Autism, community, family, health, Mental Health, reading, writing, Young Adult fiction

Shouting into the Void

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I wasn’t going to post today. But in the last 24 hours, I’ve come across a discussion that really bothers me, and if I don’t speak up about it, I won’t consider myself worthy of the title advocate.

There’s a new YA novel out called “The Secret Science of Magic” by Melissa Keil, and there’s a major representation of a main character presenting symptoms on the autism spectrum, and her parents and friends basically just telling her to “knock it off” rather than getting her tested.

To say I am disturbed is an understatement.

According to posts I’ve read in this discussion, the author intended for the character to be “one of the girls who exhibits ASD characteristics but is never diagnosed.” (Before I get accused of misquoting, I’m just paraphrasing information posted by other reviewers.)

Warning: I’m about to be potentially not nice or diplomatic. Some people won’t like this. I might even get some hate mail. (Be aware: all nasty comments will be deleted.)

As an adult who only recently found out that I have had autism my entire life, and suffered greatly because of being undiagnosed, I find it simply irresponsible on the part of this author to write a novel with these intentions. 

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The reason I called this post “Shouting into the Void” is because this is how I feel, most of the time. My 14-year-old son has been diagnosed on the spectrum since preschool, and some of his teachers and peers still won’t listen when he and I explain a sensory perception or trigger. For all the campaigns for autism awareness, there are still major misconceptions about the spectrum flourishing in civilized society.

I am often frustrated by neurotypical people insisting I need to change, or that my son needs to change, without considering that if we do what they want, we won’t be who we were truly meant to be.

How many people in history, who are thought by modern researchers to have been on the spectrum, contributed invaluably to science, medicine, the arts, how we view the world, humanity? Trust me, there were plenty of them.

And there are plenty in the world right now, and if you tell them they’re “wrong,” then what might you be robbing the future of?

Anyway, with specific regards to Ms. Keil’s novel — I have not read it, but I am quickly developing the position of not wanting to. And, I’m sorry, folks, but I really hope that no one else does, without fully comprehending that the main character is supposed to be autistic.

And this is why I simply think this should have been made crystal clear in the novel.

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When there’s something so prevalent, affecting so many people worldwide, as autism, and tons of stereotypes and stigmas about it, we do not need more misunderstandings spread. 

Maintaining ignorance is not a luxury; it’s perpetuating a plague. People need to wake up. Just because something is different does not mean it is wrong or needs to be erased. (I have to say this on pretty much a weekly basis.)

The other thing that worries me intensely about “The Secret Science of Magic” is the idea that it may actually encourage people to think, “Yeah, Sophia (the narrator) was a real jerk,” instead of becoming more informed about why she was behaving the way she did. For many ASD-ers, our neurotransmitters don’t fire in a way that means we naturally understand body language and emotional reactions. So if we don’t respond to conditioned social cues or an emotional display in the way NTs would, it is not because we are cold and uncaring. It’s because for us these things are a behavior we have to learn. Just like training a child to share, or a dog not to bark at 2 a.m.

But society seems to have very little tolerance for people who behave differently — even if we’re not hurting anyone. We look and act almost like NTs, but not quite, so we get put on the radar of “a possible threat” — the same way separate races and religions have approached each other for centuries. (And, no, I don’t consider that an unfair comparison to make.)

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It also breaks my heart for the character of Sophia (even though she’s fictional, because she’s representing real girls everywhere), for the ridicule and heartbreak the author forces her to endure, without forcing the other characters to get a clue and open their minds. To me, it’s not simply a “realistic portrayal,” it’s — as I mentioned before — an irresponsible one. How on earth are we going to change people’s perceptions if we let them stay stuck in the wrong ones?

So, Ms. Keil, with respect to your “intentions,” I’m afraid they’re going to backfire horribly. I know I (and probably many others) would much rather read the story of Sophia, who has been undiagnosed until now, and the rest of the novel being about her journey now that she’s informed, the treatments she seeks (therapy? anti-anxiety meds? deep breathing techniques?), and the way her family and friends react (guilt? remorse? trying to understand?).

There may be interesting reactions to this post.

But I don’t regret what I’m saying for a minute.

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2 thoughts on “Shouting into the Void”

  1. Agh I’m really sorry if my discussions on this have caused you pain/worry though!! Although I will definitely say that the book continually said that “different is not wrong” which is great. And there was one scene where Sophia actually told everyone that she never doubted herself before people started telling her she was wrong.

    But then comes more of the half-baked stuff: when none of the neurotypicals had to apologise for their judgements and misconceptions and she was the one in the wrong by the end and having to apologise. And honestly I’ve seen other reviewers saying they didn’t like Sophia because she was rude and uncaring…which kind of breaks my heart. There’s so many stigmas around ASD and the book really isn’t breaking any of them, more just adding to the wrong sort of noise. 😫 I also felt by the end they wanted to get Sophia medicated for social anxiety, which isn’t wrong of course, but that felt like a bandaid for what was really going on in her life. (I STILL DON’T GET WHY SHE DIDN’T DO ANY RESEARCH HERSELF. She was supposed to be a genius!! I was googling things for myself the moment I realised I absolutely did not fit in with everyone else.)

    I hope this hasn’t been a really bad trigger to ruin your day or week or anything though. At least there are those of us who want to speak up about it! And I think your discussions are always so logical and well-written and I really admire you for them. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, dear Cait, no, it’s not that being aware of this book has sent me spiralling into a cyclone of doom and despair. Thank you, though, for thinking of that, seriously — as odd as it may sound to say “thanks for thinking that I may have ruined your day”, I do mean it.

      My biggest concern is reinforcing the stereotypes and the misconceptions, because that truly damages, and makes things worse 5, 10, 20 years from now. I’m thinking about how people might view autism when my son is my age, and I really, really hope he won’t still be facing the same hurdles he is/I am now. It’s why I just couldn’t ignore the subject.

      Based on the other reviews I’ve read so far of this novel, apparently most people are NOT getting it — so, there you are, Ms. Keil, sorry, but it proves my point that readers won’t relate to your “intentions” — they need it explained openly and plainly. And I think that would help “the cause” SO MUCH if we just stopped tiptoeing around the subject and were able to say to NTs, “Please don’t make a joke at my expense, because I just don’t know how to process that, so now I think you hate me, and that makes me sad and mad and I don’t know how to deal with that, so I’ll just have a nervous breakdown now — no thank you.” Rather than being told we’re “weird” when it simply boils down to preference and people learning to respect each other’s points of view.

      Like

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