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.
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.
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.)
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.