Book Review: ‘Odd Girl Out’

 

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‘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.

Quote from amazon.co.uk

My review:

This book is phenomenal and these are the main reasons why:

  1. Whilst reading it I’ve never felt SO understood.
  2. 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: RainmanThe 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

Buy the book here: UK / US / Rest of the world

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A little (but important) Q&A

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Since my last post I have had a couple of questions in my blog comments which I thought I would answer in a blog post:

Are you autistic, I thought you had SPD?

Okay so here’s the thing. I was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) aged 8.

Over the years I think I have slowly come to the realisation that I might be autistic as I have a lot of little traits and sort of signs that point towards it. Many autistic people struggle with sensory issues but I’d never really thought about it the other way round – what if people (like me) with sensory issues actually sit somewhere on the autistic spectrum…?

Here are some traits that I or others have noticed in myself:

  • I have a very literal understanding of language and find jokes and sarcasm hard to understand.
  • The world can seem a very unpredictable and confusing place and I prefer to have a daily routine so I know what to expect each day. I hate change / new things and always react badly to them. I can cope better if I can prepare for changes in advance. For example: I would happily eat the same things everyday if I could and I always found it difficult to move from one school to another and onto university.
  • I find holidays or anytime off work very difficult and upsetting. I have to make routines and to-do lists to form a sort of schedule to live from.
  • I experience over sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light, colours, temperatures and pain. This is referred to as sensory sensitivity.
  • I am often unable to understand and express my own needs and become upset and overwhelmed very easily.
  • Autistic people often have repetitive and restricted interests. I find I am specifically drawn to (and love) police/crime/medical documentaries and TV shows (I even did my uni dissertation on UK policing!).
  • I seek out time alone when overloaded by other people. I find social situations an absolute nightmare. I try desperately to fit in and have a ‘fight or flight’ reaction to them.

(This list goes on and I have left off some more private/personal problems I struggle with that I am not comfortable listing on the internet!)

I have recently seen a psychologist who believes I am autistic and that I do have autistic traits. She feels I would sit somewhere on the autistic spectrum and encouraged me to go forward for a formal diagnosis. I have recently been contemplating whether it would be beneficial or not for me to be assessed but as the NHS waiting list is months long I would have to pay privately for this.

There are a lot of self-diagnosed autistic people out there. And I think for the time being I might be one of them. Autism really sums up my difficulties well into one easy to say ‘label’. I realise this may sound bad, but I don’t want it to come across that way.  Saying ‘I am autistic’ really helps me to explain my difficulties to other people quickly without explaining all my sensory and daily living problems.

Hi. Do you think you could do a post on occupational therapy? 🙂

Of course! Sorry if it seems like I’m rambling:

I’ve tried lots of different therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and therapy sessions with CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health service, NHS, UK) however I found these unhelpful and these made me feel worse. I have found Occupational Therapy (OT) to be the most helpful form of therapy.

The main problem I find is that UK doctors are not very clued up when it comes to sensory problems. This is a real shame – although some doctors are fab. I was referred to an Occupational Therapist as a child which was when I was diagnosed as having SPD. OT referrals are only offered to babies and young children in the UK and the service seems to stop as soon as you get any older. Once you are a teen/young adult/adult you only seem to be offered talking therapies like CBT.

I have seen an OT privately before (although this can be expensive it was definitely beneficial). The main thing my Occupational Therapist taught me when I was a child were fine motor skills like being able to cut with scissors, grip a pen/pencil, etc.

However the main thing OT’s focus on is this: de-sensitisation. It’s all about slowly learning to de-sensitise yourself to sensations you find hard – like touch. I was taught about body brushing. I totally recommend looking up something called the Wilbarger Protocol (a form of Brushing Therapy) you can read about it here. It’s a brushing therapy that helps people desensitise their body (that you can do at home) – also the brush can be bought online through Amazon and isn’t expensive! You should ideally do this under the supervision of an OT to make sure you are using the right technique but these instructions are helpful if you want to try it out for yourself.

I used to find it incredibly difficult to brush my hair and teeth. Although I still absolutely hate brushing my teeth I am able to withstand the vibrating motion of an electric toothbrush in my hand which is great as I now my brush my teeth much better even if the sensation is still quite tricky. I am also able to brush my hair – I apply a firm/heavy amount of pressure which really helps me.

Also I totally recommend reading the book ‘Too Loud Too Bright Too Fast Too Tight’ by Sharon Heller

I recommend also looking up Sensory diets (and weighted blankets!) and reading my posts here about how these have helped me:

Do feel free to continue to ask questions in the comments of my blog and I will always try to answer them as best as I can. 

‘Some autistic feels’

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So I received this super awesome ‘lil zine in the post from the super lovely Megan Rhiannon’s Etsy shop this week! It’s intricate illustrations are beautiful and give a little insight into ‘Some autistic feels’. Have a little click through the slideshow of images above which give a little sneak peek of some of the pages!

Follow Megan here: Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | Etsy UK Shop

Some of my own autistic feels:

  • Living in big comfy baggy jumpers and skinny jeans all day everyday. I would dress in grey and black 24/7 if I could!
  • Hot drinks: specifically tea which is my go to hot drink…(with plain digestive biscuits!)
  • My weighted blanket: I use it every night without fail and during the day if I feel stressed out or anxious (it’s from Sensory Direct)
  • My phone: I listen to lots of podcasts and audiobooks to keep me distracted and to learn on the go about new things. (I might do a little blog post listing all the podcasts I love) I also love taking photos and videos of quirky things.
  • My wave projector: I use this most nights, it replicates sea waves moving and it’s super calming to watch 😍
  • My Sensory DIY Box: my go-to when I need to fidget or calm down sensory-wise. Currently loving my little fidget cube and tangle!

So there are some of my own autistic feels – let me know what little things you use everyday to self-soothe or distract yourself in the comments below…

Hello to you 👋

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Hello to you – I’ve recently had an influx of lovely new followers here on my blog and on my Instagram page! So I thought why not give everyone a little intro (or refresh!) on who I am and why I blog about sensory stuff. To me there is no better way then a good old-fashioned drawing to explain a bit about myself!

Summary of my drawings in text:

  1. I’m Emily, I am 23 years old and I work as a Creative Designer.
  2. I have Sensory Processing Disorder: a neurological disorder that (put simply) makes it hard to receive information to my brain. SPD is a neurological traffic jam and info I receive through my 5 senses doesn’t get organised or detected properly. This means my 5 senses are constantly overwhelmed and overworked so the world is a sensory place for me. SPD creates challenges in my everyday living and performing tasks. I was assessed / diagnosed with SPD aged 8 by an Occupational Therapist (OT).
  3. SPD described in a sentence: It’s like receiving every sense all at once: touch, taste, sight, smell and sound!
  4. I was 21 when I began blogging – hence the name ’21andsensory’. I decided to start documenting my sensory life right here on this very blog. I share tips, tricks, experiences, reviews and much more!
  5. I also experience/have/suffer from: anxiety, dyslexia, mild OCD and hyperhydrosis (excessive sweating and flushing)
  6. I even have my own sensory podcast…! You can have a listen here if you like. Also available through Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

So yup that’s me in a nutshell.

Blogging as a sensory-being in a super-sensory world!

An Insight: The Fluorescent Jacket…

Why on earth am I writing a blog post about a Fluorescent jacket I hear you ask…just bear with me and read on:

Picture the scene: I am working away at my desk and at around 9.05am one of the company directors get into work. All normal and well so far. He then proceeds to hang up his fluorescent bike jacket on the hook by his desk. Now this jacket is visually brighter than the sun to a sensory being like me…(I realise this sounds utterly ridiculous but stick with me).

This jacket is in view just behind my laptop screen and is immediately screaming at me visually. It is so loud almost like a noise to me and is instantly distracting and grates on my mood.

I think back sometimes on how I feel when things like this affect me. They seem so big at the time and engulf me, taking up all my thoughts and feelings. How crazy is that? A bright neon jacket can affect me that much! In hindsight it’s a teeny tiny small insignificant part of my life – it affects me but I learn to cope and move on (through distracting myself and repositioning to face away from the indoor sun…!)

How do you feel about bright coloured objects, clothing and environments? Comment below with any stories and coping mechanisms!

And for more of my ramblings why not check out my podcasts? Links below!

anchor.fm/21andsensory

Apple Podcasts

Google Play Podcasts

A sensory experience review…

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I was lucky enough to go on a little adventure a few weekends ago to the Isle of Wight (UK). It’s a lovely little island with loads to see and do – so much so I already want to go back and explore more!

Whilst I was there I went to an AWESOME water show called Waltzing Waters which I thought I would do a little review about.

Here is some more information:

“The world’s most elaborate water, light and music production. “It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before”…a triumph of artistry and engineering. Visitors are overwhelmed by thousands of dazzling patterns of moving water synchronised with music in spectacular fashion.”

Anyways: it was SPECTACULAR. So kind of think of it as awesome music throughout the ages coordinated to a water display. There were hundreds of nozzles spraying ridiculously high-powered jets of water so high and then falling and twirling into phenomenal shapes.

I know these sorts of water shows can be quite popular at resorts in America and especially in places like Dubai in shopping centres and public places. Somehow I had never really come across one before and because this show was based on the Isle of Wight only a handful of people turn up to each set time – which was fab as no crowds and lots of seating to choose from!

I just wanted to do a little write up to almost sort of say as a sensory being how lovely I found the whole show and that I really recommend seeing a show whether you have sensory problems or not 😊

One of my next blog posts will be a Q&A on all things sensory! Feel free to comment below with any questions you might have – tweet me or comment on my Instagram!

Awesome Video Resources ✨

So I thought (seeing as I watch a lot of videos and tutorials on Youtube) it might be quite good to put together a list of helpful videos / YouTube channels to share on my blog…

Megan Rhiannon:  Megan is a 19 year old Autistic girl who makes fab Youtube videos and autism talks on her channel. Be sure to follow her for great tips and advice.

Routines can often leave us feeling bored and uninspired. Sonia is a brilliant YouTuber and artist who explores the importance of Escape as part of the creative process. Cheer up after a bad day or week with some of Sonia’s suggestions!

Lucy Moon is a fab YouTuber who openly discusses her battles with anxiety and mental health. She does a lot of chatty videos as well as vlogs and provides some great advice.

Becky (presenting the videos) is the founder of Sensory Spectacle. Sensory Spectacle share lots of information on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and also provide experiential learning environments which can be used in workshops, at events, etc. Becky also is invited to speak at conferences about sensory processing difficulties and the experiential work she is doing.

This video is part of a  ‘Homelife’ series is a short video each week sharing information about why we might see some of these characteristics in people with sensory processing difficulties.

Conan Grey is a young creative and Youtuber. In this video he discusses how to deal with mood swings, anxiety and being able to relax (as well as get on with your day) no matter how you are feeling.

Amelia and Grace Mandeville are two sisters who enjoy making Youtube videos about their daily lives, experiences and even film the odd comedy sketch too! This video discusses how to survive school and some top tips.

Charlotte is a lovely YouTuber and also a fashion promotion student and intern, occasional blogger and veggie enthusiast! This is a great video describing her first year at uni. She discusses a range of topics including loneliness, excessive working and anxiety.

ASMR / Relaxation videos: I can’t not mention them! If you search on Youtube for ASMR videos (and google their definition) they are some of the most relaxing videos out there!

So there you have it – 8 brilliant YouTube channels which I have found super helpful – let me know of anyone I should be following and that I can add to my list!