Autistic identity, culture, community, and space for well-being

Review by Katie Munday (they / them)

Dr. Chloe Farahar explores the creation and importance of Autistic identity, culture, community, and space for well-being in their chapter of the same name in The Routledge International Handbook of Critical Autism Studies. Chloe has a PhD in social psychology specifically attempting to improve the dominant discourse surrounding “mental illnesses” (neurodivergences). They are currently engaged in post-doctoral research on the Oxford-led ATTUNE project, exploring young neurodivergent people’s experience of mental health and adverse childhood experiences, through participatory arts-based research.

Autistic identity, culture, community, and space for well-being explores the importance of self and community identification, belonging and connectedness. Chloe posits that many Autistic people distance ourselves from the pathology of ‘autism’ therefore distancing ourselves from the protective factors of community. This leaves many Autistic people in limbo – many of us feel that we do not fit into the neuro-normative world or the Autistic community, which can lead to isolation and poor self-esteem.

Chloe appreciates that ‘the culture of autism’ creates internalised stigma, shame and ableism. The ideas which have formed the foundation of knowledge on “autism” are based in deficit, negativity and hopelessness – no wonder so many of us want to distance ourselves from such an awful fate.

Through Autistic identity, culture, community, and space for well-being Chloe suggests that in the creation of safe spaces – such as their own ‘So You’re Autistic’ community group – Autistic people can find ourselves. In these spaces we can create meaningful connections with others and understand our Autistic embodiment in neutral terms: being Autistic is neither good nor bad, it simply is.

Autistic spaces and communities can be places of growth and healing. They can allow us to combat discrimination together, improving collective and individual self-esteem. These spaces could also work as a way for Autistic people to realise our neurodivergence without needing a diagnosis based in deficit and disorder.

Autistic identity, culture, community, and space for well-being is a great exploration of Autistic culture and a summary of the ongoing move from the pathology paradigm to the neurodiversity paradigm. Adding to work from Botha 2020, Kapp, 2019, Chapman 2020, Dekker 1999, Walker 2020, and many others. This is a must-read.

This chapter can be read for free here.

The New Normal: Autistic Musings on the Threat of a Broken Society

Book review by Katie Munday (They / them)

[Trigger warning: mention of mental health issues, ableism and suicide.]

Book cover: a smashed glass pane background. White text on a yellow bar near the bottom of the page reads: The new normal, autistic musings on the threat of a broken society. A black bar beneath shows the authors name in white text: David Gray-Hammond

Written by David Gray-Hammond (Emergent Divergence) The New Normal takes a nuanced look at the state of the world through the lens of Autistic experience.

David Gray-Hammond is an Autistic mental health and addiction advocate, writer and consultant. He is Autistic and is in recovery from addiction and psychosis. He currently works at Gecko Community CIO, running a support group for young substance users.

The New Normal is an anthology which explores the experiences of neuronormativity and how these social constructs effect and oppress neurodivergent people. The book is a collection of David’s essays which cover many ideas including Autistic representation in the media, mental health and suicidality, and radical advocacy.

Throughout these essays David reflects on the violence and marginalisation which effects all neurodivergent people and sets out a more accepting and wondrous world. David explores the creation of  ‘Autopia’ and all the difficulties we will face when creating a world where clashing needs are accommodated.

Neuroqueer theory, the neurodiversity paradigm and rhetoricity are intwined throughout The New Normal, creating a strong understanding of current issues for Autistic people and how these can be overcome. The New Normal is an exciting and formative reflection on a broken society and how, together, we can build a better world for all of us.

You can buy David’s book through Amazon, here.

Jacki Edry – Moving forward: Reflections on autism, neurodiversity, brain surgery and faith

book review by Katie Munday (they/ them)

Book cover: a large rainbow coloured water paint design at the centre of a white background. Over the design in black text: Moving Forward. Below in black text: Relections on autism, neeurodiversity, brain surgery and faith. Artwork by Liat Perry.

Written by Jacki Edry, Moving Forward looks to enlighten parents, professionals, and family members with personal insights on neurodivergence.

Jacki Edry is a graduate of Hampshire College and has been exploring the world of neurodiversity for over thirty-five years.  She is a survivor of complex brain surgery and a parent of neurodivergent children. She has spent many years advocating for inclusion programs in the educational system within Israel, as well as providing support for Disabled children and their families.

Moving Forward is an auto-biographical account of raising Neurodivergent children and surviving complex brain surgery all the while becoming closer with God and her Jewish faith. The book is split into five parts; Autism and neurodiversity; Sensory perception and processing; Brain surgery, faith and healing; Regeneration and recovery; and Navigating new pathways.

The first two parts are a reflection on Jacki’s Neurodivergent children, their journey to diagnosis and support within school. Of particular interest was her children being misdiagnosed with ADHD. After many years of research and advocacy, both children were re-diagnosed with Irlen Syndrome, a visual processing difference in which the eyesight is considered typical but the processing of visual stimulus is not. This story acts an example of how the first (and easiest?) answers and diagnosis, are not always accurate. Jacki herself was then diagnosed with Irlen Syndrome and the children were diagnosed as Autistic.

Jacki gives some good advice for families of people who are newly diagnosed, my favourite of which “one of the most important things you will need to do after receiving a diagnosis is to take a deep breath. Take some time to digest the news. […] I suggest you leave the ‘why’ behind and focus on doing your best to support each other and to investigate your next steps together.” (page. 24). Jacki appreciates that there can be some extreme feelings after confirmation of neurological differences and that the first move is to let it sink in.

The second half of Moving Forward reflects on Jacki’s experience of surviving complex brain surgery. She shares excerpts from her personal diary, where she reflects on how her sensorial changes have given her more insight in to her children’s sensory processing differences. Jacki also explores how she solidified her Jewish faith whilst in recovery. I feel dispersing the diary entries throughout the stories of her children’s burgeoning Neurodivergence would have made Jacki’s reflections stronger still.

Moving Forward is an intimate account of one women’s experience of brain surgery, parenting neurodivergent children, and living in God’s light. Jacki shares her intersecting experience of disability and neurodivergence, parenthood and healing, and those who read it are all the better for it.

[Person first and identity first language are used throughout this book, as are words such as ‘impairment’ and ‘problems’. These may be a translation issue as they do not fit with the overall feel of the book.]

Meghan Ashburn & Jules Edwards – I will die on this Hill

Book review by Katie Munday (they / them)

[Trigger warning: talk on filicide, suicide and death.]

Book cover: cartoon illustrations of Meghan, a white person, with long blonde hair, thick framed glasses, wearing a black hoodie. They are stood back-to-back with a light-brown skin Jules, who is wearing a black low-cut t-shirt. They are against a green grass back drop, with a slither of light blue sky at the top. Yellow text reads: I will die on this Hill: Autistic adults, autism parents and the children who deserve a better world. Artwork by Nathan McConell (Growing Up Autie).

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, Tiffany Hammond, 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 not 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 reflected on throughout the book, especially Jules’ Ojibwe heritage and culture.

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 by other parents 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 can be read in stages and makes a great reference book, with key points and resources at the end of each chapter. I would recommend this as a go-to book for Autistic people and those who love and support us.

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

Grace Liu – Approaching Autistic Adulthood: The Road Less Travelled.

Book review by Katie Munday (they / them)

Approaching Autistic Adulthood book cover. The Title sits in the middle in large blue text. The Road Less Travelled is written underneath in purple. The cover is a mix of purple, yellow, green and blue hues. There is a faint white capital A which takes up most of the cover, the A has road marks on it

Approaching Autistic Adulthood: The Road Less Travelled is a personal development book written by Grace Liu. Grace writes about the musings, memories and mishaps of a bi-racial, Autistic, lesbian writer regularly on her blog Unwritten Grace.

The book shares informal advice, observations and anecdotes on Autistic experience, talking from Grace’s own experience and from those of her Autistic friends. The book is split into well defined areas which flow well together; explaining autism, overload, friendship, romance, dating and sexuality, college and university, the working environment, being out and about and bullying and disrespectful behaviour. There is even a handy guide on metaphors used throughout the book. I especially enjoyed the section on college and university as it gave quick checklists for moving house, including skills you might need for living independently. Grace also wrote about the support which can be gained at UK universities as well as talking through her experience with her Graduation day, which was very sensory and socially overwhelming and gives advice to other Autistic people on their graduation day.

The chapters on friendships and relationships was also very interesting and gave good advice for creating and maintaining healthy relationships and boundaries. Grace writes on how consent and boundaries work both ways and how we must respect the boundaries of others as well as ourselves. She also makes the point of asking this question of ourselves: “Do I have the mental capacity for being surrounded by people right now?” for us to try to avoid shutdown (what Grace calls power saving mode). Checking in with ourselves is an important way that we can create our own boundaries.

Although I enjoyed Approaching Autistic Adulthood, it is very difficult to understand who the intended audience was. It is both advice, a collection of stories and anecdotes, educational and self-help. A clearer sense of the genre would make this book at lot more accessible.

Overall, Approaching Autistic Adulthood was a fun read which seemed to find its pace and story a little later in the book.  It was lovely to read others experiences, lots of the information and story sharing was very validating for me. Grace writes in a very straight forward way with lots of humour, her work is very nice to read and is quite accessible.

Having read some of her other work, I would love for Grace to write a book about being an Autistic, bi-racial, lesbian within the Christian faith and community – it would be very interesting to read something at length on this.

I look forward to seeing what Grace writes next.

[This book uses both person-first and identity-first language, as well as Asperger’s. Grace explains: “I mainly use identity first language and I only say Asperger’s when talking about my diagnosis or some other context where that word was specifically used”]

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.

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.

Book review by Katie Munday: Neuroqueer Heresies by Nick Walker

Book review by Katie Munday (they/them)

I was so eager to read Nick Walker’s new book Neuroqueer Heresies that I was gifted it as an early Christmas present, and I was not disappointed.

Neuroqueer Heresies: Notes on the Neurodiversity Paradigm, Autistic Empowerment, and Postnormal Possibilities collects Walker’s essays, originally shared through her website (, as well as her new pieces on terminology, language and disability models. The book is split into three sections: The Neurodiversity Paradigm; Autistic Empowerment; and Postnormal Possibilities.

The first section defines the pathology and neurodiversity paradigms, advocating for a shift in language and understanding on both an individual and cultural level. Here, Walker shares a thoughtful commentary on the importance of language on perception, culture, and identity of both Autistic persons and wider society. Walker suggests that Autistic liberation should start with throwing away the master’s tools – stigmatising narratives, exclusion, and oppression – so that Autistic people may be recognised and treated as an important part of human diversity. Within this section, Walker also challenges ideas of functioning labels, asking the very important question: “who gets to decided what the proper ‘function’ of an individual human should be?” (p.27).

The second section – Autistic Empowerment – sets out a critical definition of autism based around the neurodiversity paradigm and takes a closer look at the ideas which inform the use of person-first language. Walker observes that using the word “disorder” for Autistic people and Autistic experiences is based on stigma not scientific knowledge. In my favourite chapter: Person First Language is the Language of Autisphobic Bigots, Walker uses her finessed approach to argue against the use of person first-language (“people with autism”). She suggests that being Autistic is a fundamental and inseparable part of a person, and that those who use person-first language are doing so to fulfil their own normative fantasies. Walker finishes the chapter by suggesting that these people need not explain themselves, just simply “do better”.

The third and final section challenges ideas of hetero- and neuro-normativity, highlighting their absurdity by exploring how they dampen humanities beautiful weirdness. In this section, Walker outlines neuroqueer as an “intentional noncompliance with the demands of normative performance.” (p.175). As a multiply Queer Autistic person I find this idea astounding delicious. It speaks to me of a Neuroqueer anarchy – over throwing oppressive systems that would have us all be the same.

The only issue I had with this book is that it was repetitive in parts, but this is not uncommon in anthologies, and it does not retract from the content.

Overall, Neuroqueer Heresies is an interesting, thought-provoking, and well thought out book. The love for her subject is apparent and the format makes the most of the topic, allowing Walker to contextualise and then reflect on her older work, interspersed with her more recent ideas. This book is a triumphant call to arms for all of us to be more beautifully weird.

Happy Neuroqueering, folks!

Reviewer Bio:

Katie Munday (they/them) was diagnosed Autistic in their late 20s. They have worked with Autistic and Disabled children since 2012 through nursery work, social groups and sports clubs. Katie is currently studying an MRes in Gender Studies – their research aims to collect and represent first-hand experiences of transgender and / or non-binary Autistic people. Sharing these stories has been a long-term passion of Katie’s as they appreciate that they are an important part of human diversity. Katie reviews books for Routledge Publishers and also contributes to an LGBTQIA+ Autistic blog called AIM for the Rainbow. They are also a new mum and in their spare time (!) they enjoy anything to do with wrestling, drag, D&D, fantasy and comic books. They can be contacted on Twitter and Facebook under the name Autistic and Living the Dream.

Book review by Katie Munday: Working with Autistic Transgender and Non-Binary people: Research, Practice and Experience edited by Marianthi Kourti

Book review by Katie Munday (they/them)

I was very excited when Jessica Kingsley Publishers announced another new book on transgender Autistic experiences, collected, edited and written mostly by people who are both trans and / or non-binary and Autistic.

Working with Autistic Transgender and Non-Binary people: Research, Practice and Experience (edited by Marianthi Kourti) collects personal stories, research and guidance to inform the understanding and practice of professionals who support us. This book collects the writers of highly regarded activists, researchers and writers including Damian Milton, Wenn Lawson and Lydia X.Z. Brown, as well as some up-and-coming writers sharing their own stories and reflections on current understandings and research.

The book is split into three sections looking at theory, working practice and lived experiences. The first section outlines overall Autistic experience research, including ideas of double empathy, infantilisation of Autistic people and trans exclusionary radical feminist rhetoric. This section also challenges stigmatising and harmful ‘autism’ research, with the usual suspects called into question.

Kielsgard and Brown’s chapter Trans, Autistic and BIPOC: Living at the Intersections of Autism, Race and Gender Diversity sets out a nuanced understanding of intersections which can affect trans and / or non-binary Autistic people. Intersections include non-binary motherhood, transphobia and ableism within trans communities and systemic oppression of people who are multiply marginalised. This chapter challenges systemic ableism and racism and rightly suggests that gender variant Autistic people should at least be collaborators within support services, research and writing about our experiences.

The second section sets out advice for professionals working with trans and / or non-binary Autistic people, imploring practitioners to reflect on their own beliefs and biases around neuro and gender divergence. This section touches on support needs, gender neutrality and Autistic experiences of gender norms – suggesting that identities often change over time. Lawson makes several good points in this section including the importance of listening to stories which are being told now as apposed to worrying about possible detransition. He also suggests that detransition can be an important part of someone’s gender journey and that the reasons for gender divergence is not ‘as important as the need to have our stories heard and for the right support to be available for the individual’ (p.111).

The third and final section is a collection of personal stories from across the gender spectrum. Pountney’s story was especially illuminating as she reflects on her attempts at emulating neurotypical ideas of masculinity and points out that transitioning into another oppressed group is not always ‘empowering’. Pountney also speaks on masking Autistic characteristics to gain access to gender identity healthcare, which unfortunately reflects the experience of a lot of Autistic people who wish to access medical transition.

There are some issues with clunky language with some writers talking about the experience from an outsider point of view despite occupying the space they speak of. They also missed an opportunity to direct professionals to non-academic trans autistic lead work and organistions. The personal story sections would benefit from content notes –  there will be many of us reading this book who have had similar experiences and content notes would be very helpful, especially when we are feeling particularly vulnerable.

Overall, Working with Autistic Transgender and Non-Binary people: Research, Practice and Experience outlines professional practice in a helpful way focusing on the safety, comfort and needs of supported persons. It takes an activist stance which uses identity first language and follows the ideal of ‘nothing about us without us.’ Working with Autistic Transgender and Non-Binary people: Research, Practice and Experience would benefit professionals, academics and people who are interested in this important intersection of human diversity and plays a small part towards breaking down systemic ableism and transphobia.

Reviewer Bio:

Katie Munday (they/them) was diagnosed Autistic in their late 20s. They have worked with Autistic and Disabled children since 2012 through nursery work, social groups and sports clubs. Katie is currently studying an MRes in Gender Studies – their research aims to collect and represent first-hand experiences of transgender and / or non-binary Autistic people. Sharing these stories has been a long-term passion of Katie’s as they appreciate that they are an important part of human diversity. Katie reviews books for Routledge Publishers and also contributes to an LGBTQIA+ Autistic blog called AIM for the Rainbow. They are also a new mum and in their spare time (!) they enjoy anything to do with wrestling, drag, D&D, fantasy and comic books. They can be contacted on Twitter and Facebook under the name Autistic and Living the Dream.