Safety Skills for Asperger Women
by Liane Holliday Willey
Much attention has been drawn to the world of female autism and Aspergers because of the work and fame of Temple Grandin. But if Temple was instrumental in a big way, Liane Holliday Willey has been instrumental in a quiet way, speaking to the soul of the individual Aspie. In fact, if it weren’t for Liane, there would be no ‘aspie’ at all, for she coined the term.
Her first book Pretending to be Normal is still the high water mark for books on Aspergers, male or female, and her latest book Safety Skills for Asperger Women, is to me, just as important and more practical. Pretending was everything up to the epiphany of diagnosis and a bit more, while Safety is everything missed in the first book and everything since, and there’s been a lot, from marriage to children to death of her best friend, her father.
Liane bemoans the fact that she never became an attorney, but it’s easy for me to see as the reader, that she is far too sensitive, too gentle, to have endured the game playing, arguing and truth-bending that comes with the territory. Liane is a poet, and this comes through in her book, not as a trickle or an afterthought but seeping from the pores of every page.
The title of the book is, in my opinion, too dry and doesn’t convey the tone of the book which is as much about the emotions and the spirit as it is about the tangible. I think it should have been called Attention Aspie Women—Advice from Your Soul Sister or something like that. But this isn’t some chick book—this is real, raw, practical stuff and the fabulous glue that binds it all together is the intelligence of the woman herself, her surgical insights and her way with words. Every sentence she writes is a mini work of art which makes turning the page as easy as rocking.
Liane talks about literal thinking and confusion creating havoc in her travel plans (e.g. a sign reading “stand here for shuttle” doesn’t mean you don’t have to call for pickup), being mom to a teenager with aspergers and handling someone else’s meltdowns; there’s a chapter called “mood marauders,” another example of her clever and accurate way with words. Here’s a quick excerpt from the chapter ‘falling prey”—every aspie woman reading this will relate with a strong head nod or an audible ew!:
During my third year in college, I took a bowling course knowing it would be a fun class and an easy A for my transcript. After class one day, my kindly elderly professor asked if I would like to see how the bowling machines collect and re-track the bowling pins and balls. In solid Aspie form, I didn’t think twice about turning down a chance to take such a cool look at machinery in action. Imagine my shock when the tour I had expected quickly turned into my professor giving me a tour of his nasty tongue going down my throat.
Been there, done that, got the PTSD and the pissed-off attitude to prove it. Life doesn’t get easier, aspergirls and boys, it gets tougher, but so do we. Books like this aren’t optional, they’re survival gear.
Grace, Under Pressure
by Sophie Walker
Sophie Walker’s memoir tells of her efforts to train for and run in the London marathon while simultaneously training herself and everyone in her daughter Grace’s world to properly deal with Asperger’s. I was reticent to read this book feeling certain I would not be able to relate. 1st, I’m not a runner. The only thing in my world that chronically runs is my nose. 2nd, I’m not the mother of an Aspergirl so I never had to deal with education plans, psychologists, frustrated teachers, nor watch almost helplessly the suffering of a child who knows instinctively that she’s different. My own daughter like most children, of course had some experience with bullying but popularity always protected her like an invisible shield. Lastly, I’m not a sophisticated urbanite like Walker, a Reuters journalist living the kind of life in London I only see on BBC shows. Auntie is well-travelled, but I find London and all cities an assault on my senses that I simply cannot pretend to like although I do love a nice museum.
I was a little jealous as I began to read this book. To have an educated, loving mother, that not only cares if you cry yourself to sleep at night but also does something about it with the ferocity of a protective tiger is how it should be. (My own was always working or out disco dancing, and couldn’t have cared less if I ran away, which I did several times.) But as I read I quickly became engrossed in the story—Grace’s struggles reminded me of my own childhood and her mum’s tenacity was not, as I feared, intimidating, but rather, inspiring. I even began to run once I finished the book. Admittedly that was short-lived, but it did inspire me to pursue my exercises with renewed vigor. We must be strong physically and mentally to deal with the challenges life throws at us.
I think it surprised me how much of a toll having a child with AS can take on a parent. When you’ve read as many books and articles on AS as I have, you can get a little jaded, but there are so many things that Sophie says in this book that are like knockout punches, they hit home so potently, so clearly. Early in the book she describes the typical playground scenario, and details how she arrived to check on Grace to find her standing alone in the playground, talking to herself and sketching pictures in the air. Poignant. She laments the difficulty of “rendering Grace in simple terms” to a man in a suit who has the power to help her…or not. Ms. Walker also decries the type of book written by an MA in autism, but with no heart or real world value. She sums up aspie empathy succinctly but aptly: “she fully understands how people feel, she feels the same way herself…..she just can’t read people’s moods in the moment or understand why they might behave a certain way…”
Virtually every page contains something poignant, useful, relatable and enlightening. What truly sets this apart is that all the while, Sophie is facing her own demons and training for a marathon that is beyond anything most of us will ever set before ourselves. Quite frankly, that aspect of the book was riveting and really opened this homebody’s eyes to the world of the athlete, one which I thought was about as far away from my world as I could get. Even though I do yoga, lift weights, it is not the same thing as this kind of quest, one with a clearly defined, almost impossible goal. I guess that’s what life is—a series of quests, challenges and adventures set before us to see what we are made of. Sophie and her book are made of the very best—heart, soul, intelligence and eloquence with a generous dollop of fierce determination.
May I Be Excused My Brain Is Full
by Krista Preuss Goudreault and
by Kevin Berry
also on Itunes, CDBaby, Bandcamp and Spotify
The Independent Woman's Handbook for Super Safe Living on the Autistic Spectrum
by Robyn Steward
Buy the book on kindle or paperback (this is a US link):
by Jennifer Cooke O'Toole
For my first book of the month review, I chose Asperkids: An Insider's Guide to Loving, Understanding and Teaching Children with Aspergers Syndrome written by Jennifer Cooke O'Toole.
Jennifer was a fan of my book Aspergirls (Rudy Simone 2010) and began to use the term to refer to her daughter. But with two boys on the spectrum, she needed something that cast a wider net, hence “Asperkids”.
Jennifer is in a unique position to write this book. Not only are her kids on the spectrum, so are she and hubby. In addition, she is a school teacher. That makes for a pretty encompassing view on what it means to be on the spectrum, raise a child on the spectrum and teach a child on the spectrum.
O'Toole is well-educated and at the same time down to earth, explaining things in practical, easy to understand language. I was taken by her simple explanation of how we learn to socialize, for example: “After watching social patterns over and over again, Aspies can learn to intellectualize, break down, and then memorize behaviors that neurotypical folks do instinctively. And of course, put us in a new scenario where one or two details change, and our whole system has to be overhauled.”
She discusses how “friend and friendly are fuzzy boundaries” (at which point I slapped myself in the forehead accompanied by a loud “Doh!” I could have used that tidbit a million times in my life) and how we may at times envision relationship trajectories that don't actually include the other person's awareness. (Well that explains a few unreturned phone calls.) As you can probably tell, the book has useful advice even for us older 'kids' on the spectrum. O'Toole also poignantly demonstrates how other people can play on the eagerness of the aspie child to make friends. Many more social pitfalls are discussed and solutions given in a clever and memorable manner. For example I've heard and recommended finding a nonautistic school buddy to help your child navigate the sometimes complex and boggling world of school hallways and social mores, but she calls that a 'seeing eye friend'.
Being a teacher, she addresses academic issues with equal gusto. She calls our special interests glaring “access me here buttons” and then gives practical examples, with illustrations, on how to use them to teach other subjects the child isn't interested in. She also likens them to a teddy bear which gives comfort in a chaotic world.
Jennifer did not have any learning disabilities, but her children do, and she delves into that area with firsthand insight. She vividly describes how learning differences are as real as diabetes—you wouldn't yell at a diabetic, you'd give him insulin—similarly you can't yell at a child with learning challenges to “get on with it”, you have to change the delivery method.
This book is full of insight and simple useful tips. Despite the similarity in title, this book Asperkids is quite different from Aspergirls and they make a nice complement to one another (if I do say so myself). If you are the parent or teacher of a child on the spectrum, I highly recommend it and have included a link below for your convenience. Don't take Aunt Aspie's word for it, check it out using Amazon's “look inside” feature. .