I've read many of the memoirs, studying how they are written and what they convey about the autistic thought process. But, I caution against searching for too many "universals" about autism within memoirs. There might be some, but searching for them can lead us to seeing patterns that don't mean anything. At the same time, because autism is a description based on observed traits, there are shared experiences in the memoirs.
My answer to this parent: yes, memoirs help. It is a way to know your child or student isn't alone. It is also a way for autistics to remind themselves that there are many, many of us on this planet. Working together, maybe we can help others appreciate what we offer society.
Literature exists in a community. Readers of particular genres have a way of finding each other and connecting, especially online. I've wondered if autism memoirs help us form communities, giving us a common language and ways to express ourselves. How many autistics now cite Temple Grandin to explain visual thinking? I've cited works by Stephen Shore, Dawn Prince-Hughes, and others to explain my experiences in education.
As blog visitors know, I'm currently reading
Finding Kansas: Living and Decoding Asperger's Syndrome and reflecting on the book as I read. Do I find helpful insights? Yes, but I also want to remind my readers that Aaron Likens is Aaron — he is not anyone else.
Some of the common issues among memoir authors:
- Alienation, isolation, and struggles to connect socially. Not every autistic seeks connections, but most memoir authors do and most seem to struggle with these connections.
- Ingrained memories, triggered by a variety of inputs. These memories seldom seem to bring happiness or joy, because even "good" memories lead to negative thoughts.
- Emotional confusion. That's the best phrase I have for the following: believing you do not to feel the same emotions as others, yet obviously being emotional about emotions.
- Sensory sensitivity. A basic trait among autistics, most of us are hyper-sensitive to some stimuli. For me, all senses seem to be overwhelmed at times. What is painful to one autistic might not bother another, though.
- Academic or professional frustration. Again, this varies widely, but most autistics struggle in the workplace because these are social settings.
A partial list of should include:
- Thinking in Pictures, Expanded Edition: My Life with Autism (Vintage)
- Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's
- Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant
- Beyond the Wall: Personal Experiences with Autism and Asperger Syndrome, Second Edition
- Send in the Idiots: Stories from the Other Side of Autism
The collection of personal essays most important to me: