Book review by Katie Munday: Standing up for myself by Evaleen Whelton

[Front cover of Standing up for Myself. The background is made up of pastel pink, blue and yellow triangles arranged haphazardly. At the centre is a white square with the title in big blue lettering. A green character with short, bobbed hair, green shorts, t-shirt and trainers is leaning up against the title, pointing towards it with their left thumb over their shoulder. They have a small shy smile under big green eyes]

Standing up for Myself is a book for Autistic young people about boundaries, personal space, consent and power play written by Evaleen Whelton, an Autistic teacher who educates on Autistic experience and culture through their companies AUsome Training and Konfident Kids.

The book presents lots of information on Autistic differences inter-weaved with workbook style questions and advice for young Autistic people. Standing up for Myself champions Autistic identities and differences whilst acknowledging that there are many people and systems in the world which do not look favourably on Neurodivergent people.

The book is split into several sections looking at personal space, consent and power play and how a young Autistic person can spot and navigate these situations in their lives. The section on consent was particularly powerful, giving clear advice to young people on how to give and gain consent if and when they want to.

Another favourite part was a workbook page which allowed the reader to put all the times that people took their own stuff out on them into the big “not my stuff” bin (pictured below). This is a wonderful tool which helps the reader to understand that others people’s behaviours are self-projections and do not reflect the morals, behaviour and personality of the reader.  

[The workbook page entitled Not my Stuff. The page is white and has the following text at the top in black: How about you take a bit of time now and put all the time that people took their own stuff out on you into this big “not my stuff” bin. A grey-scale picture of a metal bin with a lid is at the centre of the page, a white rectangular sign on the bin reads: Not my stuff.]

The language used throughout Standing up for Myself is very well thought-out and complex ideas and processes are explained in a thoughtful and accessible manner. Evaleen shares her own examples throughout to make the reader feel more confident in exploring their own experiences.

The only thing which could make this book even better is giving readers enough space to explore in a way that is most comfortable to them. Creating more gaps between the workbook sections – or making it clear that readers could take it at their own pace – could make these sections less overwhelming.  

Standing up for Myself would be incredibly useful for Autistic children and young people everywhere and would make a brilliant resource for KS2 and KS3 educators. Evaleen has created a safe space for Autistic children and young people to explore their differences and struggles, allowing them to create their own ways to survive and thrive in a world which is often very confusing and overwhelming.

Autistic realisation and shielding

By Katie Munday (They / them)

Since my Autistic realisation, I have been able to make more sense of how I fit into the world. I can now make more sense of strange experiences and interactions in my childhood, teens and early twenties: what it seemed to others that I had done wrong, subtext I completely missed and things I was supposed to be interested in.  

I spent 25 years not knowing what was going on, in a flux of confusion and high empathy but also low interest and nonchalance. I was alone but very rarely felt lonely, it was only when I mixed with others that I just didn’t get it. I wasn’t interested in others, I found their subtext frustrating, I just wanted them to be clear with me but when I was clear with others I was called arrogant, rude, blunt and harsh.

I’m at peace now as I finally know the truth – that I live in a completely different culture and world to most others around me and that is totally fine by me.

One of the things that struck me during my journey of Autistic realisation (I’m still on by the way) is that sometimes confusion also comes from other Autistic people and within wider Autistic communities. Some things for me just don’t fit, the idea of masking or camouflaging is a big one. I have been told indirectly many times that all Autistic people mask, especially if we are unrealised in childhood – we mask to fit in, to make life easier for ourselves and to survive in a world that isn’t built for us.

I find the word masking difficult because it suggests that I can play a part and hide away consciously with a fair amount of effectiveness, and that has never been my experience. I suppose I have been lucky, or maybe I just happened to be in unrealised heavily neurodivergent spaces, I believe my scout group was one of those spaces. I have always been very proudly weird from a family of other proudly different people. I was brought up to follow interests and passions which aligned with who I am as opposed to who I was supposed to be. That doesn’t mean life hasn’t been difficult and that I breeze through all social and sensory interactions flawlessly, far from it. It just means that my behaviour has never really been convincing anyone of anything other than what I am.

I don’t mask, I shield.

I have a force field, a membrane by which I can (usually) decide what comes in and out of my inner world, this shield protects me from the confusing bullshit of neurotypical people and allows me to work and live relatively happily within systems which are not built for me and my kind.

The word shielding conjures up images of sorcerers protecting themselves from incoming attack – and I think that is a near constant thing for Autistic people and our communities. It’s the subtle microaggressions we hear every day; ‘everyone’s a little Autistic’, ‘you don’t look Autistic’, ‘oh but you go to university!’. The patronising way that Autistic adults are treated like children and Autistic children are treated like burdens.

We shield to keep these awful things out as much as we can, but we also use shielding in a more positive manner. My shield, like a membrane, is two way, I decide who and what I allow into the inner sanctum and protect myself from the viciousness of the world. There is an immense amount of joy to be had within my shield; stimming, following interests, talking deeply about things and being truly unique.

When I get home, I can lower the shield, as my home and my family are my inner sanctum, there is just no need for the membrane at that point. Coming home and taking down the shield, is like taking your shoes (or your bra!) off, it is immediate comfort.

My shield is brilliant, but it’s taken a long time to build, and it still becomes faulty sometimes – it requires a lot of maintenance which I don’t always have the spoons to keep up. There’s an awful lot of toxic neurotypicality out there to shield myself from but also a great amount of Autistic joy and pride to keep safe.

Book review by Katie Munday: Just Right for you: A story about Autism by Melanie Heyworth and Celeste Josephine

Just Right for You: A Story about Autism. Artwork by Celeste Josephine Art.

[Image description: The front cover of Just Right for You. The title is in large purple and black lettering against a background of light purple and blue clouds. Underneath the title are five characters standing on blue-green grass. The first character has large curly ginger pigtails, they are wearing blue dungarees and are jumping in the air. The second character is sat on the floor reading a red book, they have short black hair and are wearing round black glasses. The third character is sat in a manual wheelchair, they are wearing an orange t-shirt and blue trousers and are holding a brown teddy bear in their lap. The fourth character has large brown curly hair, a pink dress and pink headphones. The fifth character is a large blue and purple fluffy being, they have large floppy ears and a large teddy bear like belly. All characters are waving and smiling at the reader. Purple lettering underneath show the writer and illustrators names]

Just Right for You: A Story About Autism is written by Reframing Autism founder and CEO Dr Melanie Heyworth and illustrated by Celeste Josephine Art. These Autistic creators have made s visually stunning and insightful book brimming with Autistic pride and passion. The illustrations throughout are beautifully ethereal and capture the essence of Autistic oneness with the sensory realm.

Just Right for you is a gorgeously illustrated book helping Autistic children to understand and champion their differences by following four Autistic children and a very sweet looking blue and purple fluffy creature. These characters talk about different elements of Autistic being including the way we think, communicate, play, feel and sense.

The characters remain nameless but represent different experiences within the Autistic community, such as a child who wears headphones / ear defenders and a child who is a wheelchair user. Just Right for You explores the needs and strengths within the Autistic community without judgement and in very clear language which suits the age / stage of readers. I especially enjoyed the communication page as it represents the importance of communicating with your hands, AAC, echolalia and palilalia. I also loved the penultimate image:

[ID: A blue purple fluffy creature with floppy ears hanging down by the side of their face. They are holding a giant love heart in their hands which is mottled in pastel rainbow colours. They have a large smile with closed eyes and are surrounded by different coloured smaller hearts, in the shape of a love heart.]

Just Right for You is a book which allows Autistic children to understand their beautiful Autistic brains. It is refreshingly affirming to Autistic children and adults, and I wish all Autistic people could experience the inclusive principles expressed in this book more often.

The only thing I would like to see from this book is a version which uses Widgit symbols, I know a lot of young people and adults who would benefit from that mode of written communication but I’m sure that is something which may become available in the future.

Just Right for You: A Story About Autism is so touching I genuinely got emotional for the younger version of me who would have found this so wonderful. I look forward to sharing this book with my son as he grows and will be recommending this too many of the parents, carers and young people I work with. So that they know that their brain is just right, just for them.