Review – Different…Not Less

Different…Not Less – Temple Grandin and Various

Different...Not Less

A collection of life accounts from 14 autistic adults, with introductions to each person and an epilogue by Temple Grandin. Many of the people in this book are in their 40s, 50s, and 60s and were diagnosed with autism (or Aspergers, PDD-NOS) well into adulthood and so spent a childhood and a significant chunk of their adulthood adapting and dealing with undiagnosed autism and the impact it had on their lives.

Even now, I find that most of my friends are from other countries. My theory on this is that people of a given culture intimately know how another person from their culture is supposed to behave. Deviances from these behaviors are disliked.(…) People in other cultures don’t pick up on differences as much, owing to their relative lack of familiarity with your own culture. Differences that they do notice may be misattributed to your culture instead of your individuality. (Stephen Shore)

Each person relays (in a considerable amount of detail) their childhood, adolescence and adulthood, as well as the difficulties they have experienced throughout their lives and their successes. They discuss coping mechanisms they developed, their schooling and family, what jobs they held and mentors that they encountered along the way. Opinions and discussions can be found across all these areas and it is a great book for proving that well known quote of “If you’ve met one autistic person, well you’ve met one autistic person”

My teacher, Miss Biggs was standing in the way. I very politely said, “Hey, kid. I can’t see through you.” She made me put my head down on my desk. I didn’t understand. Other people said things like that. Even adults. They said, “You make a better door than a window.” I said the very same thing. My mother told me Miss Biggs was shocked, and she made me go back after school to apologize. I didn’t understand why. (Anna Magdalena)

Given that the tagline for this book is: “Inspiring Stories of Achievement and Successful Employment from Adults with Autism, Aspergers and ADHD”, there was the possibility that this book might be viewed as what is colloquially termed “inspiration porn”.

A Google search of that term will probably give you a good idea of the controversy and backlash surrounding the term and what it represents. There is a line (and I’m not sure how fine it is) between being inspirational and being “inspiration porn”. I personally think this book falls down on the side of being inspirational, because I think this book is aimed at an audience of people who are autistic themselves. It does not seem to me to be a book designed to show neurotypical people how “inspiring” autistic people are. I was having a particularly difficult time when I first came across this book, and the accounts in this book and the words of advice from the people throughout helped me get myself to a better place mentally.

I do hear that some people are relieved and even happy (to receive a diagnosis), as it explains much that they previously had no answers for. For me, however, this was not the case. With my diagnosis came a realization that the unexplained hardships, medical issues, and struggles were not something I could just “get over”. My diagnosis felt to me like a mountain, and one that continues to loom large over my entire life. (Karla Fisher)

The accounts are truthful and straightforward, there is little sugarcoating of anything, and as a result there are going to be viewpoints that people don’t agree with and those that they do. Sometimes you might find parts that fall into each category within the same person’s account. Some of the people led and continue to lead very happy lives, others have faced difficulties and hardships that lead to unhappy accounts. There are some strong opinions throughout the book, but there’s a good chance that every autistic person will find something from someone’s account and find themselves thinking that it sounds like a segment from their life.

My main dislike is the small, but significant, proportion of neurotypical people who react with condescension and disdain to people with autism spectrum disorders and attempt to undermine us. This is the most common type of bullying I have encountered in my life; there is at least one such person in every workplace above a certain size. (Neil McRae)


Is it worth reading?

Yes, I think this is a worthwhile collection that represents the fact that autistic people can be just as different to each other as neurotypicals are. For autistic adults especially, it can help you to get your head around your own diagnosis and pick up some words of advice as well.

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