Spectrum Women: Walking to the Beat of Autism
Dr Catriona Stewart, PhD MSc PGDip, Autism Advisor, Scottish Autism
In November 2016 I was a speaker at the National Autistic Society’s Women’s Conference in London. A senior commissioner for Jessica Kingsley Publisher, who was in the audience, asked me if I would write a book for them based on my presentation and after some discussion with Jessica herself, I signed a contract to write FeminAutism (working title), a project still to be completed…
Meantime, Australian author and autistic advocate, Barb Cooke, had the great idea of creating a collection of essays by autistic women in the style of ‘what I have learned’ or ‘advice to our younger selves’. She put together a wonderful group of writers, including Lianne Holliday Whilley, ARtemesia (aka Rudy Simone of ‘Aspergirls’ fame), Jeanette Purkis and others, a group that covered much of the English speaking world, Australia, USA and Canada, parts of Europe too, but she had no contacts based in the UK. Jessica introduced me to Barb, and suddenly I was included in this amazing group of women who have become, in the year or so since, a source of peer-support, encouragement and humour for me.
There are 15 of us, from different parts of the world, with varying backgrounds and experiences and yet we have found there is so much we have in common. When I submitted my chapter on Diversity, Gender, Intersectionality and Feminism, Barb responded that as she read it she could feel the hairs standing up on the back of her neck, so much of my story resonated with her and I think we have all felt that about each other’s writing. I also contributed a piece on Self-Care and we wrote an ‘afterword’, that collectively make up the final chapter, Chapter 20. Clinical Psychologist and Tony Attwood’s professional partner, Dr Michelle Garnett, has added commentary to each chapter from a clinician’s perspective.
I’ve had mixed feelings about the book. I initially hated the title, but when accompanied by the fabulous graphics on the cover, I’ve got used to it. I’ve been pretty embarrassed by the whole thing, the publicity, the personal ‘exposure’. I was not very happy at the description of Dr Garnett’s input as ‘validating’ the writing. I resented the idea my words need ‘validation’; maybe that’s because I’m considered an ‘expert’ in my own right, or maybe it’s because there’s an underpinning attitude that says autistic people are not in charge of their own life narratives. But Michelle’s commentary is appropriate, supportive and does lend professional weight to the lived experience accounts.
I’ve also been incredibly warmed and honoured to be included in this group of strong, resilient, funny, passionately advocating and talented women. I was childishly excited to read the prepublication reviews and find that Steve Silberman, author of Neurotribes, has described Spectrum Women as ‘historically important’ and ‘a Rosetta Stone’ for autistic women and girls.
I hope that people enjoy the book, that girls and younger women find wisdom and encouragement in it and older women a sense of community and recognition. I hope that clinicians and practitioners can use the experiences described within its pages to add to their practice.
I hope that one day I get to meet Barb and some of the other women but even if we don’t manage that co-authors’ party, then we’ve still made a connection and created something we all hope will be a positive contribution to knowledge and understanding of autism.