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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Documentary Review: Aspergers & Me

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A couple of weeks ago I sat down to watch a documentary called ‘Aspergers and Me’ and I found it very thought (and feeling) provoking. I wanted to write a little review of it here on my blog to share with others…

The documentary follows a man called Chris who happens to be a BBC wildlife presenter. So here’s a little introduction to him:

“For most of his life, broadcaster and naturalist Chris Packham didn’t tell anyone about the one thing that in many ways has defined his entire existence. Chris is autistic – he has Asperger’s Syndrome, which means he struggles in social situations, has difficulty with human relationships, and is, by his own admission, “a little bit weird”. (BBC Media Centre, 2017)

Like 700,000 or so others in the UK, Chris Packham is autistic – he has a developmental disability affecting how he relates to other people, and also how he experiences the world. Specifically he has Asperger’s syndrome. His documentary invites us inside his autistic world to try to show what it’s really like being him. He lives alone in the woods with his ‘best friend’ who is called Scratchy. Scratchy is THE CUTEST dog; but Chris also has a long-term partner, Charlotte, who discusses the problems Asperger’s creates in their relationship – she describes Chris as being sometimes “like an alien”.

Chris experiences the world in a very different way, with heightened senses that can be very overwhelming. He grew up at a time when little was known about autism. Chris wasn’t diagnosed with Asperger’s until he was in his 40’s.

However with todays modern and scientific advances new possibilities are being offered to treat his condition. In the documentary Chris travels to America to witness new and quite radical therapies that seem to offer the possibility of entirely eradicating autistic traits. On the flip side of this Chris also meets those who are challenging the idea that autistic people need to change in order to fit into society. He visits one of many special schools in the U.S where children undergo repeated behaviour modification, in order to try to make them more normal. This makes for uncomfortable viewing.

Chris continues his travels, this time to Silicon Valley, one of the places where people with autistic traits are making massive contributions. Tech companies are slowly breaking the stigma and learning about untapped talent of autistic people. These people who are considered and often referred to as weird, geeky or lonely are starting to run the world.

Chris ultimately explores the question of whether he’d ever want to be cured himself, or whether Asperger’s has helped make him who he is today…

Would he ever choose to be ‘normal’?

“I’m anything but normal,” he agrees, staring at the floor. “I experience the world in hyper-reality. Sensory overload is a constant distraction. I’ve just been for a walk in the woods, and it was very different for me than it would be for you – the sights, the smells, the sounds.” He frowns, and glances at his partner, 41-year-old Charlotte Corney. “But we need to go to the supermarket later, and I’ll do anything to get out of it because supermarkets are a swamping of the senses. The lighting is hideous, it’s crowded, and the complex of smells is overwhelming.”                                                   (Chris Packham, Radio Times, 2017)

He is very good at getting across some idea of what it’s like to have a brain that is different, the sensory overload he experiences, sounds, smells and tastes. But what if there was a way of taking away these autistic traits?

“If there were a cure for Asperger’s, I don’t know if I’d want it. Humanity has prospered because of people with autistic traits. Without them, we wouldn’t have put man on the Moon or be running software programs. If we wiped out all the autistic people on the planet, I don’t know how much longer the human race would last.” (Chris Packham, Radio Times, 2017)

That’s the key, Chris says: not trying to change people, but learning to better understand and adapting to accommodate them. And, with this awesome and insightful documentary, he is really doing something to help with that.

The documentary was first aired (UK) on BBC Two, Tuesday 17th October at 9pm.

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

The Mystery Blogger Award!

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Firstly I just want to say a big thank you to the lovely Bec for nominating me.  I would definitely recommend popping on over to her blog here. Her blog focuses on anxiety/mental health and she shares some amazing thoughts and ideas on it!

This award was started by Okoto Enigma on her blog, it’s an award “for amazing bloggers with ingenious posts.” Click the link to the blog for details!

Here are the rules of this award:

  • Name the creator of the award and link their blog.
  • Place the award logo or image within your blog post.
  • Thank the person who nominated you and link their blog in your post.
  • Tell your readers 3 things about yourself.
  • Answer your nominator’s questions.
  • Nominate 10-20 people.
  • Ask your nominees 5 original questions of your choice.
  • Share 5 links to your best blog posts.
  • Notify each of your nominees by commenting on their blog.

Okay here goes…3 things about me:

  1. I love apples and blueberries. If I could eat them all day everyday I would.
  2. I love wearing Converses. I wear them 24/7 and luckily can wear them to work too!
  3. I love succulent plants I think they are wonderful.

If you could have the perfect 3 course meal, what would it be?

Ooooh. Okay erm…I’d say dough balls and garlic butter for starter (I love bland meals!) Veggie Spaghetti Bolognese for main meal and then definitely some form of ice cream for pudding!

What’s your biggest fear?

Now this is a tricky one. At the moment my biggest fear is socialising with people and loud noises! I am more then happy with great heights, rollercoasters, bugs, etc!

What would you say is your best characteristic?

Hmm. I love helping people out and problem solving things for people so I would say hopefully my best characteristic is being helpful 🙂

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

I love anywhere by the sea so I’d either say maybe somewhere in Devon or Cornwall or even somewhere on the coast in Italy!

How are you today? (Strange question, but I want to know how you’re doing)

I think I’m okay today. I’m also excited because it’s Friday tomorrow which means the weekend and less work stress!

Okay here are my 10 nominations:

  1. highlysensitivelifeblog.wordpress.com
  2. sociallyawkwarrd.wordpress.com
  3. introvertedthinkingblog.wordpress.com/blog/
  4. sensitivegiraffe.wordpress.com
  5. potsitivityy.wordpress.com
  6. anonymouslyautistic.net
  7. myanxietydiariesblog.wordpress.com/about/
  8. sensoryseastar.wordpress.com
  9. inmyaspergersworld.wordpress.com
  10. mariner2mother.wordpress.com

And my 5 questions for the nominees to answer:

  1. What makes you smile?
  2. Where would you most like to go no holiday next?
  3. If you had one day completely alone how would you fill your time?
  4. If you could have any job besides the one you have right now, what would it be?
  5. If you could rewind 5 years and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

Lastly my five favourite blog posts I have written:

  1. My Sensory System
  2. Loud Environments
  3. Change and why its difficult
  4. Memes to do with me
  5. DIY Sensory Box

Book Review: ‘Almost Adulting’

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So you may have heard my recent check in via the app Anchor (if you haven’t it’s a podcasting app for mobile – I’m going to be doing more recording of my sensory experiences and advice on it, scroll down my blog for the post I did!) anyway on my latest podcast I mentioned that I was going to be doing a book review soon on my blog and I mentioned how I think it might be helpful for others to read too!

So as you’ve probably seen by the heading (and the shiny image above) the book is called ‘Almost Adulting’ and it’s by a super lovely lady called Arden Rose. She is an Actress, Producer, Comedian, YouTuber and now a published author as well!

So Arden’s book centres around how to survive your future adulthood. This is written in the form of  journal-like-sections relating to different topics such as:

  • Self-Care (think eating well, washing regularly, making time for yourself to unwind and de-stress)
  • Making internet friends
  • Dating and Relationships
  • Clothing and how to dress on a budget
  • How to travel alone
  • Moving out and decorating your new space
  • Going on adventures and making the most of life

Arden documents her own struggle with OCD in the form of trichotillomania. Trich is defined as having a compulsive need to pick out or pull out your hair. At the age of 13 Arden realised that after pulling out all her eyelashes and eyebrows she was struggling with Trich and needed help. It became a habit for her in times of stress and she started as a freshman at high school with carefully drawn eyebrows and a cover-up coat of eyeliner. I won’t mention anymore because the book explains it much better than I ever could but the way she copes and distracts herself with other mechanisms definitely makes this book a worthwhile read.

I really do recommend it especially to teenagers as it does give you a heads up of things to come later on in life but even as a 23-year-old I found it useful (I don’t feel like I’m an adult yet but all the little adult things I find myself doing add up I guess.)

The book involves a real mix of essay-like chapters, great advice in the form of motivational lists and also features a lot of quirky illustrations. Arden writes in a very open and honest way which is enlightening but also put me at ease – it’s hard to do adult things all the time!

After reading this book I felt kind of more content because it occurred to me that adulthood creeps up on us all. And nobody knows what on earth to do in the start. It’s all about practice and challenging yourself to go out into the big wide world (and trying to keep up with all the bills, chores and socialising at the same time!).

Image credit: Carolyn Suzuki (whose awesome illustrations are on the cover!)

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!