M is for Autism – The Students of Limpfield Grange and Vicky Martin
The students from Limpsfield Grange School were the focus of a documentary a few years back here in the UK. Since then, they have co-authored two books to try and fill the gap created by the lack of books for teenage girls with autism.
This book looks at life for the titular character, M, before her diagnosis of autism. Using a combination of alterations to the presentation of text and corresponding illustrations – the anxiety that M experiences throughout the book is demonstrated in both words and style.
Anxiety is a common thread throughout this book – which makes sense given how much it was discussed by the students during the documentary. The book is written in a rambling sort of way with asides and side-mentions, helping to create this conversational style of a teenager.
But just because Miss Green is repeatedly late it doesn’t make it any easier for me to deal with. It doesn’t mean I get used to is. It just means I know how anxious I will get and how bad my anxiety will be. So in fact it’s worse!
The way that impending meltdowns and sensory overload are described and built up to in this book are well done. The words and presentation work together to create this sense of how overwhelmed the character feels in the moment, and there is a genuine sense of growing anxiety as you read through these sections.
The book switches between M’s point of view and her mother’s. This creates an interesting dichotomy between the views. In M’s point of view, the mother is often portrayed as more unreasonable and irrational whereas the reader is able to garner a greater understanding for the mother from her point of view chapters as we realise that she really is struggling to know what to do, has her own anxieties about failing her family, and is fighting for support that she just isn’t getting.
There are some parts that fall a bit short – the diagnostic process is glossed over completely. M does not appear to be involved in it at all, there is no description or explanation of the final important meeting, and a diagnosis is given in under an hour. Those of you who have been through the process know that this is very unrealistic and for good reason. Additionally, while it’s clear that the counselor is meant to off-set the negativity of all the other characters by championing autism as a wonderful difference in thinking – it comes across as quite twee and patronising. There is no discussion of the very real difficulties that M is experiencing – rather it’s all just brushed away under this concept of ‘You and autism are wonderful and just a bit different and all your problems are because of other people’. I would love it if other people were the only cause of my difficulties but sadly that’s not the case. I get that it’s meant to be an empowering book for girls recently diagnosed but I think if I was teenage me reading it, I would be a bit put off by how it’s done.
All-in-all though, it’s a nice introduction to M and her world and it will no doubt be an important book for many autistic girls diagnosed in their teenage years or younger.