How To Be Autistic

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‘A passionate, hugely articulate argument for the acceptance of difference. Every teacher, every parent, every person should read this book.'—Meg Rosoff

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An urgent, funny, shocking, and impassioned memoir by the winner of the Spectrum Art Prize 2018, How To Be Autistic by Charlotte Amelia Poe presents the rarely shown point of view of someone living with autism.

Poe’s voice is confident, moving and often funny, as they reveal to us a very personal account of autism, mental illness, gender and sexual identity.

As we follow Charlotte’s journey through school and college, we become as awestruck by their extraordinary passion for life as by the enormous privations that they must undergo to live it. From food and fandom, to body modification and comic conventions, Charlotte’s experiences through the torments of schooldays and young adulthood leave us with a riot of conflicting emotions: horror, empathy, despair, laugh-out-loud amusement and, most of all, respect.

For Charlotte, autism is a fundamental aspect of their identity and art. They address the reader in a voice that is direct, sharply clever and ironic.  They witness their own behaviour with a wry humour as they sympathises with those who care for them, yet all the while challenging the neurotypical narratives of autism as something to be ‘fixed’.

‘I wanted to show the side of autism that you don’t find in books and on Facebook. My story is about survival, fear and, finally, hope. There will be parts that make you want to cover your eyes, but I beg you to read on, because if I can change just one person’s perceptions, if I can help one person with autism feel like they’re less alone, then this will all be worth it.’

This is an exuberant, inspiring, life-changing insight into autism from a viewpoint almost entirely missing from public discussion.

Charlotte uses they/them pronouns.

Ambitious about Autism

13 November 2019
The book is about Charlotte’s life growing up in a village town in Suffolk, going through school life thinking there was something wrong - but with teachers, parents and even the health service not being able to pinpoint what it was. Finally, at age 21, Charlotte was diagnosed with autism and it felt that all the pieces fit together. With this, they made a raw video about living with the condition and submitted it to the Spectrum Prize. The latter half of the book details the journey of submitting the video and then winning the prize. The book overall is a fantastic, sometimes harrowing read which does not talk down to you and really feels like Charlotte is there with you, telling you these things. If you are looking for a great, no-nonsense memoir which does not gloss over anything, this is the book for you. Before we set off to the book launch, we sent Charlotte some questions about the book and autism. Here are their responses:
How did you find the writing process for the book?
I started writing the book as soon as I got home from winning the Spectrum Art Award, it felt like a natural extension of the video and it just flowed out of me, I didn't eat, didn't sleep, just wrote and wrote until it started to resemble what it is today. There were moments when I could barely look at what I'd written because it was so triggering, even now, and there were moments of catharsis too. And I realised how lucky I am to have such a supportive family throughout it all, and what a privilege that is.
What is the one thing that you wish neurotypicals knew about autism?
I just wish they understood that we're people, not stereotypes. I worry neurotypicals will read my book and think 'ah, this is what an autistic person is like', when in fact we are all so unique and individual - that's what makes diagnosing autism so difficult, if we were all the same, people wouldn't slip through the net so often! So, to summarise, I wish neurotypicals know about our individuality, and also our ability to, in the right circumstances, thrive and create great and exciting things.
Do you think fandom is a welcoming space for people with autism?
Definitely. I think it's the one place where you can be truly unironically enthusiastic about something without being called cringy or worse. We live in a world where you have to act a certain way, have a certain disinterestedness about yourself at all times and about the things you like, whereas with fandom you can pour your heart and soul into something and find other people who want to engage and find the same characters and stories as intriguing as you do. Online spaces like that are great at combating isolation, and at bringing people together who wouldn't have found each other otherwise.
Do you think the representation of autistic people in the media has gotten better or worse?
I worry, with the anti-vax movement ramping up lately, that we are still seen as an unfortunate side effect, and I still don't see autistic characters that I can relate to personally. I was lucky enough to help out as script consultant on a short film which has just been entered into the BFI film festival called 'Our Sister', which features an autistic character, but her autism is not the overlying theme of the film, rather, she is autistic, and she is in the film. And the character is played by an actually autistic actress, which I think is brilliant. So, I think it's a mixed bag. We need to break away from the stereotypical 'all autistic people are young white boys' narrative and start including people from all walks of life, because that's what autism is, it doesn't discriminate, and it can be anybody. And I'd really like to see that more often.
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Turnaround 2019 Nonfiction Staff Picks

We hear autism being talked about a lot, but nine times out of ten it will be by neurotypical people who can only ever be outsiders looking in, and often in way that can impersonal and degrading. Written by autistic artist and writer Charlotte Amelia Poe, How To Be Autistic flips the perspective completely, retelling Charlotte’s experience growing up autistic from harrowing middle school days to the life-changing moment when they won the inaugural Spectrum Art Prize. I blew through this thing in under a week. It’s an incredibly candid, impassioned account that’s as difficult to put down as it was sometimes to read. But it was also funny, hopeful and most of all human. I was able to interview Charlotte for the blog and you can check out their responses here.
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