It is damn near impossible to find books about autism that are written by people who are actually autistic, much less one written by a woman.
There are precious few societies, if any at all, that are built with neurodivergent people in mind. We’re expected to dance the dance of the neurotypical, right down to how we walk, talk, dress, do our jobs, and carry ourselves throughout every moment we spend in the company of others. At the very least, I should be able to sit in my calm, autistic home, curl up under my cozy weighted blanket, and enjoy a lovely book from an author who gets me, you know?
But when I do find a book by an autistic author, it’s usually written with neurotypicals in mind, employing the same sort of basic, gentle hand-holding as a black person might use to teach a white person about racism, or a trans person to teach cisgenders about gender identity. Thank you for the millionth definition of what a “stim” is, but it feels like scholarly articles and YouTube videos are my only reprieve from the kid’s table, which just doesn’t seem right.
And speaking of kids, these books are almost always directed at mothers of autistic children. In fact, society is apparently so primed to inextricably link “autistic” with “child” that almost every book on my Amazon Kindle reading list is specifically marketed as a parenting or caregiving book:
- I Overcame My Autism and All I Got Was This Lousy Anxiety Disorder, a memoir about an autistic adult woman, is ranked #167 in “Autism” and #381 in “Children’s Health”
- Autism in Heels — can’t imagine heels have much to do with kids — is ranked #25 in “Autism,” #34 in “Parenting eBooks on Children with Disabilities”, and #51 in “Children’s Health”
- Odd Girl Out, another memoir of an adult woman who does not mention her four kids anywhere in its synopsis, has a ranking in “Parenting eBooks on Children with Disabilities” and “Children’s Health”
- Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate, another memoir, has rankings in “Autism,” “Parenting,” and…”Health Care Delivery?”
And please, please correct me if I’m wrong, but Kindle book authors have to manually (see: intentionally) submit their books to these categories…and get approved. Multiple authors and reviewers have decided that these memoirs about living as adult autistic women should be filed under “mommy manual” content.
My point? Infantilization is bad, actually.
Autistics know this. Amazon knows this. But the majority of articles, nonprofits, fundraising campaigns, and musical artists named Sia seem not to care.
It’s the same on Netflix, too: in a rare sighting of autistic fiction, Extraordinary Attorney Woo tells the tale of an autistic! quirky! super-genius! attorney, whose childlike antics are supposed to keep you entertained. And Love on the Spectrum, which showcases the dating lives of neurodivergents, also seems to hone in on a naïve quality that seems to need “taking care of.” (Granted, I can’t act brand-new here; making a spectacle out of ordinary people is literally the point of reality TV.)
I don’t want to disparage any of these works. I genuinely enjoyed almost all of them. Most of the time, it isn’t the content, but its marketing; I just can’t help but notice how often the quality of “childlike naïveté” seems to be underscored, played up, and emphasized in small and large ways. Making sure that “everybody knows” that “adults with autism” is an oxymoron. After all, all autistics are basically children, and you wouldn’t want a child fixing your car, managing your social media accounts, or balancing your checkbook, would you? The stereotype can (and on many occasions, has) become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The largest corporate bookseller in the world perpetuates the myth that autism is this tragic disease that renders adults incapable of taking care of themselves. Painting the entire autistic community as an easy mark at best, a liability at worst, quietly sets us up to be dismissed, infantilized, exploited, abused, and shut out from society at large, when it’s entirely possible to just…not do that? At the end of the day, Daddy Bezos does what he wants. But you can call this kind of ish out when you see it, or at the very least, refuse to participate in it.