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Recommendations for Autism Acceptance Month

8 Apr

It is admittedly difficult all the time to be an openly autistic woman in this society. I’ve now lived that life for nearly 31 years, being “out” as autistic for 11 of them. I was diagnosed in 2009 at the age of 20 and decided to be forthright with people about it in the hopes that it would help them understand me better. It ended up leading me down a different path than I expected – I became a self-advocate, and I’ve now spoken at conferences regarding libraries and autism. If you’d told the scared 20-year-old that she’d someday do public speaking about her newly-diagnosed brain, how it works, and how best to accommodate it, she wouldn’t have believed you. That’s how it turned out for me, however, and it all started because I decided to begin writing a blog about being autistic and began finding other openly autistic people.

The hardest time to be autistic is the month of April. April has been declared Autism Awareness Month, but autistic people prefer the term Autistic Acceptance Month. This is because “awareness”can portray us as tragedies or burdens rather than people with different support needs living in a society not designed for us. April is therefore a very stressful month for us as we have to listen to people trying to “cure” something that can’t be cured and refusing to accept our differences as a natural part of the human condition.

To help combat those views, as they are prejudices many hold unknowingly due to how autism has traditionally been portrayed, I’ve decided to compile a list of books written by autistic authors about the autistic experience – and one book written by a non-autistic author who nevertheless has compiled an excellent history of our struggle for societal acceptance.

Look Me In The Eye
by John Elder Robison
Look me in the Eye
Look Me In The Eye by John Elder Robison is probably the best-known memoir by an autistic person. Robison is a public speaker now (I’ve had the honor of seeing him in person – we were on the same bill at a conference!). It’s a good starting point if you’re interested in seeking out autistic voices. Robison went undiagnosed for a large portion of his life, as many of us did (especially older autistic people), and he was finally diagnosed at age 40. Autism aside, his life is just plain interesting to read about because he’s had some really cool jobs, so I double recommend this one!

Pretending To Be Normal
by Liane Holliday Willey
Pretending to be Normal
Pretending To Be Normal by Liane Holliday Willey is another perspective on growing up undiagnosed until adulthood. The title has always resonated with me, because I’ve spent large portions of my life pretending to be “normal” just to protect myself from other people and their judgment, which is often harsh. It’s often especially difficult for women to get a diagnosis because autism is still frequently perceived as a “boy’s club” – indeed, I was a fairly obvious case in retrospect but wasn’t diagnosed until age 20. It’s especially common for autistic women to figure it out themselves before seeking or receiving a formal diagnosis because of this gender bias.

Funny, You Don’t Look Autistic
by Michael McCreary
Funny You Don't Look Autistic
Funny, You Don’t Look Autistic by Michael McCreary definitely has my favorite title on the list because, well, we’re told that all the time. People seem to think autism has a “look” somehow. It doesn’t. I often wonder if this is because Down Syndrome and certain other conditions have a chromosomal element that alters physical appearance so the public assumes autism must have one too. McCreary is living my dream and is doing comedy, which is what I’d hopefully be doing if I wasn’t an archivist instead. This book is also well suited for YA readers, so if you’ve got some teens looking for forthright information on autism this is a great book to pick up!  Currently it is part of Overdrive’s Big Library Read which connects readers around the world with the same book at the same time without any waitlists or holds; this title will be part of the Big Read till April 13.

by Steve Silberman
Neurotribes by Steve Silberman was not written by an autistic person. Silberman isn’t one of us. However, he’s one of the best allies we’ve got, and Neurotribes is actually a comprehensive history of autism in society. Silberman certainly understands cultural stigmatization – he’s a Jewish gay man – and he brings that nuance to what is a wonderfully crafted history. I’m very proud to count him as an ally in the fight for autistic rights and acceptance.

We hope these books will help our non-autistic readers on their way to being a better ally to the autistic people in your life – and trust me, the odds are good you know at least one of us, even if you don’t know it yet!  If you are autistic and have a favorite book to recommend, please share it in our comments.

Thanks for all your support, and stay safe during this time, everyone!

Written by:
Steph Diorio
History Librarian

Besides being the local history librarian, Steph Diorio is an autistic self-advocate. She has, spoken at Targeting Autism, a conference regarding autism and libraries, twice. She is also the founder of the Autistic Gaming Initiative, a team of autistic gamers who livestream once a month to support the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network and Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network.


“I have been at home.”: A Midwife’s Tale and A Request for Your Own

25 Mar

A Midwife's Tale
Martha Ballard’s diary entries frequently contained this note when she wasn’t out delivering babies in Hallowell (now Augusta), Maine. She lived and operated in a world both uniquely familiar and starkly foreign to our own, a tight-knit 18th century community in which she played the vital role of midwife. She called on neighbors, attended church, worked in her garden, remembered anniversaries, and raised a family with her husband Ephraim, ten years her senior. Most importantly and notably, she kept a diary over the course of her last 27 years of life, recording her work, the daily goings-on in her community, and her life in over 10,000 entries between 1785 and 1812.

As I write this, I have also been at home. Hoboken is practicing social distancing due to COVID-19, and I can’t go out unless I need groceries or other essentials. If I want to take a walk for some fresh air, I can, but I have to keep six feet apart from other people. I could in theory take my cat for a walk in his stroller to get outside, but I’d worry that people would assume a human child was in there and I’d be branded an irresponsible parent. On the flip side, this means I’ve been getting a lot of reading done, so I finished my reread of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale in a few days. It was to be the historical nonfictional book club’s discussion book for April, but the date is now up in the air for the time being. I hadn’t read it since my undergraduate days at Gettysburg for my historical method class, but I recalled learning a lot about how to work with primary sources from it, so I picked it for the book club – and I am so glad I did.  If you are interested in participating in our virtual book discussion starting on Friday, March 27 check out our calendar page.

In a way, it’s very relevant right now. When I first read the book, it was for purely educational purposes. I was reading it to learn how to utilize primary sources to tell an individual’s story, and I used what I learned within the next year when I took on my undergraduate senior thesis project, which involved extrapolating a story from a soldier’s court-martial. A reread of it now, though, gives the book new meaning. Right now, we’re living through a historical event. Life is going on as normally as possible as we remain in lockdown due to COVID-19, only going out for essentials and working from home if possible. Everyone’s searching for some normalcy, but at the same time we all know we’re living through something historic. I’ve decided to collect articles on COVID-19 and Hoboken for a future vertical file, but I’m also keeping a log of my activities during this period of social distancing because I know someday I’ll want to remember it all – or someone coming after me might want to know what it was like to live through this.

Martha didn’t particularly consider her diary to be historic. She mostly used it to record her daily life, the comings and goings of friends, family, and neighbors, and her midwifery business. She probably didn’t anticipate that it would be today sitting in a historical society, a testament to life in frontier Maine before Maine was even a separate state from Massachusetts. She definitely wouldn’t have imagined that nearly 200 years after her death in 1812 a historian would find her diary there and use it to patch her life together for modern readers. Martha wasn’t the sort of person who intended to be famous, if her no-nonsense diary entries are any indication. She’s now the subject of a Pulitzer Prize-winning piece of historical nonfiction. She’ll be remembered for eternity. She’s achieved immortality, so sought after by rulers of the past, and yet she was an ordinary, everyday woman with an ordinary, everyday – yet crucial – job.

In the spirit of Martha Ballard, I’d like to make a request of you all. If you read this blog post, please consider keeping a journal or a log of your life during this time. When we’ve returned to business as usual here in Hoboken, donate that journal or log or a copy of it to us here at the Hoboken Public Library. We’d love to preserve your story so that future generations can remember what life was like in this difficult time for all of us – and it’ll give you another thing to do during quarantine! We would appreciate your help in recording history – indeed, we’re living through it right now! Send us your activities, your photos, your videos – anything you feel we should save! This may not be the best historical event to live during, but let’s make the most of it and make sure that we’re remembered for what we did to save and protect others during this outbreak!  After 9/11, HPL collected people’s memories and it was published by Wiley in publication September 11: Hoboken Remembers that is now part of our local history collection.

You can send any reflections, images, videos, or other items about your experience during quarantine you want preserved to, and I’ll make sure they’re safe and protected for the future!

Oh, and one more thing – whilst you’re stuck at home, fill out that Census! You can do it online, and you’ll be helping future historians, archivists, and genealogists too! Your descendants will be able to find you in 72 years when they’re looking!

Stay safe, keep six feet apart, and wash your hands – we’ll get through this!

Written by:
Steph Diorio
Hoboken History Librarian

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