‘Odd Girl Out’ is a book by the lovely Laura James. Laura is an author and a journalist (and the owner of a communications agency). She is a mum of four children and lives in North Norfolk, UK. Laura tracks the year of her life in this book after receiving a diagnosis of being autistic from her doctor.
Here is a little synopsis:
What do you do when you wake up in your mid-forties and realise you’ve been living a lie your whole life? Do you tell? Or do you keep it to yourself?
Laura James found out that she was autistic as an adult. Odd Girl Out tracks the year of Laura’s life after she receives a definitive diagnosis from her doctor, as she learns that ‘different’ doesn’t need to mean ‘less’ and how there is a place for all of us, and it’s never too late to find it.
Laura draws on her professional and personal experiences and reflects on her life in the light of her diagnosis, which for her explains some of her differences; why, as a child, she felt happier spinning in circles than standing still and why she has always found it difficult to work in places with a lot of ambient noise.
Although this is a personal story, the book has a wider focus too, exploring reasons for the lower rate of diagnosed autism in women and a wide range of topics including eating disorders and autism, marriage and motherhood.
This memoir gives a timely account from a woman negotiating the autistic spectrum, from a poignant and personal perspective.
This book is phenomenal and these are the main reasons why:
- Whilst reading it I’ve never felt SO understood.
- Laura is very open and forthcoming about her struggles. This is so refreshing.
The book covers Laura’s autism assessment and diagnosis, childhood, teen years and adulthood so far. It’s fascinating to read how Laura was assessed/diagnosed aged 45 and how she has built up so many different coping mechanisms in order to function in a neurotypical world.
Laura’s book also goes into detail about things like relationship struggles and her special interests. This was particularly interesting to read about and it really emphasised how important special interests are to autistic people, and reinforces the point that they should never be denied or taken away from someone.
‘All my life I had tried so hard to be neurotypical, but in that one moment it became utterly clear that I was never going to fit that mould.’ Laura James, The Guardian.
Laura writes about all the daily and mundane things that for some can be such a struggle. Like working in an open plan office. Neurotypical people can deal with this environment okay and sometimes even enjoy being able to talk to people freely around them. For Laura (and me!) it’s nothing short of a bloody nightmare. The sound levels change so frequently that it can be quiet one moment and so loud the next that you can’t think or function properly. Bright strobe office lights can be distracting and too much to bear (and if you haven’t already why not read about my fluorescent jacket troubles in my own office here!). Not to mention the varying smells, people touching you from behind to grab your attention, etc. New experiences really are so overwhelming. This book really will open your eyes to the world around you and make you think twice when you are in these sorts of environments.
The depictions of autism that are mainstream tend to be from things such as: Rainman, The Curious Incident and the Netflix series Atypical. This is all well and good but these films and shows sum up autism to generally be a very male condition when really it’s not at all. Female autism is less documented and understood and I feel that Laura touches on this: a lot of female autistics mimic others around them in things like social situations and are able to get by copying and learning from others behaviours. I think this is why a lot of girls are going undiagnosed for so long. Because we are able to just about manage and put on an act/mimic others to get by okay in life.
A lot of girls are told they ‘don’t seem autistic’. I think this is because we are able to cope on the surface of things and learn behaviours such as keeping good eye contact in order to fit in. It’s all about being able ‘pass’ socially in order to stay under the radar and seem ‘normal’. That’s pretty awful don’t you think? I constantly have to push myself into new situations that I don’t want to do and can’t cope with just to seem like I am normal. Then I can have meltdowns before and after these because it requires so much of my energy and is so hard sensory-wise.
It’s obviously slightly tricky to write a book review as I don’t want to giveaway large sections of what happens because people might want to read it!
I do just want to mention a couple of things. This book was a bit hard to read. I don’t mean this in a bad way at all – it was always going to be difficult to read a book on someone else’s life especially if they struggle with the same things as me (or you). I found that a lot of the autism and sensory parts of the book made me upset / triggered bad thoughts and feelings. This did not put me off and should not put you off either. I think I just resonated with a few of Laura’s struggles so much that I couldn’t help but feel upset but also relieved all at the same time. And yes, I cried through parts of this book. I’ve only admitted that to be honest, because so many things Laura mentioned echoed my own struggles.
The one other thing to mention is that the book can be slightly hard to follow at certain points as Laura jumps back and forth from her childhood memories/life to the present day but this might just be a dyslexic thing I struggle to keep track of!
I’m going to admit to something that you’ve probably already guessed by reading my blog. I have always been the Odd Girl Out. Throughout my life I have constantly struggled with the seemingly normal and mundane things through childhood to my current early adulthood. I hate all the things that neurotypical and young adults seem to love doing like: going to loud places, loud music, meeting up with friends, going to new places, parties in general, restaurants, going on holiday, buying new clothes, drinking alcohol, going to super bright or colourful environments, trying new food, travelling…look the list is actually never-ending. The point I’m getting at is…this book made me feel less alone. I know that sentence is a little bit sad, but it’s true. Because having these struggles all the time is very (very) tiring and nobody else truly seems to understand me (apart from my mum!) or what really goes on in my head. This book gives me just a bit of hope for the future.
I have passed this book onto my mum who is currently reading it. I really think the book gives such an insight into what goes in Laura’s mind and highlights what other autistic people struggle with everyday.
So how would I sum this book up?
Laura learns that ‘different’ doesn’t need to mean ‘less’ and how there is a place for all of us, and it’s never too late to find it.
Conclusion: If you can, you have to read this book (no matter who you are!)
Read an extract of the book here
Read an article Laura wrote for The Guardian (UK) here