#BookReview: On The Spectrum by Daniel Bowman Jr

I made it a point to get this one in during #AutismAcceptanceMonth, even though it doesn’t actually release until August.

This is apparently officially a “collection of essays”, but the organization works such that it never feels disjointed, as other efforts of this vein I’ve read tend to do. But that could just be my own #ActuallyAutistic mind working similarly to Bowman’s.

If you’ve ever heard of the late great Rachel Held Evans, and particularly if you like her style, you’re going to enjoy this particular book. Bowman has a roughly similar background to Evans (and thus even rougher similar to myself) in that he has experience in the Baptist church and now finds himself in a more progressive mainline church, and in both of their cases are more academic-oriented to boot. Thus, even while explaining his own version of the intersection of faith and Autism – and on being Autistic more generally, but through that lens – his words really do evoke the same kinds of tones Evans’ work did.

This was enjoyable for me due to the *lack* of constant “Autistics need government intervention” diatribes that so many books make their central point of Autism – even from among fellow Autistics (such as Eric Garcia’s We’re Not Broken, which publishes a week earlier and which, IIRC, I posted about here roughly a month ago). Instead, Bowman’s life and thoughts flow more closely to my own, with key community members becoming mentors over the eras and helping him naturally become all that he now is.

Indeed, if I have a criticism of the book – and I do, though it isn’t large enough for a star deduction – it is the emphasis on an “official” Autism diagnosis. I trust docs as much as I trust politicians these days – which is to say, I don’t trust them to accurately tell me the color of the noontime cloudless sky, and verify it myself. And one does not need someone else to dictate a word based on their own understanding of it, particularly when that person isn’t even living with the thing in question. And this ignores the very real, sometimes very negative, real world repercussions of having such an “official” label.

Still, for anyone interested in knowing more about what life is really like as an Autistic, this truly is one of the better books I’ve come across in my own readings. Very much recommended.

This review of On The Spectrum by Daniel Bowman Jr was originally written on April 26, 2021.

#BookReview: We’re Not Broken by Eric Garcia

Mostly Solid Work A Bit Misguided By Its Own Biases. This is one of the more comprehensive books I’ve found about the actual issues facing Autistics in the current world (circa 2020) – well, in the US anyway. Discussions of education, gender, housing, personhood, etc are mostly solid and mostly problem free, focusing on numerous interviews the author has conducted over several years combined with well documented (roughly 32% of the text of this Advance Reader Copy I read) research.

It even has two *extremely* good points:
1) “We don’t know what Autism in and of itself looks like. We only know how autism informed by trauma presents itself.” -Cal Montgomery
2) From the close of Chapter 9: “People who are not Autistic often assume they are acting benevolently by hand-holding those on the spectrum. But despite their best intentions, there is an element of condescension in thse actions because it assumes that non-Autistic people know what’s best. But it is Autistic people who live with the condition of Autism – for all of its positives and negatives – as well as the consequences of any collective action meant to help them. If there is going to be policy that has seismic impact on their lives, they deserve to have a say it in, no mater how they communicate. Furthermore, while many parent advocates, clinicians, and other “experts” may have good intentions, centering their voices continues to give them power that should lie with the Autistic community. To achieve any true sense of freedom, Autistic people need to take this power back.”

HOWEVER, the fact that the discussion routinely ignores and even outright dismisses the needs and challenges of white Autistics and/ or Autistics who *do* find meaningful employment in the science and/ or technology sectors means that the book fails to have truly the comprehensive discussion of the condition that it seems to seek to have. In ignoring these facets, it doesn’t truly “change the Autism conversation” in any truly helpful manner, as it blatantly ignores and dismisses a key component that can actually do quite a bit of good in trying to address all of the other issues the narrative does go in detail on. We Autistic technologists can create the very technologies Garcia sometimes points to as being needed, in part because we ourselves truly do live with these very same issues – and thus, we don’t actually need a neurotypical trying to approximate some solution, as we can create a solution that works for our own particular case and allow for it to be customized to fit other cases as well.

Ultimately this truly is a very strong look at the state of Autistic society today and the issues Autistics face in trying to fully integrate into larger neurotypical societies, it simply missed its potential to be so much more. Very much recommended.

This review of We’re Not Broken by Eric Garcia was originally written on March 14, 2021.

#BookReview: The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth

Compelling Family Drama. This one was pretty wild. On the one hand, you’ve got one twin sister who seems to be Autistic, though that word is never once used. Instead, Hepworth simply claims various “sensory processing disorders” (many of them very similar to this Autistic’s own, fwiw) and shows this twin taking things very literally, not reading people very well, etc. IOW, classic signs of Autism – but again, that word is never once used in the text. Which is both cool and irritating. The other twin is a diabetic that feels she must always protect her Autistic sister. Except… let’s just say the twins don’t always remember the same events the same way. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Deeper into the book, a much larger conspiracy develops that really turns the back half of the book to near breakneck speeds. And then those last words… Truly excellent book, even without the use of the one word, and very much recommended.

This review of The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth was originally written on December 5, 2020.

#BookReview: The Pattern Seekers by Simon Baron-Cohen

Intriguing Theory. Full disclosure up front: I *am* Autistic, and thus these types of books tend to demand my attention as I attempt to understand my own mind and body. That noted, Baron-Cohen (no apparent relation to the actor of the same surname) here proposes a theory that those who are “high systemizers” – those he defines as people driven by a process many in programming will recognize as a version of Agile Programming – are the ones who have driven human innovation from the dawn of the species. It is a theory that has at least some degree of merit, but perhaps has a few weaknesses that the author omits – though he does make a point of discussing some competing theories, it is possible that there are other explanations that fit at least some of the data better according to Occam’s Razor. Still, he makes a repeated point that even those suspected of being Autistic should not seek a diagnosis unless their abilities are somehow causing problems, which is a point that many in the Autism literature – at least that which I have read – fail to make or even contradict, and for that reason alone this book is a refreshing change of pace. (It also opens with one of my favorite quotes, from The Imitation Game – the story of Alan Turing, the father of Computer Science and a suspected Autistic – that “Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things no one can imagine.”)

Overall a a must-read book for those seeking to understand Autistics, as it really does make a lot of very solid points – points that were affecting me nearly as much as my first viewing of The Imitation Game. This is yet another one that I will absolutely be recommending those seeking to work with me professionally read, as it can give them many clues both how to understand me – and how to use me much more effectively. Very much recommended.

This review of The Pattern Seekers by Simon Baron-Cohen was originally written on July 8, 2020.

#BookReview: Kill The King by Sandrone Dazieri

Dark And Disturbing. I walked into this third book in a series without having read the first two, and while the rapid introduction of characters at the beginning is a bit overwhelming at times when doing this, and there are very defintely spoilers for previous stories here, it *is* possible to follow and enjoy this story by itself, even if you haven’t read the previous two books. That noted, this features an all too real look at the amazing power of Autism… and some of the darker aspects of what neurotypicals have subjected Autistics and other neurodivergents to over the years. Awesomely, the various Autistic abilities shown are based in reality – including discussion of the future of humanity – but sadly, so are the various abuses discussed. The book has a “Return of the King” type vibe for a bit after the 75% or so mark, where it feels like what should have been the end of the tale actually isn’t, and the story drags out a bit… but then it gets a bit better in its closing pages and shows the point of why it didn’t end there. To the level of almost being an extra novella or perhaps short story after the natural end of the tale. Interesting decisions at many levels of how it is divided up, and very much recommended.

This review of Kill The King by Sandrone Dazieri was originally written on May 24, 2020.

#BookReview: Stories We Never Told by Sonja Yoerg

Excellent Work Partially Marred By Problematic Ideas About Autism. This book, as so many of its type, starts relatively slow and low key – a woman goes to dinner with her husband and a friend, and the friend announces he is bringing someone along out of the blue. It begins to spiral from there, and we get into a mystery with the requisite twists and turns, some of which were noted long before their respective reveals, others of which were more shocking. Random and sporadic chapters taking us to other perspectives other than the primary narrator, to give the backstories of those characters – and at least two major reveals that our primary narrator will only learn about much later. Truly excellent work on that side of the story.

It is within the subplot of the primary character’s actual work that things get more problematic, as this researcher is trying to diagnose Autism in babies. As an Autistic adult that only learned that label in my teens – and didn’t fully learn just how much it affects my life until my 20s – I can tell you without hesitation that by and large (there are always exceptions to any rule), a label of Autism tends to be more problematic than helpful at such early ages. (Later in life it becomes less problematic and generally easier to use as a means of communication – a bit ironic, really – to help explain to others about your own neurological divergences in ways they can more easily understand at least some modicum of.) But this review isn’t exactly the place to really dive into that particular rabbit hole, so with it simply noted I’ll move on.

On the whole, a very well written and executed story, and much recommended.

This review of Stories We Never Told by Sonja Yoerg was originally written on April 19, 2020.

Featured New Release of the Week: Problem Child by Victoria Helen Stone

This week, as we gear up for Autism Awareness Month in just a few days, we’re looking at a book that does a great job in humanizing and normalizing another neurological divergence. This week, we’re looking at Problem Child by Victoria Helen Stone.

This was a great tale in and of itself – the pacing was solid, the “shocks” were used well, the mystery was compelling, etc etc etc. Seriously, if that is all you care about here, then you’re good at this point. Go buy the book. ๐Ÿ™‚

Where the book really shines and elevates itself is in its use of a neurodivergent character as its primary protagonist = and in showing that such a neurodivergence doesn’t mean that the person is “good” or “evil” or “better” or “less”, that they just *are*. Yes, many neurodivergences give abilities beyond the typical, and the one highlighted here – sociopathy – is no different. Ultimately it is up to the neurodivergent individual to assess their own abilities and learn to use them to live their life however they want – which is exactly what our protagonist has done and is doing… and what another character has to learn. Truly a great and yet also frank look at the issues surrounding sociopathy specifically but also neurodivergence in general, this really is a solid book to read in preparation for Autism Awareness Month beginning barely a week after this book releases.

Very much recommended, and I’m very much looking forward to more from this author and this world.

As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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Featured New Release of the Week: When God Rescripts Your Life by Jaci Velasquez

This week, we’re looking at a memoir from a Contemporary Christian Music legend from my teenage years. This week, we’re looking at When God Rescripts Your Life by Jaci Velasquez.

This was an amazing read for me personally. Jaci is a little over 3 yrs older than me, so when she burst onto the CCM scene in the late 90s as a 17yo kid, I was a 14yo kid deeply immersed in that very culture. And part of that culture was that I was actually in church 3x weekly and would thus occassionally be there for concerts from various groups making the church circuit – what Jaci herself had spent most of the previous 17 yrs doing with her parents, though in a different region. (These things tend to be highly regional, for those unaware – mostly due to associated costs, I would assume.) So even when Jaci speaks of her childhood in the back of car and later RV going from church to church singing, I’m at least familiar enough to understand from the angle of one of the people in those very churches what it could be like.

Also, I fully cop that I almost never read book descriptions for my ARC work in particular, unless it is an author or publisher I haven’t previously worked with or know. Since I knew of Jaci from 20 yrs ago, I didn’t read the description here. So when I got to the chapter about her son’s diagnosis of Autism and her reaction to it, this Autistic’s heart dropped. I just *knew* I was about to get a hard core defense of Autism Speaks, the Autistic community’s KKK. At that point I had just finished reading The Boy Who Felt Too Much and was involved in a few other discussions and was very raw.

Fortunately, Jaci doesn’t actually go that direction – I’ve seen far too many others fall into that trap at that very moment, but Jaci makes abundantly clear that she came to take the tack my own mother has taken in raising two Autistic sons. Do the best you can, be the best mother you can, and trust God to fill in the details. I can tell you from experience that this is basically the ideal way to raise an Autistic, and considering the four degrees and near 20 yrs of professional experience between my brother and I, Jaci’s son is in truly good hands there and it was thus a joy to be pleasantly surprised by Jaci’s strength.

And yes, I use her first name because you very much come away from this very conversationally-styled narrative feeling like you really know Jaci, even when your life maybe doesn’t parallel hers quite as much as it seems mine has. (Indeed, her year in London discovering herself? I call what is apparently that exact same year in Earth’s history my personal Year Of Failure, where graduating college was seemingly the only thing I did right – and had already been guaranteed 17 months prior. The year her Autistic son was born? That same year I began the professional career I’ve maintained ever since and also met and married my wife. Our anniversary is even within just a few days before Jaci’s birthday. Jaci speaks in the book about her time as a radio morning show host, I spent one football season working as the guy that presses the buttons to play the commercials when the announcer of the high school football game being broadcast declares “And now time for station identification” or whatever. ๐Ÿ™‚ So. Very. Weird. How much we very coincidentally parallel.)

So yeah, this book was *amazing* to me personally, but honestly a truly great memoir generally. Her style is very conversational and humorous, and you’ll find yourself not wanting to put this book down… even when facing more pressing deadlines. Very much recommended.

As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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#BookReview: The Boy Who Felt Too Much by Lorenz Wagner

Fascinating Yet Complicated. I seem to be the first Autistic person to be reading this book, at least from reading the available English language reviews on Goodreads after finishing the book yet prior to writing my own review.

Overall, the story is about Henry Markam, his relationship with his son Kai, and how that led to one of the most revolutionary “discoveries” in modern neuroscience: Intense World.

I personally refuse to call this a “theory” because it is fact – a fact which pretty well any Autistic Adult that can communicate can tell anyone who asks. And through this section of the book, roughly the first 2/3 of the text, this is a SHOUT FROM THE ROOFTOPS level AMAZING book. SOOO many times I wanted to literally go to skyscrapers and shout to the world “READ THIS BOOK AND UNDERSTAND ME AND MY PEOPLE!!!!!”. And even with this being something like book 135 or so on the year for me, those level of reactions are indeed rare.

But then we realize that Markram isn’t just trying to *understand* Autistics. He wants to “cure” us. Which is genocide. The text tries to couch this and make Markram and his second wife (and research partner) seem more benevolent, but at the end of the day their research is focused on the eradication of my people.

Along these veins, the recommendations the Markrams make about how Autistic children are to be treated is horrible bordering on monstrous – they want a world devoid of any stimuli other than carefully screened, carefully controlled ones, as they believe that to do otherwise is to “trigger” the development of Autism in young children.

I’m not a neuroscientist, but neither am I neurotypical. I may not be able to point to the exact chemical processes within my brain the way the Markrams can, but I can explain what I understand to be happening within my own skull better than most of my fellow Autistics (though there are some far better than even myself at this).

So I have to say, regarding the back 1/3 or so of this book, to take it with about a boulder of salt. The relationsip aspects amongst the Markrams seem genuine, and the overall goals of creating a legitimate simulation of the mammalian – and specifically human – brain are commendable and needed. But the post-Intense World proscriptions on how parents should raise their children? Take it about as you would any random stranger offering you advice – do some independent research before you commit to an action, and in this particular case… *ask an Autistic adult*, or better yet: several of us.

Overall a highly recommended yet ultimately flawed book, the front 2/3 of it are simply too good not to recommend the book as a whole.

This review of The Boy Who Felt Too Much by Lorenz Wagner was originally published on September 29, 2019.

#ActuallyAutistic Novels for #AutismAwareness Day

Today is World Autism Awareness Day, and this book blogger is Autistic… and a publisher of an Autistic author that writes about Autistic characters.

In celebration, and to try to raise some awareness of at least some excellent books featuring Autistic characters living fairly realistic lives, let’s look at some books featuring Autistic characters, shall we?

First up is the first book I ever really saw that featured Autistic characters well. This is The Spectrum Chick and The Spectrum Chick II by Janey Klunder, and these are two of the books I have published myself via KDP. That said, I have no direct stake in their success – I’ve never made a penny from them and I never will. These books begin with the day a young twenty something Scottish lass first hears the word “Asperger’s” and follow her throughout the next few years of her life as she learns that a word just gives you an easier way to communicate something that has always been a part of you. Janey happens to be Autistic herself and shows the perspective of female Autistics well.

The next book was my introduction to a new author I’ve since come to enjoy – DJ Jamison’s Love by Number. This was a book where an overprotected Autistic young man finds love after a car crash in the parking lot at the ball park, and it portrayed the hyper focus we can get in particular very well – for its strengths and weaknesses. DJ is a mom of an Autistic, and far more open to our struggled and victories than many “Autism parents”.

Finally, I want to highlight At War with a Broken Heart by Dahlia Donovan. This is another gay romance, though this one happens to be a polyamorous gay romance to boot. I read an ARC of this particular book back in February, and its depiction of its Autistic main character (and even his brother, who is also Autistic but mostly off screen) was so spot on that I almost knew the author had to be either Autistic herself or have a very close family member that was Autistic (ala DJ, above). As it turns out, Dahlia too is Autistic.

Honorable Mentions to the following books for at least featuring Autistic characters in a positive way, even though the authors have no direct connection to an Autistic that I am aware of:

Brilliance by Marcus Sakey, which features people with superpowers – and these superpowers are all based on their Autistic traits, in a “next level of evolution” kind of set up. The entire trilogy is simply excellent.

The Eye of God by James Rollins is fairly deep into his Sigma Force series, but features a group of Autistic kids as a driving narrative – again in almost a “next level of evolution” kind of way.

I’m sure there are many more books that portray my people in a positive or at least real light. Feel free to name them in the comments. I’ll probably wind up adding them to my own TBR. ๐Ÿ™‚