Apologies for that long title aside… This is something that I’ve been thinking a lot about.
There are almost as many variances on the autism spectrum as there are colors in the rainbow or breeds of cat in the world. Even having a specific diagnosis (like my oldest son does), such as “high-functioning, Pervasive Developmental Disorder,” doesn’t quite explain everything. For example, White Fang has aversions to certain foods and textures that others with say, Aspergers, may not, and vice versa.
Based on my research into the spectrum, I’ve found that my tendencies/sensitive areas fall closest to PDD — and yet there are many things that bother me that White Fang is cool with — and again, vice versa.
This includes our choice of reading material.
White Fang enjoys history and science and video games (particularly Minecraft, where he can build to his heart’s content — and he has always been a builder). Give him something like The Illuminae Files and he’ll eat it up (he did practically swallow that duo whole, and loved it). He’s read almost every Warriors novel that’s been printed so far (and this is quite a feat in itself); and despite there being a whole lot of intense feels addressed in this series, because the characters are animals, he can totally understand and appreciate the emotions, as portrayed through the animals’ point of view.
Then there’s me. I am not mechanically-minded; sci-fi often makes my head hurt, and I will choose stories with faeries/unicorns/dragons over a spaceship almost every time. But I get certain types of humor (especially puns and plays on words) that White Fang tends to struggle with. We both have lost our hearts to Warriors, but sometimes we interpret the same events/motivations differently.
So, just because we’re close on the spectrum doesn’t mean our interests are.
I don’t fit the “typical” profile for what’s considered “supported research” about women with autism, either. Many ASD-ers are really good with math and science, and have challenges with learning empathy and how to grasp others’ emotions, body language, etc. To a point, I face obstacles in that area, but I do realize body language exists and its function; and when I read a book, I definitely get that people will do something based on their feelings.
As a writer, I also have to present characters that experience feelings/goals/plans that make sense to NT (neurotypical) readers.
When I read, there are some elements that will continually be difficult for me to grasp. One is “normal” romantic expectations or hopes. When reading especially a contemporary selection, I have to turn off my “inner analyzer” and just go along for the ride. This makes it hard for me to engage in discussions about these novels, though — so much of what other readers get from the story/characters, I just won’t.
This is why I tend to not select realistic genres, and when I do (generally based on others’ recommendation), I try to drop most of my usual “reader’s lens.” I can’t think, “Why would MC find love interest’s ‘little jokes’ amusing?”, since chances are I’ll never figure it out. I have to just say, “Okay, she likes him because she thinks he’s funny,” and take my own perspective with a grain of salt.
Sometimes I just won’t get the humor/motivations/goals in non-realistic genres, either. A perfect example is Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom. The world-building was great; but I just could not relate to the characters, why they truly wanted to be criminals, or why some of them would like each other in a non-platonic way. So, although I wouldn’t not recommend this duology to others, I didn’t like it myself.
These factors are also why my reading choices gravitate towards YA and middle-grade. Yes, for myself, not to review them for my kids. Although I haven’t been in school for a while, I am a lot more likely to relate to kids who are learning who they are, their passions, their ambitions, who they want to have friendships/relationships with, and their place in their families. These types of basic emotional circumstances I can always get on board with.
I don’t do conflict. Conflict without a clean and sensible resolution literally makes me bite my nails and gives me a headache and nausea and joint pains. Hence in my entertainment, I’ll skip the dysfunctional families and nasty divorces and stock market dips, and go straight to the dragons and magic, and elect to believe that in some dimension somewhere everyone gets what they deserve. Too much violence or sex or swearing also does me in — it’s a sensory perception thing. And since I don’t have to read that stuff, I won’t.
Before anyone says real life isn’t always pleasant, and I’d better get used to it — I am more than aware of wars and crime going on in the world, how to hold down a job, the reasons to pay bills, vacuum hard-to-reach spots — all of it. But I am not designed to be part of the “rat race” (or even to fully comprehend why we’re being compared to rats on a human social ladder).
So, I’ll focus on what I’m good at; and when it comes to reading and writing, fantasy MG-YA is where it is for me.