Book review by Katie Munday (they / them)
[Trigger warning: talk on filicide, suicide and death.]
Written by Meghan Ashburn and Jules Edwards, I will die on this Hill looks at the struggle between Autistic people, ‘autism parents’ and the children who often get caught in the middle.
Meghan Ashburn (Not an Autism Mom) is an educational consultant, trainer and writer, passionate about helping schools create more inclusive and accessible environments for children.
Jules Edwards (Autistic, typing) is an Indigenous Autistic mother of Autistic children, passionate about sharing knowledge, healing trauma, and building community in alignment with her cultural values.
Nathan McConell (Growing Up Autie) illustrated the front cover and pictures of individual chapter writers.
The book collects brilliant reflections from some of the most important people in Autistic advocacy and activism including Kieran Rose, Kristy Forbes, Cole Sorenson and Danny Whitty. These are sprinkled throughout the book, between Meghan’s and Jules’ chapters, under headings such as ‘The Worst of Each other’, ‘Let’s get to Work’ and ‘Where do I fit in?’.
Meghan and Jules reflect on the division between Autistic activists and ‘autism mums’ through their own relationship which began with consistent and often strained (mis)communication. Through this persistent need to teach and learn with each other Meghan and Jules were unwittingly creating a template of how we can all work together to protect and champion the lives of Autistic children. So, they wrote a book about it!
There are too many good parts of this book to list but I wanted to highlight two particular favorite chapters of mine, Cara and Danny Whitty’s chapters. Cara wrote of how her ‘mother’ struggled with looking after her Neurodivergent children and how this ultimately ended with her killing her son, trying to kill her daughter and then herself. This chapter is a brave confirmation of the very real harm that Autistic people face, often from within our own families. Cara finishes her chapter by saying “if you ever feel like you can’t parent them [your children] safely, get help.” (p.172). There is no shame in needing or asking for help, parenting is beyond overwhelming and difficult and we all need support some times.
Danny Whitty’s chapter was just as eye-opening, he wrote about the pathology around autism and being non-speaking and how this “harms whole families, not just the Autistic individuals. It deprives them of the opportunity to fully know and love their Autistic family member. Which is a tragic loss.” (p.114). Unfortunately, ideas such as ‘curing’ Autistic people are often filtered down to parents who believe autism to be a big baddy taking over their children. This can be worse still for Autistic people who have different ways of communicating and do get their communication needs supported.
The writers throughout I will die on this Hill do not shy away from the interconnection of autism and trauma, they understand that being Autistic is another part of human diversity which comes with both unimaginable struggle and deep joy. Intersectionality is also reflected on throughout the book, especially Jules’ Ojibwe heritage and culture.
Key points and resources are at the end of each chapter. The book can be read in stages and would make a great reference book. I believe the book assumes some knowledge of the reader, despite this I would still very much suggest this as a go-to book for Autistic people and those who love and support us.
I saw myself reflected in these pages, from Morenike Giwa Onaiwu’s view of being Autistic as neither good or bad: just being, to Kimberly Collins’ experience of being shut-down or ignored in parent groups due to being Autistic. Autistic and non-Autistic experiences of activism and support groups are explored critically, appreciating that they are equal parts powerful, frustrating, intimate, bleak and empowering.
I will die on this Hill is an important – and sometimes difficult – book to read. Meghan, Jules and the other writers look at our history of infighting and explore how this doesn’t help any of us. The writing is insightful, personal, intersectional and brutally honest. Hopefully, this book marks a rise in all of us working together against the real enemy of oppressive, racist and ableist systems which hold us down whilst asking us why we can’t do better.
“Our children think autistically, feel autistically and live autistically.”Meghan Ashburn, p.118