Review – Different Like Me: My book of autism heroes

Different Like Me – Jennifer Elder

Different Like MeA book written for children and teenagers with autism. This book is written as though from the point of view of an eight year old boy called Quinn and goes through brief descriptions of famous people he believes may have been different like him. It is a book written to help children and teenagers understand that being autistic isn’t a singular, linear condition; and that being different is not a bad thing.

The only person is this book who has been/was diagnosed as autistic is Temple Grandin, the rest is post-humous speculation as all the other people in this book are dead and were not diagnosed whilst alive. If you type most of these names into Google with ‘autism’ afterwards you will find links to various blogs and articles which discuss and debate whether these people were autistic. You will find people who argue that yes, based on the evidence we have they most definitely were autistic. There are people who are undecided, because basing a diagnosis on second and third hand accounts isn’t very solid. Other people will argue that no, these people were absolutely not autistic.

Were they?

I don’t have a clue. They could have been, they could have been part of the Broader Autistic Phenotype. Or they could have been neurotypical with some quirks that people of the time picked up on and pointed out in writing.

Does it matter?

I don’t really have the answer to that either. Helping autistic children and teenagers understand their own autism by using positive role models is definitely a good thing. The people included in this book are writers, scientists, mathematicians, and artist (among others), and having these diverse people to look up to could definitely help an autistic person growing up. This book was written in 2005, so admittedly there weren’t as many well known people within the autistic community as there are now, and this may be part of the reason why all but one of the people in this book are dead and undiagnosed.

To try and force my review back onto the reviewing part – the book is well written in short bursts of description about each person, explaining how their differences helped them in their careers and lives:

So Sophie (Germain) was stuck in the house with nothing to do but read. That was OK with Sophie, because she loved to read. She spent hours in her father’s library, going through books. One day, she read about a mathematician named Archimedes. Sophie was thrilled. Suddenly, math was all she wanted to do. She read every math book should could find and stayed up late, solving problems. Her parent’s didn’t like it. Each night they would snuff all the candles and put out the fire so it would be too dark and cold for Sophie to stay up. They even took away her clothes so she would stay in bed! But Sophie would hide a candle, and once everyone was asleep she would wrap herself in a quilt, light the candle, and work on her math.

Each person gets a page of writing, and I think that length is about right for what this book’s purpose. It is a very positive book, and contains a good message that I think was worth writing about:

Wow, those people did a lot of great things! And they didn’t let anybody else make them feel bad for not fitting in. They just turned what they did best into great art, or great inventions, or important new ideas. I still haven’t decided what to do with my life – there’s plenty of time for that! But whatever it is, I’m going to do it my own way, just like all the great people before me…only different.

Is it worth reading? Yes, if you have an autistic child and you want to tell them about their autism, or you have already told them about their autism, then it would be worth considering if reading this book would help them.

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