of Sisterhood of the Spectrum by
Jennifer Cook O’Toole and an introduction to
Aunt Aspie’s Weapon of Mass Instruction
by Rudy Simone
Jennifer Cook O’Toole’s new book is a triumph. Don’t let the
slightly garish cover fool you, even if it looks like a jacket
worn by a middle-aged suburbanite on vacation in Las Vegas. It’s
filled with useful information, and not only useful, but frank
and hard-hitting. Our new books actually cover a lot of the same
subjects and I feel compelled to compare them a bit. Considering
they’ve come out at virtually the same time, I find that very
nice, and very affirming—Issues take time to rise to the surface
from what Jung called the collective unconscious; these are
topics whose time has come. Where Aunt Aspie is a bit more
humorous and naughty, Jennifer is reassuring and big sisterly.
There’s a place for both books on your shelf. We both discuss
love, sex, dating, bullying, anxiety and body issues. Auntie’s
Weapon is gender neutral and strays into more universal
territory (I talk about everything from aging to instincts to
karma to masturbation to pop culture), while Jennifer’s
Sisterhood has some nice quips and quotes from historical
figures which adds depth and color. O’Toole sticks to topics
that would be of interest to women and girls on the spectrum,
but focuses more on the young. However, since it takes a while
for us to learn social things that nonautistic women glean from
life at an earlier age, I confidently say that spectrum women of
all ages will still learn a thing or two from this marvelous
Sisterhood has chapters such as 'Why Romeo and
Juliet Is Not A Love Story' that describes healthy vs.
unhealthy relationships in a way suitable for all ages.
Weapon delves in even more candidly/graphically, e.g. in
the entry 'Sexual Abuse', there’s a discussion about
being molested by someone you trust, such as a parent. Let’s
face it, it can be both a beautiful and an ugly world we live
in. We must address the darkness to bring it light. In both
books we authors occasionally use incidents from our own lives
to illuminate subjects, but always with the intention of a
O’Toole approaches Aspergers with an almost religious
fervor that pays off in many ways. I think most spectrum females
will find her book affirming, comforting, enlightening and
positive. No doubt it will be talked about and shared among
thousands of Asperger women and girls. Her zeal could be
off-putting to a slightly more jaded crowd. The idealized
cartoons (created by the very talented Anne-Louise Richardson)
are sweet, charming and humorous, but if you’re over 25, a bit
saccharine. Overall I think Sisterhood of the
Spectrum is an important work in the growing pantheon of
literature pertaining to females with Aspergers.
Aunt Aspie’s Weapon of Mass Instruction is a
work of wisdom, one-liners, and occasional advice; an
alphabetical, philosophical, sometimes lighthearted, sometimes
heavy-hitting guide to some serious issues. It has practical
advice that you can use to change your life for the better,
delivered with humor and straight talk. The Amazon page does not
(at time of this writing) have the ‘look inside’ function
enabled, but you can read excerpts on Facebook
I highly recommend O’Toole’s book for the younger set
(12-20) and Aunt Aspie’s for a more mature, edgier set.
Weapon doesn’t have groovy cartoons (except for the cover
created by the fabulous La Lionne Âû), but it is alphabetized
for easy reference. Also, if you’re reading one entry, for
example on Eating Disorders, there are links in the
text that can take you right to related topics (e.g.
Gastrointestinal Issues, Body Image), or even to external
pages to look at other books or sites. For this reason, I chose
to release the book only in a digital format. A kindle device is
not needed; software to read kindle books on any device
is free and available on the book’s amazon page. Click for Aunt
Of Contents. To purchase either book, use the links
The Other Half of Asperger Syndrome
When I first
discovered Asperger Syndrome, Maxine Aston’s were some of the
first books I read. I like the way she structures things.
Although there are anecdotes, it is not a memoir, it is more of
a reference book and therefore, it’s easy to get to the bits
that you need more quickly.
I would recommend this book to
partners of people who are newly diagnosed, or whom you suspect
may have Asperger Syndrome. Aston lays out some familiar
examples of things we may encounter in the phases of attraction,
courtship, cohabitation and the emergence of stressful
difficulties that partners of AS people will recognize. It is
interesting to me, as a person both on the spectrum and one who
was in relationships with at least two undiagnosed men, because
I can relate to both the partner and the aspie in these
Everything from ritual and routine to
sensory issues, socializing, meltdown, feeling alone in the
relationship, control issues, parenting, finances, etc, most
pertinent issues are covered succinctly and intelligently and
there is something either affirming or enlightening in virtually
I would have liked Aston to add a
certain caveat to this book and particularly to the chapter
“Asperger Syndrome cannot be blamed for everything”. In this
chapter she states that people with AS have choices and control
over their behavior. What is missing from this, is the fact that
often aspergers is scapegoated. There may be other personality
issues, conditions or illnesses at play. I had a very
neurotypical partner who was an alcoholic, and he used to blame
my AS for our problems instead of his alcoholism. He attributed
my not liking his drinking to control issues. Whenever he
encountered someone who didn’t like him or with whom he did not
get along he would ‘diagnose’ them as being on the spectrum. We
would come to an understanding after a long discussion and then
the next day he’d remember none of it because of his drinking,
presumably. Also, many of the problems and behaviors in the book
can apply to relationships of all neurological persuasions.
But the pros of this book far outweigh
the modest shortcomings. Recognizing danger, not being able to
transfer acquired knowledge from one event to another similar
one, these are all things we may know in ur minds but have not
heard put so clearly, and always with a short, easy tip for
handling it given immediately afterward.
Overall this is a great addition to
your library and is filled with solid advice born out of years
of counseling individuals and couples on the spectrum.
Communication techniques laid out in this book go beyond
anything I’ve seen in other books and seem to be pragmatic,
useful and easy to apply.
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. .