Mini-Review: M in the Middle

M.

When I reviewed the book M is for Autism, I said I wanted to hear more about this girl who calls herself “M.”  I lost my copy of the book, and when I went on Amazon to buy a new one I discovered the students and their teacher had written a sequel.  I was hand-flapping excited (though I tried to tone that down when I told Mom I ordered them).

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Both books arrived yesterday, and I was so startled by M in the Middle‘s thicker size that for a moment I thought they sent the wrong book.  But no, it’s a longer novel.  I missed the colorful pages of M is for Autism, but they occasionally play with the fonts and type to help M communicate.

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This is what happens when you have autistic girls write a novel about an autistic girl.

 

I re-read M is for Autism last night to prepare for the sequel.  I was a little surprised by *just* how short it is; I think that I was so engrossed in the scenes and M’s mind when I first read it that it felt “bigger.”  I loved it just as much the second time.

I was impressed by the consistency of the character and her voice between the two books.  Our main character and narrator is now in year 8 in England (7th grade, here in the States).  She got her autism diagnosis a year ago, and her wonderful therapist has been helping her understand herself and develop strategies for dealing with her often-crippling anxiety.

I do want to caution those of you who struggle(d) with anxiety.  The authors do an incredible job of provoking empathy for their anxious narrator.  Pretty much any time M was taking deep breaths or using another calming strategy, I found myself taking deep breaths along with her.  I read the book in one day – partly because it was so good, and partly because I didn’t want to drag out my time living in her anxious mind.

We get a fuller picture of M’s life in this longer book.  She deals with INCREDIBLY frustrating adults who do pretty much the opposite of what this poor girl needs, fueling her anxiety and pushing her towards mutism.  She encounters a few people who get her, show her kindness, and help her find her voice again.  She has “friends” who turn into horrible bullies and she has friends.  She has an obsessive crush on an older boy, and wonders if she can have a “normal” future.  She tries so hard to fit in.  She tries so hard to have friends.  She tries so hard to do the right things at school.  She tries so hard to combat her anxiety.  She tries so hard to connect with her family while recognizing she can’t do the things they want her to do to show that connection.  She tries. So. Damn. Hard.

While 13-year-old me didn’t have all the same struggles and experiences, I related to a lot of what she goes through.

Again, the authors share some truly insightful thoughts through M’s words.  Here are a few I made note of as I read.

About her mother (p. 113):

She was delighted when we got the diagnosis. She was reading books and web pages and talked about us going to meetings and then she just seemed to stop.  Like she stopped believing I had autism or maybe when the reality of it began to unfold it all became too difficult.  . . .

But I’ve been carrying it around with me my whole life.  This is my reality, and does she realise how difficult that is?

About trying to “crack the friendship code” (p. 115):

And even though the truth is I love being on my own, I feel a desire to fit in and have friends.  Like it’s part of my purpose on earth.  I’m hardwired to fit in!  . . . I want to be accepted by my fellow human beings, but it really is so much easier on my own, and I retreat back to my little pink room, back to the security of my bed and blanket and the comfort of Skylar, season 5, episode 7.

When her mother suggests she write down how she feels, to let her feelings “out into the world” (p. 169-170):

Is it like letting Bella out into the back garden?  I haven’t got a back door.  I can’t just open a door to me and let my feelings out into the world.  Is that what everyone else is doing? Am I surrounded by other people’s feelings that they’ve let out??  Do I pick them up as I pass someone in town or do other people’s anger or jealousy latch on to me as I walk down a corridor?  And is that why I get so anxious?  I’ve picked up all the dumped emotions everyone else has let out into the world and I have an extra quota of feelings?

While writing this, I recalled watching the video about the Limpsfield Grange School girls (where this book was written).  I just realized that one of the plot points (involving the crush’s photos) was inspired by a real experience of a girl at that school.

I strongly recommend this pair of books – for autistic girls to feel less alone, and for people who aren’t autistic girls to stretch their empathy muscles.  It’s an emotional ride, but they both end with glimmers of realistic hope.

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An Autistic(?) Hero

The first thing I said to Dad as we left the movie theater was, “Wow, so he was autistic.”  Dad said he had been thinking the exact same thing.

My autism-radar started beeping when I saw his lack of eye contact talking to the dock officer about the contents of his case, but I acknowledged that it could be just because he was being deceptive.  But no, the difficulty with eye contact continued.  And there were the awkward social interactions, the special bond with animals, the admission that he didn’t really have friends at school, the awkward goodbye of the end.  That settled it.  Newt Scamander could be on the autism spectrum.

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I was excited to have a Hufflepuff featured in film, because Pottermore (v. 1.0) sorted me into that house and, after the initial revulsion, I read the welcome letter and I embraced it wholeheartedly.  I was also excited to have a Harry Potter film that I wouldn’t ruin with constant comparisons to the book it was based on.  Having the Hufflepuff hero show up with autistic traits absolutely delighted me.

As soon as we got out to the car, I began Googling “Newt Scamander Aspergers.”  It was immediately apparent that I wasn’t the only one who picked up on his traits.  The absolute best post I’ve read about Newt was written by a mom who has an autistic son, a boy who is a lot like Mr. Scamander.  Instead of quoting it at length, I’ll point you to the original:

The True Magic of ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’, by Melanie R. Meadors

Like she said, whether or not Newt is “officially” or intentionally autistic really doesn’t matter.  What’s awesome is that a person with autistic traits is presented in a positive light, the traits aren’t something he has to “overcome” in the film, and he makes friends who accept him as he is.  I’m officially a fan of Newt Scamander, and I’m thankful to Rowling and the filmmakers for making a person like him a true hero.

Another piece about Newt that I really enjoyed was written by Emma Lord:

On Newt Scamander, Toxic Masculinity, & The Power Of Hufflepuff Heroes

Have you seen the film?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Mini Review: M Is for Autism

Recently I read Kathryn Erskine’s book Mockingbird, which is told from the perspective of a 10-year-old Aspie girl named Caitlin.  I still haven’t figured out how I feel about that book.  I’m always excited (and a little anxious) when I see a book featuring an autistic character, especially a girl.  But like I said, I don’t know how I feel about that one.  There were certainly moments where I thought, “Yes!  That’s exactly how it is!” but . . . well, I’ll let you be the judge.  It’s worth a read, though I warn you it is emotionally exhausting (she recently lost her brother in a school shooting).

When I was reading a few reviews of Mockingbird, hoping they would help me process my own thoughts and feelings, I saw something about another book, M is for Autism.  This book was written by a group of autistic girls and their creative writing tutor, because there aren’t enough books for teenage girls with autism.  That fact right there made me love the book even before I opened it.  When I did open it, I was surprised to see that it is full of color – not just the illustrations, but the pages themselves.  I LOVE that.  In fact, there’s a lot I love about this book.

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Things I love about this book:

  • It’s colorful!  Every page has color.
  • M is a believable autistic character.  She has autistic traits without fulfilling EVERY stereotype, and has specific, unique quirks and interests.
  • I was pleasantly surprised that the mother gets to narrate a few pages.  I appreciated getting to hear her perspective, and it is very realistic – a mother who truly loves and wants to help her daughter, but just gets so darn frustrated and doesn’t always understand her.
  • Her therapist is wonderful. I wish I had her.
  • “It’s not an illness.  It’s more a way of being. It’s your wonderful state of mind, the way you view the world. That’s not being ill.”
  • It emphasizes that autism isn’t really the problem, anxiety is.
  • It touches on topics like social confusion, teasing, stimming, coping strategies, sensory issues, diagnosis, labels, therapy, support, and the complexity of it all.
  • This quote:

“I think you’re struggling too much. Everyone has a bad day, week, month even year but this is too much M. This is constant stress and anxiety. Life shouldn’t be too much of a struggle M.”

She’s right. Less of a struggle would be good. Life is a struggle when you’re trying to be normal.

 

The book made me smile, but it also made me hurt for my own 13-year-old self.
My only complaint is that it’s short – you can read it in a single sitting.  That isn’t a criticism of the book; I think it is long enough to fulfill its purpose.  That’s just a personal desire to read more about M and her journey 🙂
If you’d like to learn more about the writing of the book, here’s an article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/health/what-is-it-like-to-be-a-girl-with-autism/

 

After writing this, I think I’ve figured out one of my thoughts about MockingbirdMockingbird feels like it was written by an NT for NTs – to help them better understand autistic kids, sure, but it’s for NTsM is for Autism is absolutely 100% for autistic girls.  It can help NTs better understand autistic kids, but that is for the sake of the autistic kids.

Mini Review: Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate

When I first read that Cynthia Kim was writing a book, I was very excited.  Her blog, Musings of an Aspie, was the final puzzle piece in recognizing that I’m not just “as close to the Spectrum as you can be without being diagnosable,” as I wrote in my first post.  I’ve always strongly identified with the ideas and feelings she writes about on her blog, and it was a pleasure to sit and read her words in a full book.

I love that autistic women are fighting for more awareness and understanding with these blogs and books.  It’s an exciting time to be a part of this community, and I pray their efforts will benefit women and girls now and in the future.  Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate is a book I can recommend without reservation.

Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate book cover

First, the book itself.  I enjoyed the aesthetics of the cover as well as the formatting of the text.  Lists and sidebars help highlight important information.  The content is well-organized – and I like things that are well-organized.  Although a lot of the content was taken from her blog writings, the book does not feel like a collection of isolated essays.  I felt like the topics and sub-topics flowed incredibly naturally as I devoured chapter after chapter.

Personally, there were so many things I related to in this book.  For example, when she talked about our difficulty blocking out extraneous stimuli, I remembered climbing into the trunk of our car on numerous occasions to find and stop whatever was rattling.  Her list of tactile sensitivities had me going, “Yep, yep, yep,” and chuckling that she included both “tags” and “TAGS.”  Her discussion of executive function deficits and difficulty making decisions gave me a flashback to standing in the kitchen crying because I didn’t know what I wanted to eat and Mom was getting frustrated with me (this was very common).  I couldn’t help but remember issues in a dating relationship when she said, “It may take hours or days to understand what took place during an especially emotional experience” (p. 143).  My best friend and I laughed as I read aloud the section on The “NO” Reflex, because it sounded so very familiar to both of us.  I could go on and on!

I loved that she included a lot of solid practical advice for both autistics and the people who love them, such as “Lessons from an ASD-NT Marriage” and “Rescue Strategies for New Parents.”  Like Ms. Kim, I’ve come up with a lot of coping strategies on my own, but she lists some that I hadn’t thought of (like carrying something pleasantly-scented if I’m going to be somewhere with objectionable odors).

A thought kept interrupting my reading.  One of the first books I read specifically about adults with Aspergers was Asperger Syndrome and Long-Term Relationships by Ashley Stanford.  It helped my mom and I recognize that AS fits my dad, but I remember it being a kind of depressing read as it focused on the deficits and struggles.  Reading Cynthia Kim’s book was more like reading John Elder Robison’s Be Different (which I can’t believe I haven’t talked about on here yet.  I should.  It’s awesome).  Both of these books are written by autistic people who are honest about the struggles that come with being autistic, but they talk about growth and the good stuff, too.  They have a realistic, balanced optimism that I truly appreciate.

If you haven’t noticed, I think this book is really, really good.  “But you don’t have to take my word for it.”

Resisting Gossip Together

I’m going off-topic again, but since I had shared about my pastor’s awesome book before, I wanted to share the update on new resources that are available.  Resisting Gossip Together is a companion book that can be used for individual or group study.  In addition, Pastor Matt recorded a series of short videos to go along with the book.  These videos can be purchased as a DVD, but his publisher has also made them freely available online for viewing and sharing!  Check them out for some solid Biblical wisdom.  Here’s the trailer and the first video to get you started:

Resisting Gossip Teaching Series: Trailer from Third Brother Films on Vimeo.

Resisting Gossip Teaching Series: Lesson 1 from Third Brother Films on Vimeo.

Mini-Review: 600 Hours of Edward

I love this book.

It’s one of my favorites.

book cover and link

(That’s actually a quote from the book. Read the book, then you’ll know it’s funny.)

Mom and I read this book a few years ago. I think a coworker gave it to her. This was long before I realized I was on the spectrum, but of course autism has been a special interest of mine for a long time, and so we read quite a few books related to the topic.

This one is a work of fiction, yet reads like an amazing memoir. Edward is a 40-year-old man with Asperger’s and OCD. He is very realistically drawn and like my mom says, “You really root for him.”  As the title implies, the story takes place over a period of 25 days.  Although his world does get rocked, Edward first introduces us to his daily routine in a very repetitive fashion.  I remember when I first read the book finding parts boring and annoying (like the few pages he devotes to describing his top ten football games).  But when I read it a second time, I didn’t mind.  I recognized that the repetition and the “annoying” parts really work to give you a feel for what it’s like to know or to be someone with Asperger’s.  I will give a content warning – there is some profanity (mostly from his father) and the topic of sex is brought up.  But for mature readers this is still an excellent read.

As I read it this time I saved a few quotes to share with you.

First, dinner.  I will have the DiGiorno’s pizza.
It’s good, but it doesn’t taste like delivery, no matter what the TV commercial says.  I don’t think delivery has a taste.  It’s nonsensical.  Delivered pizza has a taste, but that’s not what the commercial says.  Imprecision frustrates me.

I love this guy.

I arrive early for two reasons: First, as I said, the lighting and wood paneling and the soft music help set me at ease.  Second, Dr. Buckley’s other, less-organized patients are always getting the magazines out of order.  I sometimes need the full 10 minutes to organize the magazines by titles and date.

Have I mentioned I like to organize things?

And of course another one of my favorites, because I have had this same problem in the world of online dating.  His therapist asks him about a woman he’s talking to online.

“She’s very pretty.”
“Anything else?”
“Her grammar is atrocious.”
“I think a high grammar standard may be a losing fight on the Internet.”

(Oh, his Letter of Complaint to the eHarmony founder is great, too.)

A final observation struck me this time as I closed the book – hope.  Despite all of his personal and situational struggles, the book left me feeling hopeful.  And that’s a pretty cool thing.

Another cool thing?  There’s a sequel!  And it’s awesome!

Resising Gossip

And now for something completely different. . .

This isn’t specifically about Asperger’s, but something I’m really excited about and want to share with you.

I was super-excited to get my autographed copy before release day!

I was honored to be his official photographer 🙂

My pastor is awesome.  I won’t get into all the reasons why here, so you’ll have to take my word for it right now.  He recently wrote a book called Resisting Gossip.  You should read it.   Here’s the review I wrote for Amazon:

I am one of the happy members of Lanse Evangelical Free Church, we who call Dr. Mitchell “Pastor Matt.” During the process of getting this book published, he gave our Bible Study group updates and prayer requests. I loved sharing the joy of finally seeing this book become a reality! More than that, I loved discovering that Pastor Matt writes the same way he preaches and counsels- with a conversational tone, appropriate and effective use of Scripture, and an obvious heart of concern for others.

In this book, Pastor Matt:
defines gossip
explains the different heart motivations behind our gossip
provides real strategies for resisting gossip
advises on how to respond when we are the subject of gossip
teaches how to repent of our gossip
includes a section for leaders to help cultivate gossip-resistant churches

All of this is done with carefully-chosen anecdotes and Scripture references. The verses aren’t taken out of context to support his points or thrown in as an afterthought; instead, it is clear that Pastor Matt learned what he is teaching from studying the Word.

This book is easy to read yet rich in content. It is sharply convicting yet full of grace and hope. It teaches timeless truths that are extremely timely in our current culture. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

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A few years ago, I asked my facebook friends for podcast recommendations.  One (also single) friend suggested the Boundless Show.  I checked it out and enjoyed it enough to keep listening.  A few months ago I was taking a walk and on the show they were interviewing a guy who just published a book.  I thought, “Hey!  Pastor Matt just wrote a book.  They should interview him!”  I got on their website and sent them an e-mail about the book, thinking it was a long-shot but couldn’t hurt.  After a few exchanges back and forth and having the publisher send them a review copy, we finally heard back that they wanted to get him on the interview calendar in early 2014.  I was *so excited* when I read the email! (For those of you who know about stims, my excitement translated to approximately 3 claps, 5 hand-flaps, and 4 knee-slaps.)

P. Matt asked me to suggest a few shows to listen to to prepare for the interview.  That inspired him to write this blog post (and that blog post helped solidify my decision to cut back on facebook time somehow; my solution was to delete the app from my iPhone to make it less convenient to check constantly.  But I digress.)

And here it is, his Boundless Show interview.  I am thrilled that I was able to help make it happen, and I hope that many people are blessed by his wisdom, as I have been.  Enjoy!

(click the image to go to the page to listen/download, or click here to download the podcast via iTunes- it’s on “An Unexpected Love Story: Episode 313”)

Mini-Review: Born on a Blue Day

Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet is one of the books I requested for Christmas. Reading the first chapter, my thought was, “Wow, this guy’s brain is so different than mine. I really can’t relate to what he’s saying, but it will be fascinating to continue reading about such a unique mind.” A few pages into the second chapter, my thoughts changed to, “Wow, I really relate to this guy!”

This was a wonderful read. To me, one of the many reasons is he’s in my age group- he was born a few years before me, but wrote the book when he was slightly younger than I am now. I enjoyed having that common ground. I was amazed by how eloquently and understandably he explains what it’s like inside his extraordinary savant mind. The first chapter was a bit awkward to get through, but reflecting back on the entire book I believe it was exactly the right choice – it sets the stage that this young man is *different*, which makes the later moments so meaningful.  He’s not only brilliant, but incredibly brave.

One thing that struck me early on was how blessed he was to have his parents. They seem like those unsung, everyday heroes: the parents who love their children unconditionally, respect their unique needs, encourage them to take baby-steps out of their comfort zones, and make sacrifices to help them succeed.  That’s one of the things Daniel and I have in common.

Near the end of the book he describes his experiences filming this documentary, Brainman – I can’t wait to watch it!

Mini-Review: Adam

Today I’m home from work (due to the extreme cold weather) and watching movies with Mom.  I introduced her to the film Adam; it was my third viewing, but the the first time I actually sat and watched the screen the whole time instead of sewing or working on digital photos.

I love our local video rental store

I love our local video rental store

I’m not going to write a thorough review – I’m sure you can find great in-depth reviews elsewhere.  But I do recommend this film!  “The problem is, I think he’s adorable” – Mom, who married an Aspie.  “I know, me too!” – me, who has dated Aspies.  We both agreed that Hugh Dancy does a wonderful job of realistically playing someone on the spectrum.  He and the filmmakers successfully portray many facets of life with Asperger’s, such as: routines, trouble with finding/keeping jobs, the benefit of a mentor, special interests, not recognizing social cues or having a “filter” in conversation, “mind blindness,” intolerance of lying, wanting to do or say the right thing but having to ask what that is, sensory overload, and meltdowns. His co-star, Rose Byrne, really captures what it’s like to be intrigued and charmed by an interesting and sweet Aspie like Adam.  The film strikes a delicate balance between being about love and being about Asperger’s, and I think it does it well.  Perhaps best of all it is realistic about the complexities of such a relationship.

You can find this movie on Amazon (DVD or streaming video) and iTunes to rent or buy.  Or if you’re fortunate like us to still have one, check out your local video rental store!