A Review of “Our Autistic Lives” by Alex Ratcliffe

Written by Alex Ratcliffe, who identifies as autistic, “Our Autistic Lives” is a collection of personal stories given in interview, by people from all parts of the globe.  It is split into sections covering the various decades in our lives.  These stories reveal everything from the anxiety of those in their twenties, through to the sometimes stoic acceptance of the condition by those in their sixties and seventies.  Some of the stories are very sad, but others are quite upbeat in tone.

Aline, a woman in her thirties, like many on the Spectrum, has depression, and since 2014, has ‘prayed every day for someone up there to be kind enough to take my life’. She is an intelligent woman who reports having no friends during her childhood, being variously described as ‘strange’, ‘scary’, or ‘overwhelming’, yet who went to nursing school where she met her ex-husband. However, after dropping out of nursing school, she took a series of dead end jobs, including a telecoms job which overwhelmed her, and was forced to seek help.  Unfortunately, the help consisted of ‘up to 63 pills a day of medication’, which didn’t address the underlying problems . After moving to another city, she was finally diagnosed with Asperger’s, and is rebuilding her life, sadly without the support of her family, or new boyfriend, none of whom understand her autistic behaviours, and want her to adjust or change. She ends her interview: ‘I’ve changed so much over the years.  I no longer understand the reason for living.’

By contrast Skywalker, a writer who is also in his thirties, describes a full life as dad to his three children, two of whom are autistic, and of running a marketing consultancy from home with his wife. He had to give up working for others, because of suffering autistic burnout, ‘the result of many years of masking and suppressing autistic traits, years of having to deal with societal pressures.’  He is also passionate about advocacy, and ‘fighting for autistic rights on the internet and in the real world’.  He describes a life which he now lives on his own terms, with activities and routines which suit him and his family.  Like most autistics, he wants to be listened to, valued and accepted rather than seen as ‘a puzzle’, and forced to ‘act like neurotypical people’.  His account finishes: ‘There is nothing the matter with us, we do not need to be fixed or cured. We’re amazing, just like everyone else. Not bad, not good, just different.’

Alex Ratclife wrote this book as the result of being unable to find any resources for autistic adults when she herself, suspected she was autistic. She is concerned that there is a ‘failure to acknowledge’ autistic people from older generations due to autism being labeled ‘infantile’ and seen as an ‘impairment’ rather than as a ‘difference, and going unrecognized in adults until the 1980s. She mentions that the number of people being diagnosed as autistic continues to rise by ‘30% by country year on year’, but says that despite this, autism awareness has ‘a long way to go’.  

Hopefully, this book will go some way to raising awareness of the condition, particularly how it continues to affect people throughout their lives, instead of just being seen as ‘an impairment’ that can be cured, overcome, or outgrown. This book can be read by anyone with an interest in autism, for it is through the lived experience of those on the spectrum, that we truly learn what it is to be autistic.

‘Our Autistic Lives’, [2020], is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London and Philadelphia, cost £14.99 via Amazon or any good book store.

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