails were accusations of damaging their reputation and engineering their expulsion over the informal warning they received from others. Complaints of how we had done this out of jealousy of their success. This became weeks of personal abuse, accusations and threats, usually many times in a day. They claimed innocence of all wrongdoing,, demanding full retractions of this and past ‘false’ complaints, demanding a public apology from us for suggesting they had behaved badly. The fact we could do nothing didn’t matter to them.
 
Think on that.
 
To prove their innocence, they relentlessly bullied 3 uninvolved persons for weeks, making baseless accusations and repeated, dire threats, to satisfy their Ego. Reminding them their accusations meant we could not deal with their complaint had no effect, those who gave the informal warning were ignored. Finally, we 3 made a bullying complaint and they resigned to avoid exposure. So started an online campaign of innuendo, hints of wrongdoing and insider information with no facts involved. Just constant, malicious gossip.
 
This continues to this day.
 
The effect on my health was stark. Some colleagues helped, some hid and pretended they ‘knew nothing about that’. I had MH problems, I became hyperalert and unable to avoid meltdown, suffered insomnia and inertia with 4 months off work this last year.
 
I’ve had enough of being a Troll’s victim. I thought “publish the emails, drag ‘em into the light”, so they can be exposed, removing their power. Then I thought, unannounced like that would be unkind. perhaps even bullying, so I keep to common decency. Something my bully lacks. Meanwhile, if anyone has ‘learned’ anything about me recently they want clarifying, just ask. I will answer honestly. My bully relies on my silence, which I now break.
 
Dear Bully, you are warned.
 
I’m fed up of being disparaged by this bully. I work bloody hard for our community and don’t get paid very much or often. This work, which mostly happens out of sight of social media, in the NHS and various Strategic Authorities, doesn’t make me special or important. I am only one of thousands who do this month after month across the UK. My work has finally got me to where I can do some lasting good; and the bully is back. For some reason, they need prove they’re ‘better’ than me; little more than Ego with a dash of narcissism. They can’t bear people they dislike having success, so they go about pulling those they perceive as competition down. A bully.
 
This stops now, as I will go public if they continue. I give fair warning. Got that, Bully?
I’m standing up to my bully and suggest others do, too. A bully’s power is nothing when they’re exposed. We all make mistakes. FFS we’re Auties, it’s in the job description! However, no-one deserves to be bullied for them. I prefer collaborative, constructive effort and the internal satisfaction good results brings. I don’t do this work for online celebrity and I certainly don’t do it for the money!
 
So; next time you are offered a PM or asked to join a private group to hear insider information or gossip about someone you may not know or have not met, that the PMer won’t discuss openly or include their victim in the conversation, think:
 
Am I helping a bully?
 

Anti-Bullying Week: willow’s Blog

I am an Autistic advocate and a lived experience advisor, and this means that I am expected to put myself out for public scrutiny. There are those who think that as an advocate you have to share every aspect of your life there are also negative individuals in the world who will create their own version of your story to point score and turn people against you or just to create drama and scandal.

This week is anti-bullying week and at Autistic UK CIC we have a hash tag:

#IHaveABully

We are going to be sharing useful information on the different types of bullying, and we are also putting together a list of up to date resources to add to the Autistic UK CIC website. We will be delving deeply into this subject looking at everything from definitions to long term impacts.

Some of us feel strong enough to share our stories on our blog and this is my attempt to put my thoughts together in a clear way. This has been such a difficult post to write and it has led to a lot of flashbacks and tears. I have c-PTSD from years of bullying and trauma because of my differences, and I am not ashamed to say that I still have scars.

It’s not easy to talk or even write about bullying as an adult. It’s one of those unspoken subjects; a taboo.

As an advocate I have many people who share their stories of bullying with me and some of these cases have been extremely distressing. In five short years I have heard of multiple cases where bullying has been relentless, and it has had long term impacts on individuals’ wellbeing. Sadly, I know of several cases where bullies have pushed individuals into taking their own life.

People often perceive bullying as a childhood problem, but many of the experiences shared with me have been by adults who are experiencing bullying now. Just as Autistic children grow up into Autistic adults, those who were bullies during childhood carry their ways on through to adulthood and one bully can affect many people. They do a great deal of damage and adult bullies become very good at hiding their attacks, often presenting either as a perfectly charming individual or even portraying themselves as a victim themselves to gaslight their victim and observers.

Being out as an Autistic person makes me open and it makes me a target. I think this is something that we as advocates don’t talk about enough.

During my years as an advocate, I have become very mindful of the fact that there are different types of bullying and have seen it playing out in too many environments. It has become ingrained into our society and I am not immune.

I was bullied as a child, so I know the long-term impact this has on an individual. Since becoming an advocate I have had a couple of bullies who lurk in the shadows waiting for when I am at a low ebb to have another stab with their knifes ,usually in the back may I add.

One thing I am always very mindful of is that there are two sides to every story and those who are so quick to throw stones often live in glasses houses. I am the type of person who collects all the stones that people have thrown at me to build a protective wall because I have learnt all about bullying. I use that knowledge to protect myself now, but it shouldn’t have to be like this.

Grown up bullies use covert methods as bullying often becomes more strategic in adult bullies (think of corporate bullying and competitor bashing). Often there is an ulterior motive especially in employment settings, business, and not forgetting the world of social media which is a subject all of its own.

I am seeing so many of my friends and colleagues having to deal with bullies and witch hunts across social media that I have absolutely no motivation to reach out to anyone on these platforms other than those I trust. I haven’t been attacked directly yet, but some close to me have and I know it will only be a matter of time. I won’t even go onto Twitter because in my opinion it has become the modern-day version of the stocks. One thing I have noticed is those who criticise tend to do it late at night when the person receiving the criticism is either asleep or, when awake, in a less resilient frame of mind so are less likely to challenge the perpetrator.

For a long time, I let other people’s negativity, bitterness and narrow-minded perceptions stop me from sharing my views and using my voice. I would let the things people said really get to me and would spend days worrying about how people perceived me.

I have removed a lot of people recently from social media as I have constantly had people trying to draw me into their arguments and group attacks. That really does not work with my mindset. People who know me will understand why I need to protect my own health and well-being and will actually make the time to engage in discussion rather than just lurking around for when they want to throw in negative jibs. I have a really strong scaffold of people around me but over the last few months I have definitely pulled away from more and more platforms which are become toxic an inhabited by trolls.

Our whole lives do not need to be shared on social media for us to be active citizens and advocates. There is a big difference between giving up your time to bring about systemic change and spending your whole life attacking and criticising on social media, just because another person’s experiences don’t fit into your narrow experience.

I find it especially distressing during this time that people feel they have a right to criticise and condemn without even checking their facts first. So many people are dealing with challenges created by COVID-19. We don’t know what anyone is having to deal with behind closed doors, and all this nastiness and underhand bullying is just adding to the stress levels.

It’s really not clever eating your own, especially when you only have half facts and hearsay to base your defamation campaigns on. The pandemic has already divided communities and that is the last thing we need. We can’t allow  our social structures and support systems to break down because it lessens our voice.

Those who are buying into this mindset of ganging up on others are not helping anyone. While people are fighting amongst themselves, they are not focusing on the good of society or the future issues that we are going to have to deal with. I refuse to interact anymore with people who are purely  focusing on their own personal vendettas.

We all have a choice of paths we take in life and I choose the one that leads to compassion and empathy, not criticism and condemnation.

Autism, Bullying and Me

This is a great little book for pre-teens and teens who are affected by bullying. It’s aimed at Autistics, however I think anyone would find it useful, particularly if they have any sort of neurodivergence.

It’s refreshing to read a book which doesn’t pretend that you can change anyone other than yourself. While for a couple of minutes I got a little defensive over it being my responsibility to change reactions and thought patterns (I was bullied for pretty much my entire school life), actually it’s the only thing that you have have any control over, so it makes sense.

Resilience has become a bit of an attack word as bullies now use it to try and make their victim feel worse, but actually the meaning, feelings, and actions behind resilience absolutely need to be taught to our youth – not because being bullied is their fault (something Emily makes abundantly clear throughout), but because *they* will feel a whole lot better about themselves if they can protect their well-being and think those three positive things in the midst of upset (you’ll have to read the book to find out what I mean by “those three positive things”).

I could have done with this book being around when I was younger, and despite it being mine, I’m going to slip it into my twelve-year-old’s bedroom so he can look at it in his own time. I’m also going to get a copy for his school and my younger son’s school (despite it being primary) because I think that it’s a good resource that lots of children may not get access to in any other environment.

National Play Day 2020

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than organising collective events across the UK National Play Day 2020 is focusing on children’s rights to play at home. We’re increasingly being told about the importance of play, and there’s copious research into why this is, however when you’re Autistic and/or the parent of an Autistic child, most sentences which include the word “play” in relation to your child are telling you about how they’re “not playing correctly,” or they’re “only doing parallel play rather than cooperative play,” all heading to the climactic “we need to teach your child how to play.”

Wait, what?

Numerous dictionary definitions state that when people play they’re spending time doing enjoyable things; doing things for pleasure; doing things for fun. So how on earth can anyone be doing it wrong?

National Play Day state that:

Playing is fun and is central to children’s happiness

Playing helps children’s physical, mental and emotional health and well-being

Playing boosts children’s resilience, enabling them to cope with stress, anxiety and challenges

Playing supports children to develop confidence, creativity and problem-solving skills

Playing contributes to children’s learning and development.

Nowhere does it state that playing is prescriptive and must follow a set pattern. Neither does it state that “proper play” means pretending to drive a toy car down an imaginary road rather than lining it up, while also meaning that a banana is also a phone and not always just food.

I’d planned to write an article about the differences between non-Autistic and Autistic play, citing research as well as my own experiences as an Autistic parent of Neurodivergent children, however when I started to do search for things to back up (or disprove – I’m not shy about being told I was wrong) what my (and others I know) experiences are, all I could find were research documents pertaining to non-Autistic children, and hundreds of articles about how to “make” your Autistic child play like everyone else. At this point the plan went out of the window – I could say I threw my toys out of the pram, but that wouldn’t be very appropriate of me, would it?

Instead I want to use this as a springboard to start a discussion:

  • How did you play as an Autistic child?
  • How do you play as an Autistic adult?
  • What are your Autistic child’s favourite games?

Before going further, I just need to say it loudly for the people at the back:

Forcing Autistic children to “play appropriately” is a contradiction of play. You are making them work.

Play is important for so many reasons. It helps children practice skills they’ll need later in life, and current pedagogy uses play with younger children as the main basis of teaching: Learning Through Play seems to be the tagline of most Foundation Phase (KS1) departments. Play is so important that it’s article 31 in the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child which is enshrined in law in Wales.

Among the research, common themes of play being important for recreation and relaxation dominate the results, so why when we have Autistic children – who are often autonomy seekers in a world where they have to work hard to conform – do we turn their play into another therapy/learning opportunity/social skills lesson? Why can’t they play the way they want? Why must we steal what little autonomy and self-regulation they have?

Play is also described as a cathartic activity in which people (particularly children) express their feelings, get rid of negative emotions, and replace them with positive ones. Do you think that by telling a child that they can’t solo-spin on the playground because they should be playing tag with the rest of the class is cathartic for them? Are they going to be able to express their feelings? Or are they having to ignore their needs for the sake of your tick box exercise?

Instead of changing the Autistic’s method of playing, join them! Spin, jump, flap, line up toys, play a couple of hours of Minecraft, whatever it is that they want to do. The main focus should be on having fun.

 

References

National Play Day (2020), Home Page, [online]. Available at https://www.playday.org.uk/ (Accessed 03/08/2020)

Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries (2020), Play [Verb], [online]. Available at https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/play_1 (Accessed 03/08/2020)

International Day of Friendship – 30th July 2020

Today is the International Day of Friendship, and to mark to occasion I wanted to write about some of the myths surrounding friendship and Autistic people.

If media and outdated medical opinions are to be believed, Autistic people can’t make friends. We’re aloof, bluntly honest to the point of being rude, don’t like the company of others, and only tolerate people if their presence is of benefit to us. Except the media and medical opinions are complete nonsense, and actively damage our community.

One of the most common reasons parents are given by medics who refuse to give their child an autism diagnosis is, “he/she is too sociable,” or, “but they have friends.” Our social communication differences have somehow become equated with an inability or desire for companionship, and despite Autistic adults protesting this theory, it seems to have stuck. A plethora of adults have been refused diagnosis because they’re able to have romantic relationships and are, heaven forbid, even married!

This assumption has caused deeper wounds for those who are more able to mask their differences or become social chameleons, regardless of the damage it does to their wellbeing. As this typically affects females in higher proportions to males (both trans and cis women and girls), understandably a lot of work has been dedicated by advocates and some professionals into establishing a set of ‘female’ Autistic characteristics due to their under-diagnosis. However, this has meant that those who present as male in clinic have missed diagnosis when it’s possible they would have received one if measured against ‘female’ characteristics.

Those Autistics who do get diagnosed while young – possibly because they are happier alone, or because they have had difficulties making and keeping friends in school – are often placed into therapies or social skills classes which have a primary aim of making the Autistic person change the way they interact with people to meet the needs of non-Autistic people. They’re told, “this is the only way to make friends,” and that their methods of interacting, communicating, and (in many cases) playing are wrong. Being made to follow programmes designed by non-Autistics to get Autistics to ‘fit in’ mean that these Autistics either join the huge numbers of us who mask, or continue to feel isolated while also developing self-esteem and mental health difficulties. Wouldn’t you if you were told the reason you don’t have friends is because who you are is inherently wrong? Remove the focus from social skills classes to helping Autistics find their community – friendships will then naturally bloom and flourish.

Why do the non-Autistics get to be who they are? Why is it okay for other children to be lifted up, told to be proud of being different, and that they can be who they want to be, when the Autistics get the addendum: but not like that? Is it any wonder that by the time we reach adulthood, regardless of when we were diagnosed, most of us have at least one co-occurring mental health condition?

However, it’s not all doom and gloom, for the arrival of social media (and the internet in general) has changed the face of friendship for so many of us. I don’t dispute that there are toxic elements to social media, but for Autistic people – especially those diagnosed late – it’s where we finally find our tribe. There are a huge number of Autistic social groups online. From hashtags on Twitter (#AllAutistics #ActuallyAutistic and #ADHDAutism to begin with) to Facebook groups (Neurodiversity UK, Autism Inclusivity, Autism Late Diagnosis Support and Education are all good starting places), these are places which – often for the first time – Autistic people feel supported and find people they can relate to. For so many of us most of our friends are online, so please don’t assume that we’re being antisocial for looking at our phones.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Autistic people have said that they have been able to socialise and keep up with friends more than they did pre-pandemic. Not having to go into the office and/or commute means there’s more mental energy for time with friends, and its online nature (including online quizzes, virtual pubs, and gaming) means that participation is far easier, so they feel more connected. I know I’ve socialised more with some of my non-Autistic ‘mum friends’ far more regularly than I would if it was in person.

When we branch out of the digital realm and meet fellow Autistics in person, we rarely have the same level of awkwardness, anxiety, and misunderstanding as we do when we try to socialise with non-Autistics. This is seemingly at odds with the assumptions non-Autistics have of us which were discussed at the start of this article, and is why Autistics believe that it’s not completely accurate to state that we have social communication difficulties, rather social communication differences. We can often communicate extremely well with others who share our neurotype, regardless of whether or not we speak. We may not always understand what non-Autistic people are trying to communicate, but actually they also don’t understand us. Communication is a two-way street, and of course we’re going to be exhausted by trying to maintain friendships with non-Autistics who expect us to walk a ‘one-way road’ to communicative harmony: at least meet us half-way!

Don’t assume that Autistic people have no desire to make friends. Educate people when they claim that Autistic people cannot make friends. Understand that online friendship and companionship is valid, and can be just as fulfilling (if not more so) than in-person relationships, particularly for Autistics. On this International Day of Friendship, if you are friends with a neurodivergent person, ask yourself: are you making them do all of the work? Are you expecting them to change their communication style without thinking about adapting your own? Do you make assumptions about their abilities, needs and desires based on their neurotype? If so, please consider whether or not you could help your friend further and make life easier for them. And please, at the very least, meet them half-way.

The view from A Wing – Missal the First

Letters to an NT friend on the outside from a lifer on the rarely secure A Wing of Life. Sometimes satirical, sometime internal musings of an older autie, looking through the prism of lived experience. It isn’t intended as any negative criticism, comment or opinion of any particular person or organisation. Just wry humour. Except A$. They’re fair game.

It does however pay humble homage to the late, great Ronnie Barker and Richard Beckinsale. Thank you for the laughter and the wisdom.

This occasional series is written for entertainment and should NOT be seen as any kind of guiding philosophy, ideology or personal or political comment. Unless you’ve got Jelly Babies. So long as you’re sharing, you can believe what you like…

Missal the First

June (I think) 2020

Hello Freddie

How you doing fella? Sorry about no letter for a while, but the usual restrictions on A Wing got even more fun during the lock-down you lot had to get your eyes tested, or whatever. Nasty, this covid.

Didn’t notice much difference first 2 weeks or so (you know me, don’t get out much), but it was bloody difficult to get bog roll. Some of the trustees lucky enough to work in the kitchen were moaning that they had to make even more chips as some git had swiped all the pasta. Doc says they won’t need the bog roll if they stuff all that pasta. Nasty…

Doc Magister (still can’t work out if that’s his name, his attitude or he’s a secret Whoverian) said we’d all be OK, cos we were all to keep in and those in the Infirmary were an ‘isolated system’. First thought was ‘No shit Sherlock, finally noticed!’. Then I got he meant cooped up 24/7 (cos we might or might not be vulnerable) and the doors to the Infirmary staying shut. People going in, but no one out, except managers, staff, cleaners, Doc, health visitors, the bloke who cuts the lawn, the kitchen staff, agency workers and NHS and council officials making sure no one is breaking the isolated system and that bloke from the funeral home. Doc says they’ve been perfectly safe and isolated. He’s in charge of these things, so back to one hour a day round the yard for exercise. I miss the gym.

Your lad Ricky is fine. He says he’s got a discord server (sounds like the bar staff at a dodgy nightclub) and you still need to download the app. The Wi-Fi in here’s been a bit shitty unreliable since everyone and his cat went Zoom! Reminds me, Fat Larry says Hi. He would Fb you, but he’s banned. He thought 5G had something to do with all this, so he set fire to his partner’s brand-new mobile in the computer room.

Like I said, Ricky’s OK. All that ‘I’ve been practicing this for all my life’ when it started, but he seems to be moodier now like the rest of us, but making the best of it. He’s learning Russian. Some 12 yr old on this WoT thingy, Mocba3ear1941, keeps writing Cyrillic in the chat and Ricky thinks he’s taking the piss. Honestly, I think that we’re all feeling it. Especially those of us on the single landing. Didn’t realise how much I relied on some people until they were out of reach. Still, should be used to it, you’d think, seeing as quite a few people put themselves out of my reach after I got sentenced.  

Since they closed the infirmary, we’ve all had an app to ‘see’ the Doc. Not that the booking staff are too helpful at the best of times, but now seems just all attitude like ‘you’re wasting my time’ coming back at you. Brrrr! I love person centered care. Self centered’s more like it for the Last 10 weeks.

Let me know if you get this, Ricky has set me up a what’s App group with you, me, Jason and Michael. He says you can use that in your sleep.

Stay Safe mate

Jack

Are Autistics empowered during pregnancy and labour in line with the ICPD?

Today (11th July 2020) is World Population Day which “this year calls for global attention to the unfinished business of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development” (ICPD).[1]

The ICPD met in Cairo in 1994 and 179 governments adopted a Programme of Action relating to reproductive health and the empowerment of women. ICPD is “often used as a shorthand to refer to the global consensus that reproductive health and rights are human rights.”[2]

[Before I continue, I’d like to thank Hayley Morgan for her guidance and direction to some of the only academic articles out there regarding this matter.]

Despite this consensus, many Autistic women (and those non-binary and otherwise gendered people who have given birth), report that the support (or lack of) they received during pregnancy and birth from their medical teams was not reflective of their needs. A study of women with intellectual and developmental disabilities conducted in 2015 by Potvin, Brown and Cobigo found that a “high level of available support was not always perceived as beneficial” and that “social support is perceived as most effective when three conditions are met: (1) support is accessible, (2) support is provided by individuals expressing positive attitudes towards the pregnancy, and (3) autonomy is valued.”[3] The study concludes that there’s a lack of accessible information for developmentally disabled women, and that maternity care providers should “be aware of stigmatizing attitudes and respect the autonomy of pregnant women with IDD as they prepare for motherhood.”

For pregnant Autistics, not only is there a lack of accessible information for those who need it, there’s a lack of information full stop. If you Google ‘pregnant and Autistic’ or ‘Autistic pregnancy’ the results include a plethora of articles speculating about whether or not you can ‘prevent autism’, articles listing the ‘risk factors for having an Autistic child’, a small handful of academic research papers which are often behind paywalls, and (from the first 10 pages of the Google search results) a couple of articles containing the experiences of actually Autistic people who have experienced pregnancy and birth.

Pregnant people often spend at least some time researching what to expect during pregnancy and birth – there’s an abundance of books, articles, websites and forums highlighting this fact – yet pregnant Autistics and Autistic parents have been accused of Fabricated or Induced Illness due to the volume of research they have conducted and their use of medical – rather than colloquial – terminology in appointments. This is discussed in a 2017 article by The Guardian in which Autistic women report their experiences of motherhood including fears of putting “professionals’ backs up and [being] accused of causing or fabricating their children’s condition” and being “terrified their children will be removed from them if social workers misinterpret their autistic traits as indicating potential harm to the child.”[4]

It’s also reported that the experiences of pregnancy and birth for Autistics are quite different from their non-Autistic counterparts, and that sensory differences (for example) were dismissed as ‘not possible’ by their midwifery team. An article on Tommy’s (the miscarriage and baby loss charity) website features Rachel, an Autistic mum who has experienced multiple miscarriages. Rachel talks about how she (along with “many Autistic mothers”) are “very aware of their internal body state and knew things about their pregnancy before the textbooks said they should” which meant that she was more acutely aware of pregnancies she had lost in the early stages of conception. Rachel also discusses the difficulties Autistics have with processing pregnancy loss, and that “some may not process what has happened immediately or even within the weeks and months that follow the loss.” This processing delay coupled with reduced social networks reported by Autistics (corroborated by Potvin, Brown and Cobigo’s aforementioned study) contribute to the “isolation and detriment [pregnancy and baby loss] causes to mental health.”[5]

A study published in Women and Birth in 2017 explores the sensory differences reported by pregnant Autistics alongside other reported challenges they face. The review of current literature and its supplementary anecdotal evidence from blogs found that Autistic women “reported that they needed to feel more empowered about the circumstances of their giving birth and that they relied on three factors during their experience—clear communication, sensory adjustments and change management.” It highlights issues faced by Autistic people more generally – hospitals being noisy environments and touch which “may bewelcomed by many patients can be the cause of pain or distress for the [Autistic person].”[6]

Therefore, Autistic UK recommend that the needs of Autistic women, non-binary, and otherwise gendered people who give birth are reviewed and recognised in accordance with ICPD. Midwifery teams need to receive clear guidance and training from Autistics with lived experience in order to ensure the needs of all pregnant Autistics are recognised and met. There are a number of Autistic professionals with experience in this area, including Hayley Morgan MSc, who are able to provide talks and training regarding the Autistic experience of pregnancy and birth in order to achieve positive outcomes for both the Autistic person and their baby.

References

[1] United Nations (2020), ‘World Population Day July 11’ (Online) accessed 9th July 2020. Available at https://www.un.org/en/events/populationday/

[2] United Nations Population Fund (2019), ‘Explainer: What is the ICPD and why does it matter?’ (Online) accessed 9th July 2020. Available at https://www.un.org/en/events/populationday/

[3] Potvin, LA, Brown, HK & Cobigo, V (2016), ‘Social Support Received by Women With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities During Pregnancy and Childbirth: An Exploratory Qualitative Study’ Midwifery, Vol. 37, pp 57-64 (Online) accessed 9th July 2020. Available at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27217238/

[4] Hill, A (2017) ‘Mothers with autism: ‘I mothered my children in a very different way’’ The Guardian (Online) accessed 9th July 2020. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/apr/15/women-autistic-mothers-undiagnosed-children

[5] Rachel (ND) ‘Recurrent miscarriage and being autistic’ Tommy’s (Online) accessed 9th July 2020. Available at https://www.tommys.org/our-organisation/help-and-support/baby-loss-stories/recurrent-miscarriage-and-being-autistic

[6] Rogers, C, Lepherd, L, Ganguly, R, & Jacob-Rogers, S (2017), ‘Perinatal issues for women with high functioning autism spectrum disorder’ Women and Birth Vol. 30 Iss. 2, pp e89-e95 (Online) accessed 9th July 2020. Available at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1871519216301287

Breaking News – Pupils in wales to return to full time education in September

Kirsty Williams – Education Minister – has just announced that all schools will open on 1st September for all pupils, with schools having the option to initially prioritise entry for key year groups (Reception, years 7, 11, 12 as examples) for the first few days.

This announcement is subject to the continuing steady decline of positive COVID-19 cases. Kirsty stated:

  • There will be limited social distancing
  • Children will typically in contact groups of 30
  • Social distancing guidance for adults should follow the general guidance at the time
  • If there’s a local COVID-19 outbreak schools will conduct risk assessments with the LEAs
  • If staff/pupils test positive the TTP system steps in
  • Schools to have a stock of home testing kits for this eventuality
  • Schools will have back up plans in case pupils need to return to remote learning
  • Guidance for schools will be published Monday next week
  • Logistical challenges will be addressed in the guidance
  • Unions have been consulted and have an opportunity to feed into the guidance before it’s published on Monday
  • Welsh Government are working with childcare groups to enable them to increase their contact group numbers
  • Welsh Government will provide £29million funding to recruit the equivalent of 600 new teachers and 300 TAs
  • This funding will be fairly distributed across Wales into school budgets
  • An additional £5million will be provided to double resources relating to pupil mental health and wellbeing
  • Welsh Government currently have a Whole School Framework Consultation regarding wellbeing
  • Targeted support will be provided for disadvantaged and vulnerable young people, and pupils in years 11, 12, and 13
  • This targeted support is to assist with reducing attainment gaps
  • Minister states that parents should be confident in sending their children back as WG are following scientific advice
  • TAG understanding of COVID-19 is that younger children don’t seem to be vectors for the disease
  • International studies show that under 18s make up less than 2% of COVID-19 cases
  • Minister advises it would be disingenuous to claim there is zero risk – it’s about mitigating risk
  • Parents will initially not be fined if they choose not to send their children back – this could change in the future
  • If a household has a high risk family member a family centred approach will be taken
  • Guidance regarding vulnerability has been published by WG

Autistic UK will read the guidance once published to ensure the needs of pupils with Additional Learning Needs and Disabilities have been considered. Information regarding our ongoing work in this area can be found here.

Interview with Chris Bonnello: Author of The Underdogs Series and OWner of Autistic Not Weird

Chris Bonnello holding up copies of the first two Underdogs books

Kat Williams chats to Chris Bonnello, owner of Autistic Not Weird and author of Underdogs about the series and releasing a novel during lockdown. A video of the full conversation can be found at the end of this post, or you can click here to go directly to the video.

 

Kat Williams (A-UK): So, thank you Chris for joining us today. I and the rest of Autistic UK love your work through Autistic Not Weird. I’m also personally a Patreon supporter and I’ve backed both Underdogs and Underdogs: Tooth and Nail.

Chris Bonnello: Thank you.

Kat Williams (A-UK): I was gripped by Underdogs; I read it in a day. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to read Tooth and Nail yet because it’s not been that long since it’s arrived, but it’s next on my reading list and I’m pretty sure it’ll probably be a read in a day job again.

Chris Bonnello: Awesome

Kat Williams (A-UK): It’s exciting. You don’t want to stop because you want to know what’s happening next.

Though many of our followers know who you are there may be a couple who don’t, so could you please tell us a little bit about your background and how you became an Autistic advocate?

Chris Bonnello: I’m Chris Bonnello. I’m a special needs tutor, used to be a primary school teacher, and [I’m an] autism advocate/speaker, writer, novelist and so on. Did I mention I’m Autistic myself? You probably gathered already. [I was] diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in 2011 (January 12th) and in 2015 – having just left mainstream primary school teaching – I decided that there was an awful lot of good that I was not doing by keeping my autism/Asperger’s a secret, so I launched Autistic Not Weird where I could talk about autism from both a personal perspective and a professional perspective and it seems to have taken off a bit.

Kat Williams (A-UK): A little bit! Yes.

Chris Bonnello: I now get to call myself an award winning writer and international speaker and that was not the plan.

Kat Williams (A-UK): It’s a very good place to end up though.

Chris Bonnello: Yeah

Kat Williams (A-UK): It’s not surprising you’ve won awards because your articles are incredibly balanced. You are very empathetic and also sympathetic but also factual. It’s really important to have that balance because we can get caught up in emotions sometimes and maybe skip on the facts and other people are so factual they forget that they’re dealing with people. It’s difficult to get that balance and you do have it.

Chris Bonnello: Oh, thank you.

Kat Williams (A-UK): I believe your first degree was in maths and you teach maths, so what led you to doing a master’s in creative writing?

Chris Bonnello: My first degree was mathematics with education at Newcastle (awesome city) and the plan was always to become a primary school teacher, but I wanted to get a maths degree just in case; it was better than spending four years getting a teaching degree, walking into a classroom and then thinking ‘wait I don’t actually like this.’ So, I got a maths degree, then I got a teaching degree and then I think the decision to start the creative writing master’s was about a month or so before I started Autistic Not Weird. Having just left teaching I was thinking ‘well what am I going to do with my life now? I mean, I’m never going to be a teacher again,’ – as I thought at the time because back then I didn’t realise the huge gulf there is between mainstream teaching and special needs tuition, and how much one of them suited my personality and what I really want to get out of being in education compared to the other.

I’ve been wanting to become a writer or publish a novel ever since I was about thirteen and writing Sonic the Hedgehog fanfiction and I figured, ‘you know what? I’m in my late twenties now, I know that I can write good stuff I just want to take it further and see if a master’s in creative writing takes me anywhere.’ My dissertation piece was a piece called Guerrillas which was this rather ridiculous story I wrote in 2010 as a coping mechanism for being unemployed about a bunch of people hiding in the countryside fighting a massive army of cloned soldiers. I was trying to write a story about the most unwinnable – mathematically unwinnable – war possible and this ridiculous story became my dissertation for my uni degree. A year later a publisher said, ‘actually yes, I like the sound of this.’ A year after that it was published. A few weeks ago, the sequel came out.

Kat Williams (A-UK): It’s no wonder that it was picked up by a publisher because it is absolutely fantastic. There is a bit of a story I remember behind the change in name to Underdog do you want to talk through why that was changed?

Chris Bonnello: It was called Guerrillas because that was the name I came up with in 2010 and back then I believed I’d be the only person who’d ever read it or take it seriously, so I didn’t really need an impressive title. When we started the publication process the publisher said, ‘we’re not quite sure whether Guerrillas is the best title for it.’ They were basically saying what I had been thinking for the last six months to that point, but kind of procrastinating the conversation about because first off, Underdogs is a better title because the characters are Underdogs in just about every sense. In the war sense twelve – well it starts off as twelve and becomes thirteen – thirteen characters hidden in the countryside, untrained in any kind of military stuff, against millions of cloned soldiers: they’re Underdogs in that sense. Eight of them [are] also teenagers who escaped the attack on their special school, so they’re kind of Underdogs in the sense that society pathologically underestimates what they can do. They’re seen as the people who are supposed to not be able to do this that and the other, so it was just a much more suitable title.

One comment that completely solidified the fact that the title needed changing was an Argentinian follower who said, ‘if you call it Guerrillas your story won’t be particularly popular in South America because my country is still recovering from the guerrilla warfare we suffered in the 1970s.’

I thought oh yeah! When people who aren’t me think of guerrilla warfare they think of the Vietcong. People don’t have the sort of positive representation that I want the Underdogs to have.

Kat Williams (A-UK): Underdogs is a more descriptive title for what’s going to be read as well, so I think that it’s definitely a good choice.

Chris Bonnello: You also don’t have to explain to people that you’re not talking about the animals.

Kat Williams (A-UK): Exactly, and that’s also a bonus.

Some people who aren’t familiar with you and the Underdogs series may hear about it and assume it’s going to be mainly introspective narration and autism clichés in the style of books like Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. How would you describe Underdogs to them? Can you tell us a bit more about the series? But obviously keeping it spoiler free.

Chris Bonnello: The Underdogs series is a dystopian near-future war series where the whole of Britain has been imprisoned in giant walled citadels. They’re under the watchful eye of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of cloned soldiers and the only people left in the abandoned British countryside trying to fight for these people’s freedom are thirteen people called the Underdogs. And like I said, eight out of these people are teenagers who escaped the attack on Oakenfold Special School, so you’ve got Autistic heroes, dyslexic heroes, heroes with ADHD, anxiety, Down’s Syndrome. You mentioned autism clichés – as an Autistic person myself I’ve always been very mindful about how autism and neurodiversity in general need to be represented in the media because around the time that Underdogs came out, perhaps a few years before, it became the very “in thing” to have a token Autistic character. We had everything from an Autistic Muppet to an Autistic Power Ranger and in some of these cases their autism wasn’t really explored or developed or anything. It’s one thing to have Autistic characters but you’ve got to have meaningful Autistic characters. In fact, the best answer I can give really is comes from the notes from the author at the front of the first book. I’ll read it out:

“The most important fact about autism, dyslexia, or neurodiversity in general, is that each person’s experience is different. No two autistic people (for example) are the same: we are different from each other for the same way that non-Autistic people are.

In recent years we have seen much wider representation of disability and neurodiversity in works of fiction. Much of the time these works are criticised for not representing the entire community, and of course they don’t. It’s impossible to represent a whole population when it consists of individuals.

Therefore, I encourage you to see the Underdogs as characters in their own right, rather than poster children for their conditions, disabilities or differences. Ewan does not represent every teenager with a PDA profile; he represents Ewan. Kate does not represent every Autistic girl with severe anxiety; she represents Kate. Charlie does not represent every boy with ADHD; he represents Charlie.

Humans are individuals in all corners of humanity. The Underdogs are no exception”

Kat Williams (A-UK): Absolutely, and I think that it’s important that people remember that because it is so easy for people to fall into the cliché that is supposed to be allegedly representative of everybody and it’s good that your characters aren’t that. They are full characters; they are multidimensional and that is what a character should be. It’s really refreshing to read that.

What made you write a series of dystopian novels with a full cast of neurodivergent protagonists?

Chris Bonnello: I wouldn’t say a full cast. There are a couple of token neurotypicals in there.

Kat Williams (A-UK): Well, you do have to give them a little bit of space, don’t you?

A lot of the books that you read with neurodivergent characters tend to be self-discovery books or, if they’re written by neurotypical people, they tend to be about a parent who’s having an awful life because of their disabled child and how they’re overcoming adversity. But [Underdogs isn’t] this.

Chris Bonnello: And often the overcoming adversity is basically the disabled character becoming less disabled.

Kat Williams (A-UK): Yes! Which is incredibly frustrating for anybody reading it who happens to be disabled or Autistic or whatever relation they have to the character they’re reading.

So, what made you write those characters in that setting?

Chris Bonnello: A bit of a confession to start off with: the very first draft did not contain any neurodiverse people. Well, okay it did, Jack was blatantly Autistic all the way from the very first draft, but it was a very generic bunch of people in the 2010 draft. After that I started working in a special school and a lot of the teenagers there were strikingly similar to me when I was a teenager, except some had academic learning difficulties. Others didn’t really have learning difficulties they were “just” bullied out of mainstream. The more time I spent in that school (and me being a very active writer at the time as well) the more I came to realise that there’s a huge population here that isn’t represented meaningfully in fiction – or at least is rarely represented. I looked around, saw Guerrillas and I thought: I’ve got an idea!

With a huge, almost ensemble, cast like Guerrillas/Underdogs had I [could] re-write it and make just about all of the characters escapees from an attack on their special school, neurodiverse with a wide range of different neurotypes, and it just worked! And honestly, it is so much better. I call that the moment when the story actually started to become good.

I often say that a character is much more important than plot because you could write the most exciting plotline ever, but if the characters are as dull as ditch water then the readers are not going to care. And it’s almost the other way around. You can write a really dull predictable plot, but if the characters are interesting then the readers will love it.

Kat Williams (A-UK): People want to read characters they can relate to. Even if you’re reading the most fantastical novel set in a world that would never be real you are still reading character that you can see yourself in. When you’re neurodivergent you very often can’t find characters that you relate to, especially when you’re a teenager growing up, figuring out that you are different to a lot of the people around you. I remember when I was a teen I would escape into books because the real world wasn’t the nicest place for me, so books were safer, and I could also predict what was happening in books a lot better than I could predict what was happening in the real world, but it was very rare that I fully related to a character. I’m really glad that people such as yourself are now writing books that teenage me could relate to.

Chris Bonnello: There’s another book I’ve read recently just released this year. It’s called The Infinite by Patience Agbabi. She’s generally a poet by trade, this is her first novel and that was really refreshing as well. It’s a time travelling adventure in a world where people born on 29th February have this ability to leap through time

Kat Williams (A-UK): That’s so cool!

Chris Bonnello: The main character is not only a leaper born on February 29th but also Autistic. And not only Autistic but far from being the stereotypical white, male, middle class, Autistic maths genius – and I say this as a stereotypical white, middle class, maths genius Autistic guy – the main character in The Infinite (which is about to become a series as well) is a twelve year old black Autistic girl of Nigerian descent, who lives with grandma round the back of an industrial estate, who travels through time and solves crimes.

Kat Williams (A-UK): That sounds incredible!

Chris Bonnello: It is quite awesome

Kat Williams (A-UK): I am definitely going to buy that once we’ve finished this chat because that sounds brilliant! And thank you for bringing it to mine, and everyone else’s, attention.

Chris Bonnello: No problem

Kat Williams (A-UK): Becoming topical right now: How has the Coronavirus pandemic affected the sales of Tooth and Nail because it’s been released in the middle of this pandemic?

Chris Bonnello: I could keep a stiff upper lip and say it could have been worse, although a huge amount of the books I sell are at conferences which just aren’t happening anymore – I’m hoping we’ll get some in the autumn. I managed to keep my head above the water in terms of self-esteem by saying, ‘it’s not like you’re selling bananas that you’ve got to sell by a certain date. You’ve not *not* sold these books you’re just delaying the selling of these books.’ It’s a bit more problematic though when you ask the publisher, ‘are we still on course for Underdogs 3?’ And the reply comes, ‘in principle yes we would love to publish it. Ultimately though, the commissioning team will make a decision based on book sales over the next three months.’ I’m thinking, hmm.

Kat Williams (A-UK): What can we as supporters do to help make books three and four a reality? We’re halfway through a series! We can’t allow the next couple of books to not happen; we need to know how this ends. So, what can we do to help?

Chris Bonnello: Other than the really obvious answer of buy the books, which is such a predictable answer, writing reviews on Amazon or Goodreads to encourage other people to do the same, and sharing the news – building up some hype about the series.

Call up your library, ask them, ‘do you have the Underdogs series by Chris Bonnello?’ And, ‘why not?’

One thing I would love to happen is kicking up some kind of fuss – I have my own personal name for it the Fifty Shades of Grey effect. Remember a few years ago where everyone was reading Fifty Shades of Grey? You ask all of these people, ‘why are you reading that book?’ Just about none of them would have said, ‘I’m just kind of into slightly adjusted erotic Twilight fanfiction.’ And no one’s going to say, ‘oh, BDSM in literature is just my thing.’ Almost everyone reading Fifty Shades of Grey told me that they’re reading it just to see what the fuss is about. I would love to have that kind of hype around Underdogs. If everyone in the world buys Underdogs ‘just to see what the fuss is about,’ that would be amazing! So, kick up some hype about it.

Kat Williams (A-UK): Yep, absolutely. You mentioned libraries which is a good point, but also schools are always looking for the next book to add to their library. I know their budgets have been cut somewhat but a lot of the books they have are incredibly dated so maybe even gifting a book to your local school so the teachers can have a read and they get hooked and then they want the pupils to read it.

Chris Bonnello: There were whispers a little while ago about whether or not Underdogs could get on the New Zealand English curriculum. I’ve not heard anything about it since but there were at least whispers about it.

Kat Williams (A-UK): In Wales we’re getting a new curriculum and teachers have [allegedly] got more scope for setting their own set texts and things like that, so it’s probably worth speaking to a few Welsh English teachers.

Chris Bonnello: Awesome

Kat Williams (A-UK): I think it would be a great book for kids to study. Particularly in mainstream schools actually because I think that if they see neurodivergent children as the heroes they will treat the neurodivergent pupils in the class better.

Chris Bonnello: You’d hope so. Or at least not automatically think, ‘oh you’re not capable of anything.’

Kat Williams (A-UK): Well, exactly. I think that’s something a lot of teachers should read as well. You know, especially because characters (I’m not going to give anything away) the characters do have the typical spiky profiles that a lot of us have and I think that people can equate difficulties in some areas with having difficulties in all areas and we know that’s not the case and these books demonstrate that that’s not the case.

A question that can be a little contentious – I’ve seen it sparking debate on the internet – do you think that publishing deals for books containing neurodivergent characters should be given to neurodivergent writers over neurotypical writers? Assuming that they are of the same quality and there’s one deal, do you think the neurodivergent author should be prioritised?

Chris Bonnello: I can see why that’s a contentious question. I suppose my answer to that is first and foremost Autistic people need to be leading the autism discussion. That is not to say that’s to the exclusion of absolutely everyone else. You mentioned earlier about me trying to have a balanced attitude towards autism. Occasionally I make myself a bit unpopular by saying actually yes non-Autistic parents should have at least some kind of voice in the discussion because they do have experience in this area. That is not to say that they should lead the conversation, but to say that non-Autistic people should be entirely excluded I think that’s possibly taking it too far.

In terms of publishing deals, I would love to say a simple yes to your question that neurodiverse authors should be the ones to write neurodiverse fiction. Pragmatically I know that the publishing world just simply isn’t like that. You don’t get published because you’re a neurodiverse writer. You don’t even get published because you’re a good writer. You get published because your stuff is marketable. That’s a fairly painful realisation. As an unpublished writer I knew that some of the stuff I was writing was probably better than some of the stuff that was out there. It was certainly better than Fifty Shades of Grey. But now as a published writer, I’m equally uncomfortable at the fact that there’s loads of unpublished stuff out there that is better than mine, it’s just what’s marketable.

The solution to this in my mind is why don’t we shape the narrative around autism and neurodiversity so that it becomes more marketable for stuff to be published by Autistic/neurodiverse writers? I think we are heading in the right direction. There’s Diary of a Young Naturalist which has just come out by a sixteen year old Autistic author, there’s Chris Packham’s work, there’s just so much that’s beginning to come out that you just wouldn’t have seen ten years ago. I think we’re heading in that right direction.

Kat Williams (A-UK): It’s good, and you’re right. It is about whether something is marketable, but that also means that you have to be able to sell your idea to a publisher and Autistic people (and I know I’m generalising which is something that we don’t really like, but I think that it happens to enough of us) we’re not the best at marketing ourselves. We can often struggle to say, ‘hey I’ve done this and I’ve done a really good job,’ because we’ve spent our lives being told that what we’ve done isn’t good enough, or is not quite right, or is different and different is always shrouded in ‘different is bad,’ so I think that we do need to be able to sell ourselves in order for our things to become marketable.

You are right, getting the narrative changed is going to definitely increase the number of us that are able to be published and get our stories out there, because I’m sure there are loads of Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent writers that are producing brilliant work but don’t even know where to start.

Chris Bonnello: I occasionally get email from some asking, ‘I want to become a published author where on earth do I begin?’

I think one reason why there’s so many Autistic writers is because it’s good escapism to write. Similar to why I was writing the Underdogs books in the first place (or the Guerrillas books back then): when the real world doesn’t give you much control or influence – and everyone needs a sense of control, not in a controlling manipulative kind of way, but you want to have some kind of autonomy over where your life is going – in a world where that’s not often afforded to Autistic people, it’s so therapeutic to create your own world where actually yes, you do get to decide the rules. You do get to decide what happens. You have full autonomy over what goes on in this universe of yours.

Kat Williams (A-UK): It’s strange because it still seems that non-Autistic people equate being Autistic with a lack of creativity and imagination. While we know this is untrue do you think it’s more difficult to sell yourself as an Autistic creative writer with that bias?

Chris Bonnello: When I give advice – and this doesn’t sound like I’m answering the question but I’m getting there – when people ask me, ‘I’m trying to get a job, should I let the interviewer know I’m Autistic?’ I ask, ‘okay, why?’ They say, ‘I don’t know, just so they know.’ Strategically, why do you want them to know?

The general strategy I have is tell the interviewer that you’re Autistic if you think it’ll make you more likely to get the job rather than less likely to get the job. For example, I’ve only dropped the ‘A-bomb’ as I called it at the time once during a job interview. I actually ended up getting that job and I’m notoriously terrible at job interviews. I was very aware that I wasn’t talking very fluently in the interview and I thought, you know what? Just for the sake of experiment we’re going to see what happens here. I told them I’m Autistic, which means I’ve got the perfect kind of brain for this job. I’ll be able to do this, that, and the other, but one thing that’s not in my skill set is answering interview questions. So, if you would hire me you’d be getting this kind of person but please don’t take a lack of fluency here as a sign that I wouldn’t be good at the job. Turns out they did give me the job. Now, had I said, ‘yeah I’m Autistic which means I can’t do this, I can’t do that, but I’ll be a good employee really…’

It’s a similar situation here. If you believe that telling a publisher about you being Autistic makes them more likely to accept you – and again it’s a very difficult thing to call because publishing is made up of individuals anyway, maybe it’ll work maybe it won’t, it depends on the person reading it. But if you think generally speaking it will make you more likely to be accepted then [tell them], if not then [don’t tell them] it’s none of their business.

Kat Williams (A-UK): That’s a really good point. I think that if you’re writing about autism or Autistic characters then it could be beneficial but you are right, it isn’t really their business so people don’t have to disclose if they don’t want to.

I know that you have finished writing the third book…

Chris Bonnello: And the fourth

Kat Williams (A-UK): And the fourth! I thought you had as well.

Chris Bonnello: One of the only good things that’s come out of this lockdown [is that] I’ve finished the final book in the Underdogs series. It took me 10 years 4 months! But I finished what I started.

Kat Williams (A-UK): Which is incredible! I am in awe of anybody who can have the focus and the drive to get it done.

Do you have any plans to write any other books? Be them fiction or non-fiction? Or are you going to have a bit of a break and think about it?

Chris Bonnello: The thought of a break from writing doesn’t really appeal to me. The more I think about the Underdogs universe, the more ideas I have about it. Some of them I don’t want to say during an interview because then it’s on record and I might be committed to it, but one thing that I’m quite open about is after the fourth in the series presumably/hopefully gets published is a short story anthology called Tales of the Underdogs where each of the thirteen major characters gets their own short story. Three of them are already written, they were published on Unbound the publisher’s website as thank you presents for the people who pre-ordered the second one and when the (assuming that happens) third one goes to its crowd funding stage I’ll be presumably doing the same thing again with another three short stories from another three of the Underdogs’ perspectives. It would be nice at the end to publish a short story anthology so that people have more stuff to read about the underdogs because, let’s be honest, like I said earlier I could write the Underdogs series with the most exciting plot line or the most boring plot line as possible it doesn’t matter as much as people might think because people just generally read it for the characters. Well yeah, and the action,  but the main thing is the characters.

Kat Williams (A-UK): They are brilliant characters.

Do you have any advice for aspiring Autistic creative writers out there? Anything like set processes? A certain number of words written a day. Do you have a plan on a writing day? Or do you just sit down and let it flow (or not) depending on the day?

Chris Bonnello: It probably sounds like a cheating answer when I say find out what works for you and do it, but it honestly is the best advice I could give.

Ten years ago, my method was to walk down to the village, have a pub lunch whilst writing a story on the laptop. These days the best way of doing these things now I’ve not only got a job, I’ve got about four jobs, these days one way that I try to stave off work related stress is by deciding that once I’ve had my dinner it is Underdogs time. I don’t have to answer any emails, or perform any kind of responsibilities I just sit down if I do anything it’s writing or editing Underdogs. At different times of my life different methods worked for me.

The most important bit of advice that I give to Autistic people, and people in general when it comes to creative writing is write what you love, don’t write what you think will be marketable. By way of example, the original Guerrillas was not in the least bit marketable and I did not write it with the intention of publishing it because it’s ridiculous! Who on earth is going to publish something like that? It’s seriously unrecognisable the series as it stands now compared to the first draft. That was okay. You don’t need to publish stuff in order for your creativity to be valid. You don’t even have to be a particularly good writer for your stuff to be valid. But let’s say that you actually do want to publish and you do actually want a career in writing. Even then, write what you love don’t write for the market.

Remember when the Twilight series came out? Suddenly there was a whole explosion of vampire romance fiction and a bunch of other stuff got published that was kind of in a similar vein. That was a case of good timing. The ones that were published were very unlikely to be the ones that were copying or mimicking the Twilight series. They just happened to be from authors who had also written paranormal romance and it happened to be marketable. The people who read Twilight and then immediately began to write their own vampire fiction because they thought, ‘ooh, I think that’s marketable now,’ they would have got rejected by publishers because it takes about a year or two years to publish a book and by then the market has moved on.

All of those people who wrote knock off Twilight books (with the exception of Fifty Shades of Grey but again, that’s a different genre) those who tried to mimic what was already out there to follow the market would have ended up submitting their vampire romance around the time when suddenly teenagers fighting to death in The Hunger Games became the marketable thing. Then people writing Hunger Games knock offs started submitting their books to publishers around the time when The Hunger Games was done and they were looking for the next big thing.

The market moves too fast for any writer to really keep up with. Write your stuff, write what you love, and if you’re – I don’t want to use the word lucky, as Ewan repeatedly says in the Underdogs books, it’s never luck – but if you are fortunate enough the stuff that you’ve written may be in demand one year where it wasn’t in demand a previous year. I’m not sure if that sounds particularly motivating or not but it is entirely true unless you want to go down the self-publishing route which is fair enough. Lots of people do that, lots of people make a living from it. But if you want a traditionally published book write what you love and make it as good as you possibly can. Then comes the marketing thing which is a completely different skill and one which I don’t profess to have any expertise in.

Kat Williams (A-UK): Which is fair enough. I know a couple of authors and they also say just because you’ve received one rejection it doesn’t mean that the next one will be but you tend to get more rejections than acceptances even if your stuff’s really good because different publishers publish different types of work. You also need to research what they are putting out there because that is just as important.

Chris Bonnello: Just adding to the point you are making, writing a good book and getting a good book published are two entirely different skills. I knew enough about it to know that if you don’t know the name of the person you’re submitting to and write, ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or ‘Dear Submissions Team’ then they’re not going to be particularly keen.

Let’s say that you’re Mrs Jones and you are submissions manager for John Smith’s publishing company, John Smith being its founder who died in 1890-something-or-other, and you get a letter addressed to ‘Dear Mr John Smith’. You’ll think, ‘yeah you’ve not really researched this, have you?’ If you specifically say no Fantasy or Sci-Fi and then someone submits Fantasy or Sci-Fi, ‘just in case because it’s so good that they’ll have to say yes to me…’ Follow the submission guidelines to the letter. Show that you have some basic respect for the people who you want to publish your book and spend years working on it.

Kat Williams (A-UK): Very good advice there.

A final question. If you could change one thing to improve the lives of Autistic people worldwide, what would it be? A difficult question, I know.

Chris Bonnello: A million pounds in the bank account of every Autistic person. Some of it to be used as some kind of fund to raise actual meaningful awareness of autism and having a nice solid pro-autism promotional campaign which will lead to a reduction in the unemployment rate, a reduction in abuse in residential homes and so on, all these other major problems that exist with Autistic people. It’s not a particularly realistic answer, of course, but it’s a difficult thing to answer because there’s so many things to fix.

One thing realistically that we can try and do as I said earlier in the interview, try and change the narrative about autism and help change direction so that people a) get to see the positives that exist within Autistic brains and b) have a meaningful understanding of the challenges we face and c) make sure that we are being defined by our strengths rather than by our weaknesses. Having weaknesses etc understood, but not being the defining factor in our existence.

Other than a million pounds in every Autistic bank account doing us a lot of favours, lets face it, most of us would just spend the million pounds on our special interests (we’d be right to do so as well). But whereas you can’t solve every problem by throwing money at it, having some sort of massively well-funded campaign or drive to raise meaningful awareness of how valuable, worthy and valid Autistic people are can only be a good thing, right?

Kat Williams (A-UK): Absolutely, and a lot of the answers to that question rely on funding so your answer could well be the thing that solves all the problems because that would be the money to fix all of the other ideas.

Chris Bonnello: Fun fact: I once lost a job in a special school along with half the staff because they couldn’t afford to pay us. The school found itself half a million pounds in deficit; officially nobody knows how. Then they came up with this ‘forward thinking initiative’ that was to ‘raise standards’ or some rubbish like that which just happened to involve doubling the class sizes and halving the staff. Some of us expressed concern that very fast teenagers with profound disabilities and literally no sense of danger, ‘oh, they’ll be fine with less than half the adults around and their attention being divided by twice as many students.’ When speaking to senior management, ‘ooh, it’s just for the sake of data points… oops I’m sorry, I mean students.’ So I have some fairly personal experience about what happens to really good schools when the money runs out. More importantly, what happens to vulnerable people when the money isn’t there to support them.

So, it sounds like a very shallow answer: just give a million pounds to every Autistic person. Yeah it was a very tongue in cheek semi-humorous answer. But let’s be honest: money does talk.

Kat Williams (A-UK): It does. It makes the world go round, as they say.

Chris Bonnello: It shouldn’t, but it does.

Kat Williams (A-UK): It does. Well, thank you so much, Chris.

 Chris Bonnello: Thank you for having me.

Kat Williams (A-UK): It’s been lovely talking to you

Chris Bonnello: Likewise

Kat Williams (A-UK): And everybody, if you don’t have the books already then please buy Underdogs and Underdogs: Tooth and Nail. You can buy them on Amazon, I’m sure you can buy them from other book sellers.

Chris Bonnello: Yeah, Waterstones, lots of places.

Kat Williams (A-UK): During lockdown Amazon is possibly the easiest place for a lot of people, but other book sellers are available. Thank you so much for your time and I really hope that Unbound do go ahead with publishing books three and four. Thank you.

You can watch the conversation in full here: